IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN A SPRING TO REMEMBER AT UF
The people you have to feel badly for are the kids who, through no fault of their own, didn’t get a chance to compete for national championships due to the corona virus epidemic. The decision to cancel all the championships starting with the NCAA Basketball Tournament hit everybody hard, but maybe no school was hit as hard as the University of Florida.
Think about it for a second.
Although nobody would have picked the Gators to win the NCAA Basketball Tournament, just ask Kentucky, Auburn and LSU if UF is a team they would want to play again. The Gators were locks to be in the field of 64, most likely an eight or nine seed. Maybe that’s not ideal, but with the right matchups, the Gators could have been a team capable of doing some damage. Kerry Blackshear Jr. went from a player everybody in the ACC knew about last year to one
everyone in the country wanted when he took Virginia Tech to within a couple of bad whistles away from knocking off Duke in 2019. He was on everybody’s preseason All-America list. Could he have shown why by putting the Gators on his back?
Maybe nobody was hurt more than Mike Holloway when the NCAA indoor and outdoor track and field championships were cancelled. He was going for a third straight indoor national title. He’s won nine national championships and had a string of 21 top three finishes in the last 22 NCAA indoor and outdoor championship events. Could he have done it again?
Inexplicably, the Gators failed to make it to the NCAA gymnastics championship event last year, which is why Jenny Rowland’s team was on a mission to prove last year was nothing more than a fluke that won’t be repeated anytime soon. With Trinity Thomas leading the way, the Gators won the SEC championship and were ranked 2nd nationally when the season was cancelled. The closest anyone came to the Gators in 10 meets was LSU, which lost 198.375-197.775. That .6 may not seem like much, but if this were football it would be like winning by two touchdowns. Florida beat Georgia in Athens 197.80-196.50. That’s like beating the Poodles by seven touchdowns. Thomas had four perfect 10s during the season. Everything pointed to a Florida-Oklahoma showdown for the national championship.
Softball? Tim Walton has made it to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series 10 of the last 12 years. The Gators were 23-4 the day the NCAA music died. Kendyl Lindamin was hitting .410 with seven homers and just starting to heat up and Sophia Reynoso was busy making the impossible plays at shortstop look routine? Could those two seniors have led UF back to Okie City for one last chance to win a national title?
The Gators were ranked #1 in all the baseball polls and looking like a team very capable of winning a national championship. Kevin O’Sullivan had just the right combination of hitting and pitching to go with his usual slick fielding outfit. Friday and Saturday starters Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich figure to go high in the Major League Baseball Draft so it’s unlikely they’ll be back, meaning they’ll miss their shot at leading the Gators to a national championship.
The men’s tennis team was ranked sixth nationally when the season ended. This was Bryan Shelton’s deepest and most talented team. The Gators could have made the final four of the NCAAs. Could they have won it? Quite possibly.
Amanda O’Leary’s lacrosse team beat then #1 Maryland in College Park to end the Terps 88-game home winning streak. They also beat then #3 Stony Brook. The dynamic duo of Shannon Kavanaugh and Brianna Harris were capable of leading UF to its first national title ever in lacrosse.
The women’s golf team was ranked 10th nationally and maybe not a true threat to win it all, but entirely capable of a top 10 finish. Freshman Ricky Castillo could have finished top ten in the individual scoring at the men’s NCAA.
While we will never know how many – if any – national championships the Gators could have won, we do know this: They would have been in the hunt for several and it wouldn’t have been shocking to see them bring home two or three. This spring seemed like the perfect storm for UF athletics. It’s the kids that you have to feel badly for. If you’ve been a part of competitive athletics, then you know just how tough it is to win a championship, but even if you never got to hoist that championship trophy you remember how incredible it felt just to be in the hunt. All those kids from Florida’s outstanding teams have lost that opportunity.
The NCAA is considering a plan that would give all the athletes whose seasons were abruptly ended an extended season of eligibility. On paper that seems like a great idea, but it might prove to be a serious burden for schools that don’t have the athletic department revenues of a University of Florida. Realistically, there aren’t that many non-power five schools that could afford to bring back all the athletes who were in their final seasons of eligibility. If it comes to a vote of the NCAA schools, how many of the ones that scrape by financially would be in favor of having to pay for another scholarship year for however many seniors they would have lost?
And then there is the problem of scholarship limitations. With incoming freshman classes if you bring back those seniors whose last season was cut short, you would have to extend the scholarships in every affected sport. Again, would the have nots of college sports approve of adding to the rosters? They believe the championship deck is already stacked against them so would they vote yes?
Could the NCAA do this by executive order of president Mark Emmert? Or simply by vote of the NCAA Council, that group of 40 athletic directors and commissioners that have immense power? The council might have the same problem as a vote of the general membership. There are only five power conferences so that vote might not work out favorably for giving another year of eligibility and expanding the rosters.
Basically, what we have is a can’t win situation for the NCAA, which will get roundly criticized no matter what direction it takes. Ultimately, however, the one loser in all this will be the athletes themselves.
SINCE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE NCAA
With no championship events to present, just what does the NCAA do with all its spare time? Dana O’Neill of The Athletic seems to think if you’re one of the schools mentioned prominently in the college basketball corruption trials, then you should be shaking in your shorts. Her reasoning is quite simple. Since the NCAA hasn’t anything better to do it might as well devote all its enforcement power into dropping the hammer on schools like Kansas, Arizona, LSU, Louisville, Auburn, South Carolina, Creighton, Oregon, Southern Cal, Oklahoma State and Miami.
O’Neill writes, “Do not be fooled by the inactivity. A good housecleaning still could come, as the HBO documentary so pointedly reminds us. The NCAA Tournament is shut down. The NCAA’s enforcement arm is not, and the punishments stemming from the FBI’s investigation have merely been postponed until college campuses return to some sort of operational normalcy. Arizona, Auburn, Kansas, LSU and Louisville are among those still waiting their NCAA comeuppances, and by hiring Pitino, who could face a lengthy ban, Iona has added itself to the TBD pile. Unrelated to the FBI investigation but every bit as intriguing, Memphis’ decision to stand by James Wiseman is now in the hands of the new Complex Case Unit, the school’s fate not available for appeal.”
She goes on to write, “The NCAA, remember, now has stronger penalties at its disposal, including coaching bans that extend beyond one season and lifetime show causes, as well as multiyear postseason bans for programs. Iona, ironically, may have just hired a coach who won’t be able to coach. Former Penn coach Jerome Allen received a 15-year show cause for his involvement in an admissions scandal. The connection between head coach and program in some of these instances is slightly more tenuous, but coaches are always held accountable for what goes on in their program. Jim Boeheim sat for nine games for a failure to monitor his staff and promote an atmosphere of compliance. That was 2015, before the new strident penalty structure, and last I checked, no one went to jail.”
Because he botched the decision to cancel sports for the remainder of the spring (he didn’t really act until the conference commissioners took it upon themselves), Mark Emmert might think sticking it to some college basketball programs, particularly a blueblood like Kansas, would show the world who’s boss. The reality is that the corruption in college basketball didn’t start recently. It’s been going on for years, right under Emmert’s nose. If anything, the trials only show how ineffective he’s been as a leader.
Now, there is no question the NCAA needs to clean up its act and if it takes nuclear winter on a few basketball programs, so be it, but whatever Emmert does he is still going to look weak and ineffective.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Andy Kennedy has been great as an analyst on the SEC Network the last two years, but he’s a coach and a good one. Ole Miss was absolutely brain dead to fire him two years ago. Andy will be back on the sideline next year after he was hired by UAB Thursday. UAB is his alma mater so this is like homecoming for him. He’ll do well … The Los Angeles Rams released running back Todd Gurley Thursday, a testament to the stupidity of these big dollar, front loaded contracts. Counting bonus money, Gurley was paid $34.5 million for two seasons. He averaged only 3.8 yards per carry and gained 857 yards last year. The cost per yard was staggering … In anticipation of what they’re going to have to pay Tom Brady and the money they may have to eat from Jameis Winston if they can’t trade him, the Tampa Bay Bucs raised their season ticket prices 15% Thursday … The Denver Broncos released Joe Flacco after one season. Drew Lock will be the starting QB and the backup will be former Gator Jeff Driskel … Sam Vecenie of The Athletic released his mock NBA draft, picks 1-60. Noticeably absent are any Gators. You won’t find many mock drafts where you’ll see the names Keyontae Johnson or Scottie Lewis and those that do have them buried in the second round. This should be a clear sign to Johnson, Lewis and Andrew Nembhard to return to Florida, improve your game and improve your chances of making it in the NBA.