A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning:
TIME TO REVIEW FACILITIES IN THE SEC
There is an arms race going on in the Southeastern Conference with everyone trying to catch up to Arkansas and Texas A&M. Here is an evaluation of all 14 SEC schools and where I rank their facilities overall as well as the venues for the big three sports – football, basketball and baseball.
SEC Rank in parenthesis
Alabama (4): Football is the engine that drives everything sports-related at Alabama and it shows in facilities. It’s not that the other facilities are bad. They aren’t. The athletic plant is exceptional, but what Nick Saban wants, Nick Saban gets. If this were about football only, Alabama would win hands down, but there are other sports to be considered. Other than baseball, which has a nice new stadium, the other facilities are good but not spectacular. SEC stadium ranks: Football 3; Basketball 11; Baseball 7.
Arkansas (1): Start with the best basketball arena and baseball stadium in the SEC, indoor and outdoor track and field facilities that are unmatched anywhere in the country and you’re just scratching the surface. The genius of Frank Broyles was to get the state’s gozillionaires to compete against each other for the naming of facilities. They get money from the Walton (Walmart), Reynolds (aluminum), Tyson (chicken), Jones (as in Jerry), Baum (Walmart), Walker (Walmart) and Fowler (KFC) families, all of whom have their names on first class facilities. The football stadium is at best middle of the pack in the SEC, but the standalone football facility, practice facilities and the Jerry and Gene Jones Center make up for the lack of a state of the art football stadium. SEC stadium ranks: Football 10; Basketball 1; Baseball 1.
Auburn (8): Few stadiums can match Jordan-Hare from the standpoint of sightlines and comfortable seating. They’ve resisted the urge to go bigger to stay comfortable. The basketball arena is outstanding in that there isn’t a single seat more than 45 feet from the court. They would be smart to scrap Plainsman Park and build a brand new baseball stadium. Auburn gets very high marks for its academic, housing and feeding amenities (24 hour chef on duty). Practice and performance facilities are very good. Track, tennis and other sports could use some TLC. SEC stadium ranks: Football 2; Basketball 5; Baseball 11.
FLORIDA (7): Florida is playing catch up to the rest of the league. The administration finally woke up after years of allowing the rest of the SEC build new facilities. Back when they had Urban Meyer and Billy Donovan they should have started the upgrades but now Florida pretty much middle of the pack although doing its best to move up the ladder. The Swamp is getting some upgrades and a new football facility is on the way. For what was spent on the O-Dome and the indoor practice facility, they could have converted it to an indoor practice facility and built a new arena (check the price of Ole Miss and Auburn). The renovated O-Dome is an improvement, but a new arena might have kept Billy Donovan in Gainesville. Baseball and softball have beautiful new ball yards. Golf and tennis would be better if not for poor facilities. Mouse Holloway deserves a better track and an indoor facility as well. SEC stadium ranks: Football 7; Basketball 7; Baseball 5.
Georgia (9): Sanford Stadium is an iconic venue with great sightlines but expansion has made it a tad cramped. Stegman Coliseum is an absolute dump. Until they build a new arena basketball will continue to suffer despite having enormous talent within an hour of campus. Foley Field is an upgrade from the old ball yard but it’s nothing special. The new football facility will help recruiting. Golf and tennis are among the best facilities in the country. They probably should pay more attention to sports other than football. SEC stadium ranks: Football 5; Basketball 13; Baseball 10.
Kentucky (12): At some point, you have to wonder when Rupp Arena will be scrapped and a new arena built that seats 30,000 or more. They would fill it. They downsized Kroger Field (formerly Commonwealth Stadium) and it’s better than it was but still not a palace. The new baseball park is an improvement but still bottom of the SEC. Old Memorial Coliseum is a great venue for volleyball, gymnastics and women’s basketball. Good track facilities. Kentucky basketball players live like it’s the NBA. Everybody else? Like it’s college. SEC stadium ranks: Football 12; Basketball 3; Baseball 12.
LSU (3): LSU’s athletic plant is third despite the Maravich Center. It’s been renovated twice in the last 20 years but it’s still an old building (50) and there’s only so much that can be done. Tiger Stadium is the best in the country, not just the SEC, and in terms of game day atmosphere it doesn’t get any better. Alex Box Stadium seats 11,000 and there are plans to expand it. Track facilities (indoor and outdoor) are outstanding. Excellent performance and academic support. Very good minor sports facilities. SEC stadium ranks: Football 1; Basketball 9; Baseball 2.
Mississippi State (13): The school is in the smallest town in the SEC, has one of the smaller student bodies and has the least amount of money. In most leagues, Mississippi State facilities would rank in the top five. In the SEC only Vanderbilt has worse. With few exceptions, Mississippi State will never win recruiting battles for top tier players in football and basketball so facilities aren’t as big a deal as they are other places. Baseball is a different story. The stadium is the largest and easily one of the three or four best in the entire country. SEC stadium ranks: Football 11; Basketball 12; Baseball 3.
Missouri (11): Unlike Texas A&M, which felt like an SEC school from day one, Missouri still feels like it belongs in the Big 12. You want proof? They still have a wrestling team. The powers that be have finally figured out you better put some money into all things football or else you’ll find yourself a bottom feeder. The basketball arena is nice but doesn’t exactly give you the warm and fuzzies. The former basketball arena is where they do volleyball, gymnastics and wrestling. They have a nice athletic park concept but it just doesn’t have an SEC fit to it. SEC stadium ranks: Football 13; Basketball 8; Baseball 14.
Ole Miss (10): The Manning Center (football) and the basketball facilities (The Pavilion and Tuohy practice facility) are first rate. Swayze Stadium (baseball) is older but it’s still one of the better ball yards anywhere in the country. Vaught-Hemingway has been upgraded and turned into a bowl. It would be the third or fourth best stadium in the ACC. Upgrades continue with football and all sports facilities. SEC stadium ranks: Football 9; Basketball 4; Baseball 4.
South Carolina (6): They’ve been spending like crazy to upgrade the entire athletic plant and it’s starting to pay off. The new football only facility is a great addition and they have an indoor practice facility as well. The three major sports venues are all very good but middle of the pack when it comes to the SEC. If they were in the ACC, they’d be no worse than second best when it comes to facilities. SEC stadium ranks: Football 8; Basketball 6; Baseball 6.
Tennessee (5): Tennessee began a major commitment to facilities back in 2008. Since then five new facilities have opened while the football, basketball and baseball venues have received massive renovations. It’s a bit surprising that for all the money they’ve spent everywhere else no investment was made to build an indoor track and field facility. Overall, the athletic plant is one of the better ones in the country but few national championships to show for it. SEC stadium ranks: Football 4; Basketball 2; Baseball 9.
Texas A&M (2): It is said only God and the Longhorns have more money than the Aggies. Once they joined the SEC they decided to completely rebuild Kyle Field, cost $485 million. They did it in two years, never missed a home game, and it was all paid for in cash. All the other facilities are outstanding although there is somewhat of an antiseptic feel to them. They’re just too clean and too pristine! At some point, they’ll get an inferiority complex and spend more money to make their facilities better than those at Arkansas and see if they can outspend the hated Longhorns. SEC stadium ranks: Football 5; Basketball 9; Baseball 8.
Vanderbilt (14): Vanderbilt Stadium is the smallest and by far the worst in the SEC. Memorial Gym is ancient. The home field advantage in baseball has everything to do with Tim Corbin recruiting future first round pitchers and little to do with the ball yard itself. They are planning to spend a lot of money on upgrades, but when finished folks will think they’ve put neckties and lipstick on pigs. SEC stadium ranks: Football 14; Basketball 14; Baseball 13.
GATORS TRAVEL TO FAYETTEVILLE TO FACE NO. 1 RAZORBACKS
The Gators (35-16, 17-10 SEC East) began the season a unanimous No. 1 in all the polls. Tonight they begin a three-game series in Fayetteville against Arkansas (39-10, 19-8 SEC West), which is the unanimous No. 1 as the regular season draws to a close. Florida is ranked seventh in one poll, eighth in two others and ninth in the fourth.
Tommy Mace (5-0, 4.40 ERA) will get the start for the Gators while Arkansas will counter with lefty Patrick Wilander (4-1, 1.93 SEC). Hunter Barco (9-2, 4.13 ERA) is the Friday starter with Franco Aleman (1-3, 5.26 ERA) set for Saturday.
The Gators go into the series trailing Tennessee (40-13, 18-9 SEC East) by a single game in the East Division and ½ behind Vanderbilt (36-12, 1809 SEC East). The Gators almost certainly have to win two of the three games with the Razorbacks to have any kind of shot at overtaking either the Vols or Vandy. A second place or better finish in the East will get the Gators a first day bye in the SEC Tournament next week.
NO. 1 UF TENNIS FACES AGGIES IN NCAA SEMIFINALS
The Gators (23-2) continue their quest to bring home the national championship tonight at Lake Nona against 8th-seeded Texas A&M (19-8) in the NCAA semifinals. Florida has beaten the Aggies twice, once in the regular season in College Station and the other time in the SEC Tournament semifinals.
GATORS ADVANCE AFTER FIFTH PLACE FINISH IN GOLF REGIONALS
The Gators shot the second best round of the day Wednesday (even par 284) to move up three places to fifth at the Cle Elum, Washington Regional, good enough to advance to the NCAA Golf Championships. Ricky Castillo shot a 2-under 69 in the final round to lead the Gators while Tyler Wilkes was 1-under (70) and Gio Manzoni was even par (71).
The NCAA Championships begin May 28 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: Dino Gaudio has been charged by the US Attorney in Louisville with attempted extortion. The former Wake Forest head coach, ESPN commentator and Louisville assistant coach under Chris Mack, was fired after three years on the job. He threatened to expose recruiting violations in the way Louisville produced videos for recruits, claiming also that Louisville used graduate assistants in practices, which also goes against NCAA rules. For that he asked for 17 months of severance. Louisville, turned the matter over to the US Attorney who has charged Gaudio with attempted extortion. I’m not saying Louisville and Chris Mack did the wrong thing, but when you consider the amount of hot water the program is already in with the NCAA, the very last thing needed is negative publicity and this is negative. Of course, the NCAA has to love this. Because it’s now a federal issue, anything Gaudio submits as evidence becomes public record which the NCAA can use against Louisville in dealing with all the allegations that are part of the college basketball corruption trials. And, lest we forget, Louisville already had its 2013 NCAA title vacated because of violations during Rick Pitino’s tenure as head coach. We could actually see the NCAA issue the death penalty to the Louisville hoops program. Don’t think that will happen? See Southwestern Louisiana from 1973-75 when the USL (now Louisiana) program was shut down by the NCAA for more than 100 violations. What Beryl Shipley did at USL pales in comparison to the last 10 years at Louisville.