Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Morning After

It wasn't the end of the world and while I don't feel fine, God knows I've felt worse (see Auburn in Athens, 1999). Such is fandom that the arbitrary outcome of a ballgame can serve as empirical evidence that God is still very much the wrathful Jehovah of the Old Testament with a specific mad-on for your team and its followers. Sometimes, I swear that I peaked emotionally at age 12.

Obviously, last night has little to nothing to do with my team, so best to let the Gators have their day. In an era in which the NBA scoops up so many freshmen and high school seniors, it's a pretty special moment in college hoops when that the same starting five can repeat as champs. Pity that it was the Gators who delivered this piece of history, but a begrudging "congratulations" to them all the same.

Anyway, given the generous attention given to yesterday's post by Kyle at Dawgsports and Blutarsky at Get the Picture, and in the comments from Paul Westerdawg of the Georgia Sports Blog, I probably should clarify my stance on the Gators.

I don't think the Gators are the USC of the SEC or its "undisputed alpha." At least, not yet. Given the momentum and resources they've amassed and their investment going forward, I think they're a threat to take that mantle. That's why I used terms like "menace" and "danger," as in, the Germans were a "threat," "menace" and "danger" to placing Europe under their collective boot heel, although history records a different outcome. I hope that those who made it to the bottom of yesterday's admittedly long-winded fretting found evidence that Georgia (and several other SEC teams, for that matter) are eminently capable of blunting Florida's advance.

Also, I should probably clarify the comparison with USC. In terms of athletic tradition, USC towers over Florida like a skyscraper over an ant. I don't mean this as a dig at Florida, but as an only slightly hyperbolic statement of what even many Florida fans would concede. That said, I think tradition is grossly overrated. It helps up to a point, and then, as fan expectations become a program's albatross, it hurts. Tradition is why Alabama is paying $4M a year for a football coach and why Kentucky will probably pay something similar for a basketball coach.

Rather, my comparison has to do with the here and now. There is an undeniable aura of success around USC and Florida, although as Kyle notes, "the Big Lizards' multi-sport dominance over division rival Georgia generally has been by the slimmest of margins, coming in extra innings, by decimal places, and on fortuitous fumbles." Regarding football specifically, I share Blutarsky's belief that too much is being made of Florida's offensive scheme, which scored an average of 22.25 points a game against an SEC slate and which needed a defensive touchdown and a dubious facemask penalty to hold off the worst Georgia squad in perhaps a decade. Yet winning ugly is still winning.

Kyle also notes how the pendulum swings in any competitive rivalry and how, in sports, today's genius is tomorrow's knuckle-dragger and vice-versa. Prior to running roughshod over the SEC in 2004, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville was an illicit plane ride away from being dumped for then-Louisville coach (and former Tuberville assistant) Bobby Petrino. When Ron Zook was the Gators' football coach, the second least popular person in Gainesville was the man who hired him, UF AD Jeremy Foley, whom ESPN's Pat Forde anointed on Sunday "the hottest athletic director in history." In Oklahoma, Bob Stoops regularly crossed the Red River to hang as much as 65 points on Texas in Dallas. In the past three Red River Shootouts, the Sooners' combined offensive output is slightly more than half 2003's grim total.

Personally, I don't think either Tuberville or Foley are idiots or savants. They're smart guys who survived some bad decisions. Foley's athletic department has won 16 of 19 SEC All-Sports trophies and has finished in the top 10 nationally every year since 1984. Lucky, he is not. If he ever leaves Gainesville, I will be shocked if it is on anything but his own accord. But as long as Bobby Lowder draws breath, I'll make no predictions for Tuberville.

Regardless, Foley's achievement did not occur overnight. He began as an intern in the UF AD in 1976 and took over as director exactly 15 years ago, when current Georgia AD Damon Evans, now 36, was still getting his bachelor's in finance. Foley had the incredibly good fortune of taking the reigns after Steve Spurrier lead the Gators to their first SEC championship, which revived a long-dormant program and presumably made Foley's job as a fund-raiser considerably easier. And, after losing Spurrier to the NFL in 2001, Foley nearly squandered all of that momentum with the near-disastrous hiring of Ron Zook and his failure to bring Spurrier back to Gainesville when The Visor came calling. Ok, so maybe he's a little lucky.

Evans, on the other hand, all he's done since taking over in 2004 is preside over a dozen SEC championships and seven national championships. He has also brought Georgia athletics into the modern age of sports business, setting fund-raising and logo licensing revenue records, doubling sponsorship revenue and breaking ground on a $30M gymnastics practice facility and a $30M basketball practice facility. And, yes, it helped that Mark Richt had revived Georgia football, whose profits fund half of Evans' budget. Still, if someone is going to take Foley's mantle, my money's on Evans.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home