Podcast: Talking Keyontae Johnson’s decision to return to UF

GatorCountry brings you a new podcast as we break down Keyontae Johnson’s decision to return to Florida for his junior year.

Andrew Spivey and Nick de la Torre are joined by Eric Fawcett who tells us why Florida fans should be excited about next year’s team with the return of Johnson to the Gators basketball team.

Andrew and Nick also talk about the latest news surrounding the return of sports in the country, plus we talk about college football.


Andrew:                 What’s up, Gator Country? Your man, Andrew Spivey, here with Nicholas de la Torre. Nicholas, back and we’re going to talk some more basketball with Eric, and then we’ll talk some football and anything else that kind of comes to mind here. The Gators did pick up some big news on Tuesday. Keyontae Johnson’s back. As you said on Tuesday, Mike White’s getting the gang back together.

Nick:                         Yeah. I mean, if you get Nembhard back as well, you’re going to have like 80% of your scoring back. Certainly, the joke was the excuse tour this year, that if you get all these guys back. I mean, even if Nembhard doesn’t come back, it’s the no excuse tour next year.

Andrew:                 Right. Yeah. We’ll talk about this with Eric in a minute, but I don’t want to say they’re better without Blackshear, but some of Eric’s numbers proved, or didn’t prove, but showed that they were better at times without Blackshear on the court. We’ll talk with Eric here in a few minutes about that.

Nick:                         That’s the only thing. Some people are just like, they want to just hate Mike White so much, and I read Eric’s stuff, and like reading Eric’s stuff will make me even question what I saw. I’m at the game. I’m watching it live, and then I’m writing about it. Then I’m like, these guys stink. Then I read something Eric writes, and I’m like, well, that makes sense and maybe they don’t stink?

Andrew:                 Right. You and I are old-school baseball guys. We hate analytics, but analytics are taking over sports.

Nick:                         Yeah. It’s hard to argue with them. I don’t love seeing metrics in baseball. I’m kind of like you. I can look at a guy and be like, he can play. His stuff plays, or it doesn’t. And they’re like, actually, this guy that you think stinks …

Andrew:                 His WAR is -.1.

Nick:                         I’m like, cool. I don’t think he’s good. I watched him. I don’t think he’s good.

Andrew:                 Yeah. You’re not going to convince me some bench player is good. No. Not happening at all. I mean, we’ll talk with Eric here in a second about that and get his thoughts on that and really break that down. We’re still shut down. We’ll talk about this here in a little bit more, but a lot of traction gaining that football season will be pushed back some. We’ll get into detail here on that in a minute. Let’s go to Eric. We’ll talk to Eric, get his thoughts on Keyontae, get his thoughts on this team, and then you and I will come back and chit chat on the pigskin and maybe some diamond sports.

Guys, we’re back with our man, Eric. Eric, first off, how’s Canada right now? Are you bored up there yet or what?

Eric:                          Oh yeah. I mean, I’m bored. One thing that was probably good for the general health and safety was last week there was just this like fluke blizzard that just came through, and it was super cold. There was snow in April, and that sucks, but it’s kept people at home, so maybe a good thing for general health. Now the weather’s good, and now I’m really wishing I could go and shoot some hoops at the park across from my apartment or get together with some friends to play some spike ball, or most notably I just wish I was watching sports on TV. Yes. Yes, I am bored.

Andrew:                 Did you build a snowman?

Eric:                          Oh, just to have some people around me. Building a snowman would have been a good call. I wasn’t smart enough for that.

Nick:                         We need to get Eric a P.O. Box, because if he’s building snowmen to talk to that means his wife has left him, his friends are not there, and we need to get him some mail. Send Eric some letters just to let him know that you still care about him.

Andrew:                 I did watch spike ball for the first time though, speaking of that, over the weekend when there was absolutely nothing on TV. They had Georgia and Texas A&M playing in the like College Championships of spike ball.

Eric:                          Oh yeah. Spike ball’s going to be the next thing. I love it. I think it’s the best. It’s a four-person activity, so I’m just hoping that if things can get loosened a little bit through the summer I can get together, because I play in a league and everything. It’s hardcore. So, missing spike ball, but it’s all secondary to wishing there was the real sports on TV.

Andrew:                 Yeah. Let’s talk about that a little bit. Obviously, Florida’s keeping you busy a little bit here. Keyontae Johnson announced on Tuesday that he’s returning to Gainesville. Mike White’s kind of getting the crew back together a little bit.

Eric:                          Yeah. He really is. If you would have said before the season, I’m not sure he would have thought, because there was a lot of people that wouldn’t have expected Keyontae Johnson to have this big sophomore season. I said last year that I thought he was going to be gone after this season. I made that claim back then, and I almost was right. Of course, I’ve been fairly poor in the prediction game, on this podcast especially. I’m 0-2 now saying that I thought Scottie Lewis and Keyontae Johnson would leave, but I’m so happy I’m wrong, because this is really how teams are good in modern basketball.

If you look at the teams that have had success recently, it’s teams that had fringy NBA talent that decided to come back, and you see it this year. Obi Toppin at Dayton was a guy who could have gone in the second round. He was like, I’ll come back. I mean, you don’t expect that jump from everyone, but it worked for him. With Kansas, you had Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike, just two guys that were kind of the same positions as Scottie Lewis and Keyontae Johnson. They decided to come back. Kansas is arguably the best team in the country. Gonzaga with Killian Tillie. It’s just that’s really how college basketball has worked recently. It’s can you keep those guys that are going to be second-round picks? Can you get them to come back for another year? Because that’s how you win.

So, this is extremely exciting. I know a lot of people are not probably happy to hear high expectations after the team had high expectations last year and didn’t pan out, but the expectations are going to be high again, because this is going to be one of the older teams that White has been able to coach now, because they’ve been so young recently. Proven talent returners, as well as the transfers coming in that I’m high on. Things are pretty exciting right now for Florida basketball.

Nick:                         I said a lot of people on Twitter last year called it the excuse tour. Unless you said Mike White is the devil, you were making excuses for Mike White and the team. I think certainly with these two guys back, and if you add Andrew Nembhard into the mix, there’s no excuse tour next year, with the amount of talent and production they have coming back.

Eric:                          One thing that I think is really interesting, and I wrote about it the other week at Gator Country that people can go see, but there’s an analytics site called Bart Torvik, which I think is one of the best ones, and they’re one of the few predictive site that has predictions up now for next season. So, if we backtrack it to last year, everyone thought Florida was going to be in the Final Four mix. I was one of them. Bart Torvik said that they were going to be the 21st best team in the country, so his site knew something that the rest of us didn’t see. It was like the AP voters, they were the ones that really bought into the hype. They were the ones that really hyped up Florida.

So, fast forward to Keyontae Johnson and Scottie Lewis returning, Bart Torvik thinks that Florida’s going to be the fifth best team in the country next year. I do think it’s pretty interesting that this site that kind of saw past the hype last year and was a lot more accurate at what Florida was going to be, just based off projections of talent coming in and what Florida had returning, they were pretty on the ball with what Florida was going to be, and now that they have returners, it factors in the projected numbers of the average JUCO recruit in Osayi Osifo’s position with the transfers coming in from the leagues they come. It’s a really brilliant site, but they think that Florida’s going to be the fifth best team.

I put that on Twitter, and a lot of people said, last season they had these high expectations and the team wasn’t that good, so I don’t want to hear anything of it. I do want to point out that it’s a little bit different to say Florida was high in the eyes of AP voters that were buying into the hype, that wasn’t maybe analytically or statistically based, whereas this year returning talent, something that can kind of be measured a little bit better, a little more proven and consistent, it’s looking like Florida’s going to have the chance to be a really good team.

Andrew:                 What’s different, Eric? I mean, obviously, there’s a couple transfers here. You and I, and I’m sure you and Nick had this same conversation, but this team was very stagnant at times. They had no offensive rhythm. They stood around a lot. Mike White, for what it’s worth, chewed them out for their defensive play multiple times. What’s different? What’s different about these guys? Obviously, they’re a year older, but does Scottie Lewis really make a huge leap forward? Does Keyontae Johnson? I think the world of Keyontae Johnson, but does he get that much better to where he’s that? I mean, tell me. What’s different about this team? You lose Kerry Blackshear.

Eric:                          That’s a great point, because I mentioned in the last podcast that I don’t think that Scottie Lewis is going to take some massive step. I also don’t think that Keyontae Johnson is going to take a massive step. That’s not because I don’t love him as a player, because I am the biggest fan of Keyontae Johnson. But when you see just how productive this year was for him, I just don’t think you can expect him to take some next massive leap, because another big leap for him would be like something that puts him in like a lottery pick conversation.

Andrew:                 Right.

Eric:                          Which I don’t really think is in the cards for him. But, hey, who knows? You lose Kerry Blackshear, and in losing Kerry Blackshear, you lose some offense, but you also lose who was probably the worst defender in your starting five. I would say probably the worst defender in the kind of key six, seven-man rotation, and Florida’s a team that has needed to be super productive on the defensive end. That’s always, you know, when the team was good made the Elite Eight a couple years ago, they were good offensively, not great offensively, but they were great defensively and that made things happen.

I think losing Kerry Blackshear will allow them to get back to this top 10, top 15-ish defense, and I think that the guys coming in kind of do help them, like Anthony Duruji, just like a freak athlete, someone who can really play into the defensive scheme, and Tyree Appleby, the guard coming in. He’s someone who’s just electric offensively and just offers a little bit, I guess, of what I kind of hoped that Tre Mann was going to be last year. It’s something that Tre Mann showed at the end of last year. Someone who can make plays at the end of a shot clock.

Or if the offense breaks down, someone who can improvise and go get his own bucket, because that’s what Florida really lacked a lot of the time last season, and that’s why they got stagnant and go slow. It was because when things kind of broken down they had an opposing team and an opposing coach that had scouted Florida’s set offense. When they blew up a play, there wasn’t enough players on the floor who could say, I can just go make a play one-on-one and make something happen. They didn’t have a lot of those guys.

I am banking on Tyree Appleby being that guy a little bit. I’m banking on Noah Locke and Andrew Nembhard, if Nembhard returns, getting a little better in that area. I do expect, if there’s one guy that I am expecting a big leap from, it’s Tre Mann, and he would fit that role too, but I would say if Florida is going to take that step it’s going to be just small gains from the returners, but you will probably need someone like Tre Mann to go from your seventh or eighth man to being someone who can be relied on as one of your best scorers.

Andrew:                 Who’s your big man?

Eric:                          I think it’s Omar Payne to start. I’m obviously someone who has written a lot about how I thought he should have played a lot more last year. He’s someone who brings the shot blocking presence and the rim protecting presence that Kerry Blackshear didn’t. He also has the kind of length to drop back into the paint to protect the rim and then get out to contest a three-pointer with his length. He’s someone who I think is going to start. I mean, Jason Jitoboh had some good stretches as well as someone who can finish on the inside. Even though he’s a big guy who maybe you wouldn’t expect to move his feet particularly well, he actually played some pretty good defense at the end of the year and used angles well to kind of make up for the fact that he’s not the quickest on his feet.

I mean, those are the only two centers on the roster. Osayi Osifo, the junior college transfer, he’s someone who could factor into that conversation as well, but to me it’s Omar Payne, and he is another player that I would expect a good jump from, just because I was actually really high on what I saw from him as a freshman, even though he didn’t play a ton.

Andrew:                 So, I don’t want to single out Kerry Blackshear, because I think Kerry Blackshear, you appreciate anyone who makes the commitment to be a Gator and play and everything else, but Kerry Blackshear, by your numbers, held the team back a little bit. Do you believe that still? I mean, I know your numbers say that. Nick and I were talking about this. Numbers are taking over sports in general. Was that just a big problem that the offense couldn’t run smoothly with Kerry Blackshear?

Eric:                          I mean, I think the offense was still pretty good last year. It was the best offense, other than the Elite Eight team, in the Mike White era. I did think that Kerry Blackshear brought a presence that they haven’t had in a while, someone who could catch the ball around the rim and finish and draw fouls. That’s something that they haven’t gotten a lot from the center position recently. I think that offensively the problems with Blackshear just were related to the fact that, I’m not sure if it was the coaching staff or it was him, Kerry Blackshear himself, I think it was probably both, to be honest, who thought that he was kind of a stretchy shooting big man, and I just didn’t believe that before the season, and during the season it just reinforced it more and more.

He was someone who shot not a great percentage at Virginia Tech and on a low number of attempts. When I see someone who doesn’t have a great percentage and also shoots a very low number of attempts, that to me is just not a legitimate shooter. Then he comes to Florida, and his numbers were exactly what you would have expected them, based off not really being a shooter at Virginia Tech, but he was kind of used out there. I do think that hurt the offense at times and stalled things out, because there was times where he found himself in a shooting position on the perimeter, but he wasn’t super confident. When you pass it to a shooter who kind of half pump fakes, because he’s not super confident, and the defense closes out, that’s what really kind of bogs down your offense.

That’s kind of where the problems with him offensively came, but I still think definitely he was a very productive offensive player, and the Gators were a better offensive team with him on the floor. It was his defense that hurt the teams at times. Sometimes a lot, sometimes only a little bit. You take him out, and you get someone who’s very athletic and can protect the rim like Omar Payne, who honestly did have some defensive problems at times, but has such defensive potential and really started to figure things out, I thought. I do think this is going to be back to kind of the defensive basketball we’re used to seeing.

Nick:                         How much of that, in talking to Kerry and why he came back, obviously there was maybe some injury concerns, stuff like that, but he wanted to prove that. He’s not going to be a real five in the NBA. He wanted to prove that he had a perimeter jumper. How much of that should have Mike White just been like, listen, I know you came back to school to prove this, but it’s clearly not working, and we got to figure something out, versus maybe putting that on Kerry? Was it just maybe him being I came back to prove that I could do this, so I’m going to keep trying to do it, but then when you get into the game, like you said, it’s that kind of half-hearted pump fake, I’m still not comfortable shooting from here, and now what do I do?

Eric:                          Yeah.

Nick:                         Because it was a big reason why he came back for his graduate senior year, wasn’t it?

Eric:                          It totally was. Because truthfully, it sounds like I’m just slamming on Kerry Blackshear, which I really don’t want to do, but just when it comes to an NBA Draft standpoint, there is no NBA skill he really has, and I think that the only way that he would have a chance to play in the NBA would be if he found a way to be a high 30% three-point shooter. So, I can certainly see why he wanted to try to play that way. It’s totally understandable.

I also just see that it was so, like whenever Kerry Blackshear talked, I thought he was a servant to his teammates. I thought he was not a selfish player. He was someone who really did seem to be all about winning. I really think that he probably thought that it was the best for the team, if he could be a stretchy guy. Even just hearing the coaching staff talk about Blackshear and about the offense, I really thought that they thought he was someone who would be best served out there.

The numbers, before the season I looked at his numbers from Virginia Tech, and he was so effective as a player on the basket, so effective in the post, not effective shooting the basketball, so I kind of expected. If you do that in the ACC, it’s probably going to be the same in the SEC. Through the season, when he wasn’t shooting the ball well, and his numbers were must better as a post-up player and around the hoop, I think keeping around here would have been the much better idea.

That’s the thing nowadays is I think whenever you see a big man that can shoot at all a lot of people say that’s someone who’s got to be shooting all the time. Where it’s like if that was a guard or a wing that was shooting those numbers, there’s no way you’d be letting them shoot that shot. Why do you have your center doing that a couple times a game? I personally don’t see it. But the Gators haven’t had a center like that under Mike White. They haven’t had a player who can shoot at all at the center position in the last few seasons, so it was maybe a little bit of a learning experience.

Andrew:                 Let’s go a little further, or talk a little bit more here. First off, when do you think that you’ll hear some news on Nembhard? Do you think it’s soon?

Eric:                          I would expect soon, just because, like I said, I’m obviously surprised that Lewis and Johnson came back, because I thought that they were going to be gone, but I’m also surprised that they didn’t go through the normal process of declare for the Draft, go through that process, and then announce they’re decision, whether it’s coming back or leaving.

Andrew:                 Right.

Eric:                          I’m a little bit surprised by that. That seems to be what a lot of players around the country are doing. Obviously, I think that everyone would have thought that Nembhard would be the most likely to return, so you’d think that maybe he’d have been the first guy to announce that he was going to return. At this point, it could go either way. If you get this deep in the offseason anyways, maybe you just do want to keep kind of gauging things. Maybe their family is hoping that something changes, and you can get an actual date of when the NBA Draft is, or they think the workout process is going to change, which I definitely don’t think it will. I don’t think he’s going to have a chance to do any kind of workout things like that. I would expect news kind of sooner than later, but it’s so long until he technically has to make the decision. It could be a couple months, truthfully. I would expect soon.

Andrew:                 That was going to be my question. With everything going on, do you even go through that? It looks like the chances of having a Combine or workouts right now are slim to none. Depending on unless they move the Draft back, it sounds like there’s at least a possibility of that. Last question for you, Eric, and then we’ll get you out of here. We all talk about football. We all talk about baseball and the effects that it has on the team this way. The team is just now getting through, March Madness would have been, the National Championship would have been about two weeks ago. When does it become time that it’s hurting the basketball program as well? Are we still a couple weeks away before this team would have really gotten back into weight room and gotten back into kind of preparing for next year? When does this thing start to hurt the program?

Eric:                          I mean, Summer B is always talked about. That’s often times where players kind of get the chance to really get working out and having those kind of regimes. I think people have to be concerned already for the future. I know it hasn’t directly affected things yet, but there’s lots of talk about, I don’t know if we want to say such sacrilege on this podcast, that football might be pushed back. If there’s legitimate reason, if there’s just a reason to converse about the fact that football might be pushed back, I just don’t know how you don’t look at basketball, which starts three months later, and say that might drastically change too. I think too if football were to be pushed back, and it’s at the same, it turns into a spring sport next, and basketball’s doing the same thing, we know what sport is going to get more attention. It’s not basketball. I think the teams are going to have to start looking at some of those things and start looking at some alternative plans. While it hasn’t been affected yet, it’s not like players would be working out right now, that time is coming shortly.

Andrew:                 Right. That was my question. We all kind of know the timelines for football and everything else, but that was something that I had been wondering myself is just how quick usually basketball gets back in the weight room. I know that a lot of the basketball guys don’t arrive until Summer B on campus, so that was something that a couple people had even asked me about.

Eric:                          Yeah. That’s something that’s obviously different between basketball and football as well is just the smaller roster and just kind of nature of the game is that players are allowed at that point like two hours a week with like a one-on-one workout with a coach.

Andrew:                 Right.

Eric:                          So, some people would say to miss out on those one-on-one workouts is big, but it’s also two hours over the course of a week, so how much is a player getting out of that anyways? Again, this is something that we obviously haven’t gone through before, so we don’t really know what kind of impact it’s going to have. We might find out if it comes back and things are really sloppy, because players were late to get these workouts in or didn’t get the workouts in, or if players are getting injured at a higher rate, because they weren’t in the weight room when they normally were. I guess we’ll see. It’s a first time for everything.

Andrew:                 Lot of questions to be answered, my friend. Eric, any final thoughts before we get you out of here? If it goes this way, I guess we’ll be talking to you again next week as Nembhard will be coming back.

Eric:                          Yeah. There’s part of me that thinks that that’s part of the kind of rollout plan, because every player, you look at Scottie Lewis kind of had his time, and now Keyontae Johnson is having his time. If Nembhard was going to make a decision, it would make sense for it to be maybe in a week or two, where then he can have his time. I would say the one thing I do want to reiterate, just that I mentioned earlier in the podcast, like expectations are going to be high, and I do know that people are going to hear that and say, here we go again, because expectations were high last year.

I do just want to reiterate that expectations last year were based off incoming freshmen five-star recruits, which historically has been you can’t always bank on what those are going to be. When you look at college basketball recently, it has been the teams that are veterans that bring back fringy NBA talent. Those are the teams that are really good. So, Florida’s going to have expectations this year, and I know some people are going to hate that, but I really think that this is going to be these expectations are probably more realistic than these ones last year that were based on unproven freshmen. I really do think people should get excited, though I know that there’s definitely going to be a faction of people that have had enough of the Gators having high expectations in the preseason.

Andrew:                 Mike White can get back in the good graces, and if you don’t like the comments, direct them at Eric, not Nick and I. I’ll say this. Mike White’s controlling the Twitterverse here lately, so we’ll see.

Nick:                         Send all of your complaints to @efawcett7 on Twitter.

Andrew:                 Yeah.

Nick:                         He is the official recipient of all Mike White complaints.

Andrew:                 All Gator basketball, just send it to this man there. Eric, we appreciate it, man. Stay sane up in Canada, and try to get some spike ball in, even if it’s in your apartment.

Eric:                          I’m going to have to try. Set up a net against the wall or something. Thanks for having me on, guys.

Andrew:                 You got it, Eric.

Nick:                         Thanks, Eric.

Andrew:                 Guys, we’re back. Good stuff from my man Eric over here. Again, direct all your tweets at him. Nick and I do not want to hear about the Mike White tweets today.

Nick:                         Send it to Eric.

Andrew:                 We’re good. We’re perfectly happy over here. We don’t need any more doom and gloom in our lives. Good stuff though. I know I’m about take up for Mike White here, but it’ll be interesting to see. It really will. Like Eric said, there is a difference between a freshmen team and a more veteran team. When Florida went to the Elite Eight with Chiozza and Devin Robinson and those guys, they were all older statesmen of the game. So, it’s always better to have experience. Experience trumps non-experience any day of the week. I know the old saying is at the end of the year they’re not freshmen. At the end of the day, they still are freshmen. So, kind of is what it is.

Nick:                         Yeah. Hey, not call on the ‘04s, but look what Florida was able to do with guys coming back. Obviously, they had won a National Championship before they came back, but I think what Eric says, there’s a lot of credence to saying guys that have been in the system that were fringe NBA players, so they’re not dummies out there.

Andrew:                 Right.

Nick:                         Guys with some talent that come back to try to improve that stock. I think there’s something to say about guy with experience in the system and knows what to expect, the grind of a season and all of that, versus even a five-star high school guy coming in and it’s all new.

Andrew:                 Right. It is. We’ll see, like you said. The Appleby kid is a player. I’m very high on Omar Payne. I know Mike White at times didn’t play him, but I’m very high on Omar Payne. I think Omar Payne was a good player. It’s one of those things where he’s a younger guy, and so maybe at times he did take off defensively, but, again, he’s a younger guy. We’ll see. I am very high on Keyontae Johnson. I think the world of Keyontae Johnson. I think Keyontae Johnson, if we want to relate it to the ‘04s, is like the Joakim Noah of the team. He’s that Energizer bunny for this team. Keyontae Johnson can’t get enough love, in my opinion, because when the Gators needed a big play, Keyontae Johnson was that guy. I love Keyontae Johnson’s game. I love his energy. I love everything about Keyontae Johnson.

Anyway, let’s move on a little bit, Nick. You and I are over here dying, because we should be almost a month into baseball season now. We’re baseball guys. We love our football. Don’t get us wrong. But we love our baseball. Some news came out. Not the Attorney General, the guy who comes out …

Nick:                         National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Andrew:                 Yes. Says that sports can come back, as long as they don’t have fans. Are you okay with that?

Nick:                         Well, I think yes. If you gave me, I mean, about to learn cricket. If India wasn’t locked down as well, I would learn cricket just to figure out a way to watch sports. I think right now everyone wants something to watch. If you’re a sports fan, give me competitive beer pong.

Andrew:                 Right. Hey, I was watching cornhole. I was watching cornhole. I’m cool with it.

Nick:                         Those guys are nasty. I have so much respect for those guys. I don’t know if they’re professionals, or if they’re just really good at cornhole. Much respect to them.

Andrew:                 Yeah. I’m with you, Nick. Listen, I am down for any sports. Listen, don’t get me wrong. I am very upset. I was telling someone this the other day. Nick, I’m sure you can say the same thing. My birthday is in June. Since forever, since I can remember, I’ve never spent my birthday not at a ballfield, either playing or watching. I’m going to be upset this June when I’m not able to do that, but if you give me my Braves on TV, and I can sit here and tweet about the Braves win and Acuna bombs and Freddie bombs and everything else, give it to me. Give it to me. I’m all cool for that.

You and I said this off the air a little bit when we were talking to Eric, but I think the country itself is in a little bit of bad juju. There’s a lot of doom and gloom around. Some sports on TV could bring the energy level back up a little bit. I think players are understanding that. It’s going to suck for those guys not to be able to be around their families, but at the end of day, they’re going to get a paycheck and know they’re going to get a paycheck, and I think they can help turn some of the positivity back in the world.

We all know, and I think you and I talked about this last week on the air, 9-11 games. Right after 9-11, sports really united the country back, whether you were a Mets fan or a Braves fan. Listen, that might have been the only time I ever pulled against the Braves, because I thought it was awesome Mike Piazza hit a homerun for the Mets to win the first game back in New York. Everyone can unite over sports, in my opinion. Whether that’s trash talking because of your team or whatever it is, that’s something that helps the country.

Nick:                         I think I said last week, baseball is kind of like the barometer of how healthy the country is. If baseball’s going on. It’s almost like the Waffle House test, like when there’s a hurricane. Us guys in the South, you get them in Alabama, I get them here. It’s is Waffle House open? All right, then everything hasn’t collapsed.

Andrew:                 Right.

Nick:                         I think that’s kind of like baseball. It’s good. One thing that I think we haven’t maybe talked about much. Maybe some people have. I don’t think we have. Sports are an outlet. It’s a release for the guys, the weekend warriors, the guys that are sitting, the people, not just guys, the people that are in offices doing 9-5 Monday through Friday, whether they like their job or don’t like their job. It’s playing Fantasy Football and checking the waiver wire at work, talking to your buddies about the game last night, going home and being able to just sit on the couch, relax, and destress by watching football, basketball, baseball, something.

People don’t have that release right now. I think, obviously, the most important thing is finding a safe way to do it and to play those sports, but even if you can’t go, and you can’t have that gameday experience, where you’re tailgating and you’re with your friends and family, loved ones, and then you’re at the game, and the environment’s electric. Even if you can’t have that, I think just being able to have that release and have something on television that you can watch would be great for America.

Andrew:                 Yeah. I mean, you and I do this for a living. Obviously, you and I would love to be back covering it.

Nick:                         I’m interested, not to be political at all, but the people that say the media’s making up how bad this is, and it’s even coming into the sportswriters. You think I want college football to not happen this fall? You’re out of your mind.

Andrew:                 Right. Yeah.

Nick:                         You’re out of your mind.

Andrew:                 That’s me. Are you crazy? Do you really think that I don’t want to go watch my Braves? I have tickets to see Trout play July 4th. I was looking forward to that. I was looking forward to seeing Trout and Acuna play.

I’m the same way, Nick. I’m all for give me sports without fans. Again, I understand it’s going to be tough for some of these players who have families. Freddie Freeman was talking about it. He has a three-year-old, and it’s going to be tough for him for that. I think that, even if it’s for a couple months, they could do a lot. We always say this, and I don’t mean to take this away, because right now first responders, healthcare workers, they’re the real heroes, but everyone, all kids and a lot of adults, have sports figures as heroes as well. This is a time for them to kind of be that and allow things to kind of be some normal. I don’t want to say just because sports are back on TV it’s normal, but in a way it is. If you can turn on TV, and sports are there, that means we’re getting back.

Nick:                         You just got that stimulus check. Go buy yourself an 80” TV, maybe a couch upgrade. Get ready for sports in the fall.

Andrew:                 Go buy you a grill to get you some grilling going and whatever.

Nick:                         You can use your entire check on one Big Green Egg.

Andrew:                 There you go. Let’s dive into that with respect to football, Nick. There’s some questions out there. I don’t know the answer. People are saying, and Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit have been two of the biggest ones. They don’t think football is going to start on time. I think we’re a little early for that. I think we’re a little early for that conversation, but a lot of schools around the country are shutting down campus until August. My question to you, Nick, is how do we expect sports to come back, in particular, football, soccer, and volleyball, the three sports that start very early in the schoolyear, if there’s no students on campus? Can you realistically tell your athletes to come back to school when there’s nobody else, because it’s not safe for them to come back, but have them come back? I think that’s where it starts to kind of hit real with me.

Nick:                         Yeah. How? So, I forget which SEC school. One SEC school already.

Andrew:                 I think it was A&M.

Nick:                         Okay. One SEC school already said, we are suspending anything on campus all the way to summer, which goes into August.

Andrew:                 Right.

Nick:                         Can you have fall sports? Shoot, soccer’s the first sport to start.

Andrew:                 Yeah. They start middle of August.

Nick:                         Can you have a select, very select group, because if you look at it, the student athletes up make a very tiny portion of the actual …

Andrew:                 Student body.

Nick:                         Student body population. Can you have a very select, small group of students be admitted onto campus, when nobody else is, so that they can be meeting in groups larger than 10 every day for hours and hours, and then having practices and games? I just don’t know what the logistics of that would be for college. Professional is completely different. These professional athletes, you’re being paid to do a job. If you want to be paid to do your job, you’re going to be in this hotel for three months, while the season goes, and we’re going to bus you to and from. You’re going to be doing a great thing for Americans, and you’re going to be getting paid well for it. It’s completely different in college.

To me, that would be the question. What would be the logistics? If college campuses are closed, what would be the logistics of how do you have sports? Because they are, as the NCAA loves to tell you, they are amateur athletes, and they’re students first. How would you have it if you can’t have students on campus?

Andrew:                 Right. I don’t know. I don’t know.

Nick:                         We just went from like super high to low.

Andrew:                 Yeah. Well, I think the biggest thing is like you just said.

Nick:                         What a terrible turn.

Andrew:                 The NCAA continues to push that student athlete and amateur. I don’t want to say the guys on the football or soccer or volleyball will refuse to, because I think if you told them to come back and play they would jump in a heartbeat. But at the same time, wouldn’t that raise their argument that we deserve some cash for our likeness, because you’re about to profit off of it? Then furthermore, can you have college football without fans?

Nick:                         The atmospheres are certainly different.

Andrew:                 And the money’s different.

Nick:                         You talk about all the time. We’ll get into that money real quick. But you talk about all the time like Florida, the Swamp made a difference. Neyland with 100,000 people made a difference. Name the stadium. Death Valley at night, that stadium, those fans made a difference. Playing in front of nobody, weird, but we’re living in weird times. So, I think it makes a difference. Then, when you talk about the money, I don’t think that you can renegotiate TV contracts, but the TV money that they would be able to get and the ratings that they would get, I think would be unprecedented.

Andrew:                 Oh yeah.

Nick:                         All time ratings. Which means that ESPN can go to Dove and say, you want a minute commercial? We’re talking about like Super Bowl ad money prices. Everyone is watching this. No one can go. Nothing else is going on. We’re the only thing on TV. This is the price. I don’t think you can go renegotiate your TV contracts, even for a year. That’d be the nice thing to do, but we live in a capitalist society. TV’s going to say, hey, suck an egg. We have a TV deal through 2027, and that’s the deal, so this is the money you’re going to get. It’s like you’re making 150% more than you were making off your ads, where’s our piece? Sorry.

Andrew:                 Right. You’re right. TV and the ads, the TV deals are what pays the bills in general for most sports. I think that’s the case. I just think that I don’t know how you get around the fact of having no students to saying bring your students athletes back and do that for the money, and then still have the argument that they’re amateur athletes, that kind of stuff. That’s where I’m at. I just think that that part in itself will be tough, a tough sell in general overall.

I do think that some way or another we’ll play football. If that’s in late fall, if that’s in the winter, if that’s in the spring, I think you’re going to have some kind of football, because the money is there. That’s what funds college athletics.

Nick:                         100%. If there’s any way possible to have football, it will be had, because, like you said, it funds everything else. There’s too much money to be lost. They’ll cancel the 2021 baseball season. They’ll cancel softball. They’ll cancel swimming. If it means they can have football.

Andrew:                 Right. My last thing for you, and then we’ll get out of here. Wisconsin has said that now they do not want their seniors back. They’re not giving an extra year of eligibility. Do you agree with that? Because I don’t. I think that it should hurt them. It’ll hurt them in their recruitment, because they’re turning their back on a lot of guys. Again, I say this because there’s a lot of people, and I use the term sleeper because of being a football recruiting guy, but in baseball there’s all these guys or whatever it may be that were sleepers, that were guys that were fringe Draft picks that could have had big years. You’re basically saying, I don’t care about your future in the sport I brought you in. Get away from my campus.

Nick:                         Yeah. 100% there with you. I’ll negatively recruit them right now. Don’t worry, Ohio State or Michigan. I’ll do it for you. I think it’s a BS move. These are people, men and women, who have made millions of dollars for you in some cases, for your university, for the athletic programs, which in turn give back to the university. To immediately come out and say, no, don’t want you back. I’m glad you have another year, take it somewhere else. I get maybe financially it makes sense for them, but no. I think it’s bush league. It’s going to happen at Florida too. We don’t know what sports might be cut. They’re going to have to cut some of these nonrevenue sports, and really the only revenue sports are football and basketball, and some schools don’t even have a profitable basketball program.

Andrew:                 Right.

Nick:                         Some sports are going to be cut, and it’s going to suck. I’m not going to like it. If Florida comes out and does it, people won’t like to hear it, because that listen to us love the Gators. I’ll say it was bush league by Florida to do it too.

Andrew:                 Listen, I know they’re not four to five-year scholarships, but you tell a guy to come, that you’re going to take care of him. You sit in mom and pop’s living room and say, I’m going to take care of your son, and then you basically flip him off and tell him to get off your campus, because they were there for four years, and they either weren’t good enough to go pro or whatever, so get off my campus. Let’s just be honest here for a second. The five or six senior baseball players are not taking up that much money. The five or six softball girls or whatever, that’s pennies. That’s chump change to a university like Wisconsin. Like you said, it’s bush league. They should be negative recruited and everything else. I fear the NCAA will be stupid though and do some kind of rule to change it, because of one dumb decision by a university. I hope all those men and women find places to go. That’s just bush league on Wisconsin’s part.

Nick:                         Yup. I hate it.

Andrew:                 Stupid overall.

Nick:                         Nothing good to say about it. It’s going to happen though.

Andrew:                 They probably won’t be the only school.

Nick:                         Especially baseball. 11.7 scholarships. You got 35 guys. There’s going to be a lot of transfers. There’s going to be some seniors that are told. It’s going to be up to every school to decide if they want to give the seniors scholarships. They don’t have to. Some seniors are going to be told, we don’t have room for you.

Andrew:                 Right. Unprecedented times, like you say. Nick, tell everybody where they can find us. We’ll get out of here. We’ll see everyone next week, and who knows what we’ll be talking about. Nembhard coming back. Nembhard leaving. Mike White’s new Coach of the Year. Who knows? We’ll see.

Nick:                         We’ll see. www.GatorCountry.com for all your Florida Gator news. The podcast is there in audio and transcript form. You can find the podcast on iTunes, wherever you subscribe and listen to your content. Just search Gator Country. Never miss an episode. Do your social media thing. @GatorCountry on Facebook and Twitter. @TheGatorCountry on Instagram. I’m @NickdelaTorreGC. He’s @AndrewSpiveyGC.

Andrew:                 There you go. Guys, we really appreciate it. We’ll talk to you guys next week. As always, chomp, chomp and go Braves.

Nick:                         You stay classy, Gator Country.

Andrew Spivey
Andrew always knew he wanted to be involved with sports in some capacity. He began by coaching high school football for six years before deciding to pursue a career in journalism. While coaching, he was a part of two state semifinal teams in the state of Alabama. Given his past coaching experience, he figured covering recruiting would be a perfect fit. He began his career as an intern for Rivals.com, covering University of Florida football recruiting. After interning with Rivals for six months, he joined the Gator Country family as a recruiting analyst. Andrew enjoys spending his free time on the golf course and watching his beloved Atlanta Braves. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewSpiveyGC.