Thoughts of the day: December 17, 2013

A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:


The wheels are not coming off the Florida football program, but that is the perception both in the state and nationally. The perception is made worse by the fact that Florida had a 34-year streak of non-losing seasons, longest by far in the Southeastern Conference. Given the recent success – it wasn’t that long ago that the Gators won two national championships in three years and were a game away from playing for a third in four – losses at home to Vanderbilt and D1AA Georgia Southern only exacerbate the situation. Now, throw in a bunch of transfers while the Gators sit at home and our fine friends 150 miles to the west celebrate a Heisman Trophy winner and a shot at the national title and the perception is that Florida football is at its lowest point since 1978, Doug Dickey’s final season. Gator fans should brace themselves because it won’t be until August 30 when Idaho comes to The Swamp that things can begin to change.


The only thing that is going to cure the negative perceptions is winning. Naming a new offensive coordinator and line coach are only band-aids and the strong recruiting class that Will Muschamp is about to bring in is only a sign of hope. What Muschamp needs in the worst way is an enthusiastic spring practice with the new coaches doing their part, a quiet offseason in which there are no more transfers and as few off-the-field incidents as possible, and for August 30 to get here in a hurry. The wonderful thing about perceptions is that they can change. In the case of Florida football and Will Muschamp, winning games next season can put a whole bunch of months of negative perceptions in the rear view mirror.


It’s one thing to beat a ranked team like Kansas at the O-Dome where a sellout crowd can turn its hostility on the visitors. It’s something altogether different beating ranked teams on the road. The Gators are 0-2 so far, having dropped games to 4th-ranked Wisconsin and 10th-ranked UConn on the road by a combined seven points. The 16th-ranked Gators travel to New York tonight to face 15th-ranked Memphis in Madison Square Garden, their last chance to beat a ranked non-conference team in the regular season. This is an RPI game and while the numbers might seem like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo to most folks, they mean a lot to the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Just beating people in the SEC isn’t going to add that much to the Florida RPI, so a win tonight will have some long range effects for Billy Donovan and his team.


UCF is about to discover what the big boys of college football already know – that going to a BCS bowl isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. UCF is on the hook for 17,500 tickets, or $3.4 million in hard cash. So far, UCF fans have bought 5,000 tickets for the Fiesta Bowl matchup with Baylor and they need so buy an additional 8,500 just to get to the break-even point. If UCF could simply pocket the $17 million that’s paid to each team everything would be fine and funky in Orlando, but the payout goes to the American Athletic Conference and UCF will get a cut of the revenue along with every other team in the league, i.e.; 1/10th of the total payout after the AAC takes its cut.


Given the choice at an opportunity for a dandy case of frostbite and staying back in San Diego, where it will probably be a beach day Saturday, San Diego State fans are choosing the sunshine over a weekend in scenic Boise for the Famous Idaho Potatoes Bowl. San Diego State is on the hook for 8,000 tickets. The school simply gave the bowl the money for 5,500 tickets that will be distributed to someone and took the other 2,500 to sell. So far sales are good for 1,250 for Saturday’s game with Buffalo. Considering they live in Buffalo, you would think those fans would be buying tickets in droves. Compared to Buffalo, Boise is a resort. Games like this are why we need a playoff.  A legitimate 16 or 32-team playoff would generate a whole lot more money for all 125 Division I teams. At a time when there are serious money issues outside the power conferences, a full playoff would make so much more sense.


The networks pay the NCAA $771 million a year to broadcast the NCAA Tournament. There are estimates that a 16 or 32 team college football playoff would be worth at least what the networks will start paying the NFL to broadcast the Super Bowl starting in 2014 — $1.08 billion. In one model that I read a while back, the NCAA could afford to give every Division I team (125) $3 million and every team in Division IAA, Division II and Division III $500,000 and still be able to pay the teams that actually play a graduating payoff for each round — for example expenses for each game played, plus $2 million for the first round, $4 million for the second, etc. That cash infusion would go a long way toward balancing a lot of athletic department budgets.


Probably the biggest opponents of a playoff aren’t the college presidents, but the athletic directors who don’t want to have to deal with the logistics of a possible five-week run at the end of the year. They do it for basketball but it’s on a much smaller scale and a shorter time frame. In basketball, it’s three weeks and schools typically get an allotment of 1,250 tickets for the first weekend, something like 2,500 for the second and 4,500 for the final four. Imagine if it’s football and you’re dealing with upwards of 10,000 tickets per week for five consecutive weeks. The athletic directors would much rather deal with a system like the one that will be in place starting next year where there is a final four and everyone else will stay within the bowl system. As one AD told me a couple of years ago, “I like the system the way it is. I don’t want to be dealing with boosters wanting flight and hotel information for three or four or five straight weeks.”


At the invitation of Nick Saban, former Tennessee and Southern Cal coach Lane Kiffin is in Tuscaloosa this week to watch film and evaluate the Alabama offense prior to the Sugar Bowl. Kiffin rubs a lot of fans the wrong way because as a head coach it seems he can’t open his mouth without sticking his foot in it, but as an offensive coordinator, Lane is rather gifted. He would make someone a dandy offensive coordinator next year. He’s going to be a head coach again someday, too, just not at a big school in a major media market. He might get back to that level at some point the future but he’s gotta do time in the hinterlands first.


On my first trip to Brazil back in the 1990s, I was introduced to the music of Eliane Elias. I heard her do this incredible set of samba music in Portuguese that blew me away, then she came back with a set of old jazz standards in English and her work on the piano was every bit as good as her vocal style. This is “I Thought About You,” one of my favorites by one of my favorite jazz singers of all time.


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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.