Thoughts of the day: February 22, 2014

A few thoughts to jump start your Saturday morning.


Here are two questions that will have to be answered during the 15 days in March and April that the Gators are allowed to practice: (1) Mack Brown proved he can be a dependable ball carrier last year. Although he’s not explosive, he can grind out yards and can follow blocking through a hole. With Kurt Roper calling the plays, Brown will have to catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s been here three years and only has 14 catches to his name. Can he become a dependable receiver? (2) Clay Burton is a terrific guy to have on a team but the stats beg the question can he catch the ball? With three catches for 24 yards in his last two seasons at tight end is this a case of a guy who can actually do something being under-utilized or does he lack the hands and skills to be a receiver? Roper does like to use a tight end and it would help if Burton can catch the football.


Kentucky went 0-8 in the SEC last year, scoring only 118 points in league games. only scored 118 points in eight SEC games last year and finished the season by losing. Freshman quarterback Drew Barker, the most highly regarded quarterback to choose Kentucky since Tim Couch, is already on campus and will go through spring practice. Starting a freshman quarterback in the SEC is usually suicide, but Kentucky’s situation is borderline desperate. Should the Wildcats throw him into the fire or should they take their lumps one more year with Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow? … Arkansas lost its last nine games in 2013 and changed more than half its coaching staff in the offseason. Can Bret Bielema get the Razorbacks to .500 this year and will that be enough to satisfy fans who are accustomed to going to bowl games?


Ole Miss is a dangerous opponent for Florida’s basketball team today (12 noon, CBS). The Rebels have lost five of their last seven games and their NCAA Tournament hopes are slip-sliding away. They know all too well what a win over the 2nd-ranked Gators (24-2, 13-0 SEC) would do for their RPI and hope that it would jump start a late season rally that would get them back in the good graces of the NCAA Tournament Committee. If the Rebels lose, perhaps the only way they will get into the big dance will be to win the SEC Tournament. They did it last year, but that was a much better team than this one. It’s a trap game for the Gators, but they can avoid the trap by putting together a solid effort at both ends of the court. If they have a first half like the one they had Wednesday night against Auburn, they’re going to find it difficult to dig out of the hole. If the Gators win, they’re one win away from clinching at least a tie for their third SEC championship in the last four years.


The Gators extended their streak of weeks with at least one perfect 10 to five Friday night with a 198.125-197-625 win over 3rd-ranked LSU before a huge crowd of 9,197 at the O-Dome. Kytra Hunter scored her fourth perfect 10 of the season and Bridget Sloan won the all-around for the fifth consecutive week with a 39.700. The Gators dominated on the balance beam and the floor after trailing LSU at the midway point. This is a terrific team and Rhonda Faehn is bringing them along slowly. Even though they are posting strong scores every week, they are nowhere close to peaking.


With Sebastien Rousseau winning his third individual championship, the #1-ranked Florida men’s swimming team has an 80-point advantage over Auburn heading into today’s final events in the SEC Swimming Championships in Athens. Rousseau set the SEC record in the 200 butterfly for his third gold of the meet to help the Gators to a comfortable lead that they hope will stand up. Florida is going for its second consecutive SEC championship. The Florida women fell to third behind Georgia and Texas A&M. The Gators are ahead of fourth place Tennessee by more than 200 points, so they should finish the meet in third.


Arkansas coach Bret Bielema spent a good portion of the day trying to walk back his comment about “death certificates” as evidence the Saban Rule needs to be implemented. Bielema cited the death of California defensive lineman Ted Agu, who had sickle cell trait. That prompted Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour to tweet, “Bret Bielema’s comments about our Ted Agu are misinformed, ill-advised and beyond insensitive. Using the tragic loss of one of our student athletes to further a personal agenda in a public setting is beyond insensitive.” In talking to Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples, tried to defend his comments, saying that he’s simply concerned with the kids who have sickle-cell trait. Sure. If he’s so concerned why isn’t Bielema pledging to keep any player with sickle cell trait off the field when teams go into the two-minute drill at the end of games?


The Ed O’Bannon case will finally go to trial. U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken has ordered Ed O’Bannon vs. the NCAA to go to trial beginning on June 9, at which time a jury will hear arguments and decide if the NCAA has violated antitrust laws by restricting athletes from cashing in on their name and images. The NCAA has long maintained that it has the right to use the name and images of its athletes to market its sports, but has restricted athletes from cashing in. Attorney for Ed O’Bannon and the plaintiffs Michael Haulsfeld says that his clients aren’t asking for money, just the restrictions to be lifted. This is a landmark case that the NCAA has lost at every level so far. The NCAA claims that the fundamental principles of amateurism are at stake. Judge Wilken said, “I don’t think amateurism is going to be a useful word here.” If that comment is a foreshadowing of things to come, then the NCAA is in serious trouble.


Dutch speedskating coach Jillert Anema said this about the United States to CNBC: “You have a lot of attention for foolish sport, like American football. You waste a lot of talent, athletic talent, in a sport where it’s meant to kill each other, to injure each other.” He went on to add:  “… (The U.S.) is so narrow-minded, and you waste a lot of good talent in a sport that sucks.” Let’s see, on any given Saturday or Sunday in the United States from August through January, millions of folks will show up at stadiums that hold as many as 108,000 people and millions more will watch on television. And here we were, all of us thinking we were watching a sport we actually enjoy. And just how many people show up to a speed skating event in The Netherlands?


Francine Reed, who quite often tours with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band, has one of the great blues voices you will ever hear. I’m hoping that she will be playing up at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur while I’m in Atlanta for the SEC Basketball Tournament, March 12-16. She is sensational in person. This is “I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues,” a song made popular in the 1930s by Billie Holliday.

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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.