Have you heard the big news? Florida is a “basketball school” now. Yeah, Billy’s boys are balling hard, while Boom went bust this past year. Everyone has crossed the street from The Swamp to the O’Dome and a new era is upon us.
Yawn. This is the lazy journalism angle that’s become popular over the past few weeks when chronicling the Gators’ remarkable basketball season. From Yahoo! to the Orlando Sentinel, the concept of a new world order has spread like kudzu throughout a press corps hungry for an easy headline and a contrarian piece.
Here’s the thing: it’s not true.
The 2013 football season may have been the worst in over 30 years, but Florida is no less a football school than it was during the halcyon years of Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer. The product may have sucked, but fan enthusiasm is no less tempered. If anything, expect to hear more gripes and groans throughout the 2014 season as Muschamp tries to right the ship.
A “basketball school” doesn’t call for its football coach’s head after one mediocre, one successful and one disappointing season. It rides the waves of good and bad, happy only to be relevant. Think Duke, UConn or Kentucky – not Florida.
One of the paper arguments floating around is event attendance. Football games don’t routinely sell out anymore, whereas the basketball team had a record 12 sellouts this season.
Consider this: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium officially holds 88,548 and had an average 2013 attendance of 87,440 – that’s a 98.75% attendance rate for a 4-8 team. The O’Connell Center has a capacity of 11,548. Of course it’s easier to sellout a venue 1/8 the size that fielded its best team in program history (record-wise at least).
Now, this isn’t to say the success of Billy Donovan hasn’t changed the dynamic of Florida’s athletic program. It surely has. He has elevated the school’s other revenue sport to a championship level. If anything, he has balanced the power within the athletic department.
Is it so inconceivable to think of Florida as an “athletics school?” It fields competitive units in nearly every sport. Jeremy Foley is quite possibly the best athletic director in the nation, having constructed a top-notch program beyond its two flagship sports.
If you’re following fan behavior in March, sure Florida seems like a “basketball school.” But fans follow winners, and right now UF basketball is the best in the land. Come September if Muschamp orchestrates an upset over Alabama, Florida will probably return to being a “football school.” Or maybe that’ll happen when 40,000 people show up for the Orange and Blue game.
Let’s just call things as they really are: Florida is a “winning school.” Fans get pissed when teams lose; they celebrate when teams win. Billy Donovan has helped elevate the entire athletics program to a level of greater accountability. For that he should be lauded. But to call UF a “basketball school,” well that’s just lazy.