Image Credit: GatorVision
Welcome to The Silver Lining, my weekly column back after a few months hiatus to take a closer and/or quicker look at some hot topics surrounding the Florida Gators athletic program.
Is Joe Alleva running a long con?
Coverage of the Florida-LSU postponement has been incredibly one-sided and for an obvious reason — most of it has come out from those who sympathize with LSU or Tennessee or simply want to stir the pot. As I noted on Twitter, it is abundantly clear that the Tigers have made a concerted effort to enlist their local media to smear the Gators, knowing Florida is not one to use the media to fight its battles (more on that later).
And most of this has been mind-numbing, particularly from those who hold the belief that Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley (one of the most respected ADs in the nation over the last 25 years) got one over on new SEC commissioner Greg Sankey (the former Southland Conference commissioner who has been with the SEC since 2002 and running day-to-day operations since 2012). Let me clarify a couple things real quick. UF champions and doesn’t duck the LSU rivalry. Foley, while shrewd, is not a coward. Sankey is no rookie. Decisions made last week were made for the best possible reason: protecting the safety and health (mental and physical) of players.
What is not being discussed here — at all — is the role of LSU and its AD, Joe Alleva, in this entire situation. Let’s start with one very important fact: Alleva has a documented history of being opposed to his team’s annual SEC cross-division rivalry with Florida. He has not made this a secret and has gone so far as to nearly scream it from the mountaintops every time SEC schedules are discussed, which has been often recently.
Let’s also look at how the Tigers handled this situation. Taking LSU at its word, it reportedly offered to play Florida in Gainesville on Sunday or Monday. Nice gesture but not possible from UF’s perspective considering potential lack of security resources, family safety concerns, etc. stemming from the hurricane. The Tigers also saw an opportunity to add a home game to their slate by offering the Gators play in Baton Rouge. Again, impossible for Florida for the aforementioned reasons and others, such as short-notice travel and UF simply having no desire to give up a home game and the associated revenue.
Now the SEC is in a forced rescheduling situation. Foley has said the Gators want to play the game and are open to a variety of options. Sankey and SEC have said it is in the best interest of the teams and leagues to play the game. Alleva? He’s throwing up one roadblock after the next.
– Nov. 19: Alleva will not allow the SEC to buy out South Alabama so LSU can play at Florida, which has itself offered to buy out its game (or allow the SEC to do so) with Presbyterian that day. Why? He doesn’t want the Tigers to lose a home game. “One thing that we’re going to hold very firm on is that we have a home game Nov. 19th and we’re going to have a home game on Nov. 19th. … We are going to have a home game on Nov. 19th. We’re not going to change that situation,” he said. He even says he doesn’t care about the “lost” home revenue, which would all be paid for by the SEC’s insurance. “It’s not about that. It’s the fact that our fans, and this city, deserve to have a home game on that day. We’re not going to give up a home game.”
Notice, though, that Alleva is not saying “we’re going to have a home game on Nov. 19th with South Alabama.” It’s fair to wonder if he’s trying to put his foot down and get the SEC to buy out the games while forcing UF to travel to Baton Rouge. I wonder, even if the Gators agreed to that — like I’ve opined they should — if he would expect the Tigers to host them again in 2017. (A trade-off, in my opinion, should be required and could actually benefit UF, which would have an incredible home slate in 2017 and get back a lost game in The Swamp due to its neutral-site opener with Michigan.)
– Oct. 29: Not that Florida would be able to move its neutral-site rivalry game with Georgia, but Alleva even shut down the possibility of playing UF that Saturday as he does not believe giving up LSU’s bye week before the Alabama game would be fair … unless the Crimson Tide are forced to do the same thing as the Tigers. “We have an open date before the Alabama game. I’m not in favor of playing a game on that day, unless Alabama also plays a game on that day,” he said. Incredible. So Florida would lose its bye week and move up its rivalry game, but LSU would do nothing unless Alabama is also affected?
Here’s the point of all this: Alleva is completely unwilling to compromise. His comments are more like those of a sitting Congressman than a university’s athletic director. His party either gets exactly what it wants or nothing happens at all. And he’s not even doing this stonewalling in private behind closed doors. It’s all being played out publicly, making the SEC look like the Big 12 in the process.
Alleva repeats over and again how difficult it will be to play this game, purposely ignoring the fact that he’s the one being difficult in the first place. The motivation for Alleva to take advantage of the situation (not wanting the rivalry, adding a home game against a quality opponent that will draw better) is there. The motivation to compromise is not.
And then there’s this.
Who has final authority to reschedule #UFvsLSU?
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) October 10, 2016
So is Alleva really trying to play this game? Or is he simply waiting this all out and playing the long con, allowing Florida to look like the bad guy and take the fall while getting what he really wants in the long run? Remember: UF could potentially benefit in the SEC East by not playing this game, but LSU has that same opportunity with the SEC West’s incredibly difficult schedule leaving the division open for the taking despite some early losses.
A communications issue
Florida’s athletic department has driven a wedge between itself and the local media in a variety of ways over the years, so many that getting into the details here would move attention off my ultimate point. Suffice to say, it is apparent that LSU has ingratiated itself more with its local media and provided enough access — even in turbulent times for the Tigers — that those covering its program are more than happy to go to bat for the administration both in columns and news stories, perhaps even without any prompting.
Forget the Gators not wanting to fight their battles in the media, Florida through its own actions can no longer expect the media to step up and do so for it without being asked or passed along information to help towards that end. In addition to disseminating information about your organization, the job of communications and media relations is to develop relationships with journalists in order to maximize positive coverage.
UF is currently struggling in that regard. The good news for the Gators, though, is that new AD Scott Stricklin understands how important that can be for an athletic program. Having previously served in such a role, Stricklin used that experience when he decided to stand face-to-face with journalists while getting grilled over Mississippi State allowing Jeffrey Simmons to enroll this past year. There are a lot of questions about how Stricklin will change Florida, but I have a feeling this is one area in which there could be marked improvement over the next couple of years. If not, it will be a continued slide in the wrong direction for Florida.
Pick a damn running back
The Gators’ depth chart ahead of their homecoming game was released on Monday, and wouldn’t you know it, the four-headed monster returns at running back.
This marks the first season since 2013 that Florida does not have a single player carrying the ball 50 percent of the time. Injury forced that to be the case that season, and the Gators ultimately finished 4-8. It also recently happened in 2010, when Florida finished 8-5 without a single rusher topping 600 yards.
By the way, head coach Jim McElwain keeps bringing up the 2010 Alabama team’s stable of running backs when discussing why he’s giving four players carries this year. Here’s what he fails to mention: Mark Ingram (158) and Trent Richardson (112) far and away got the most touches that year with Eddie Lacy (60) seeing his looks mostly in garbage time or when injury forced him in as the second back. The following season, Richardson (283) dwarfed Lacy (95), who actually averaged 1.2 yards per carry better. So yes, McElwain has had 3-4 running backs get touches before, but the disparity in touches at Florida isn’t helping anyone.
It is quite clear to those watching the Gators play that sophomore running back Jordan Scarlett should be getting the vast majority of the carries each week. And while there are some murmurs that McElwain will begin leaning that way this week, the fact that Florida does not have a defined starter at the position entering its sixth week of the season continues to be mind-numbing.
You know that old football saying: “If you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none?” Well, what if you have four running backs?
Not Only Gators: A tough decision
It was quite difficult to see Tiger Woods withdraw from the Safeway Open on Monday. His return to the sport of golf has been highly anticipated, of course, and at age 40, he only has so many months and years left to actually go out and legitimately compete. While it does not appear as if his health is a factor in this withdrawal, the fact that he’s returning from two more back surgeries is obviously concerning.
The good news here is that Woods claims this decision was made purely for competitive reasons. One of the things I’ve respected most about Woods the athlete is his mindset of playing to win. It’s not that he simply wants to win. He will not put himself in a competition unless he believes he is capable of winning. Hell, in his mind, he probably thinks he’s going to win every time he steps out there.
So if Woods has the yips or is struggling with those difficult in-between shots and needs a couple more months, hell, I can wait and golf fans everywhere can, too. Because when Tiger comes back, I just want to see glimpses of the greatness that once consumed the sport. And an occasional win or two would be nice.
This Week’s Movie Trailer
Fist Fight (2017)
The Top 5 List
From the home office in Wahoo, Nebraska …
Best new TV shows:
3. Son of Zorn
4. Designated Survivor
4. High Maintenance
Still need to see: Luke Cage, Insecure, Better Things
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