2011 SEC Spring Meetings Recap – Day One

Head coaches, athletic directors and support staff gather in Destin, FL each year for the Southeastern Conference Spring Meetings, which provide an opportunity to discuss rule changes, new procedures and much more. Florida Gators head football coach Will Muschamp and head basketball coach Billy Donovan were both in attendance on Tuesday and made waves with their stances on some of the hot topics of the week.

WILL MUSCHAMP

» He once again took a hard line on oversigning (accepting national letters of intent for more players than open scholarships you have in a given year) and greyshirting (denying scholarships to oversigned players and forcing them to enroll in the following spring or fall), saying emphatically that Florida does not believe in either method of recruiting. “We don’t over-sign. That’s a policy we have at the university,” he said. “We’ve been successful, so it’s not an issue for us.”

» On the SEC’s live Internet show streaming short interviews with some of the league’s coaches, Muschamp stressed that what separates this league from the rest of the country is the strong defenses, specifically up front on the line. “I’ve seen teams in this league with average quarterbacks win national championships because they’re really good on defense,” he said.

» One quarterback who he thinks is well above average is redshirt senior John Brantley, who Muschamp said needs to have the players around him step up in order to be successful. He related a conversation he had with Brantley when he told him that offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has a lot of confidence in him going forward and how “that should tell you a lot” about the type of talent he possesses.

» Muschamp said that dismissing senior cornerback Janoris Jenkins after his second marijuana arrest in less than 90 days was not about making an example out of him but rather making sure he did what was in the best interests of the rest of the team. “I don’t look at it as trying to send a message; I look at it from a standpoint of doing what’s right for the program,” he said, according to the Palm Beach Post. “Guys are going to be expected to act a certain way and have a certain behavior, and if they don’t do that then they’re not going to be a part of our football team.”

» Addressing his decision to allow freshman running back Mike Blakely to transfer within the SEC to Auburn, he said it is not something he will normally allow. “It’s not my policy to clear a kid to leave for another conference school,” Muschamp said per the Montgomery Advertiser. “I don’t want to face our players on the field. I know how good they are. They signed with Florida for a reason, so that’s a situation I’m going to avoid.” He did not provide an exact reason for making an exception in this case, simply saying that “this was the right thing to do.”

Auburn head coach Gene Chizik, the beneficiary of Blakely’s services, agrees. “That was an extremely classy move on Will’s part to give him that chance to come back to Auburn,” Chizik said. “It says something about the kind of person Will is.”

BILLY DONOVAN

» The league’s basketball coaches are going to take on two separate but related issues this week – potentially removing the conference’s divisions and ways to reseed the SEC Tournament so it is more fair to the teams that perform at a high level all year. A move to a 12-team format (rather than two six-team divisions) would benefit the East, which feels it often gets a raw deal when the tournament comes around and West teams get undeserved byes. Options include seeding the tournament 1-12 by conference record (with tiebreakers) or using a model similar to the baseball format with division winners getting byes and the rest of the teams being slotted 3-12.

» Donovan, proposing a solution that could work whether or not divisions are retained, believes the tournament should seed teams by RPI. This would force coaches and ADs to schedule better non-conference opponents, which would also improve the SEC’s overall standing nationally. Commissioner Mike Slive said Donovan’s suggestion will not be one of the methods considered.

» The vote on the topic of reseeding was tied 6-6 last year but should have more steam on Wednesday due to Slive being publicly in favor of some type of change. Scrapping the divisions is a long-term topic that, even if approved of by a majority, would not occur next season. However, adjustments to tournament seeding procedures could be worked out this week.

OTHER NOTES

» Not everyone agrees that oversigning and greyshirting are bad things. Those who are happy with the way things are (28 maximum scholarships per signing class – a rule adjusted just one year ago) include Chizik, Houston Nutt (Ole Miss), Bobby Petrino (Arkansas) and Mark Richt (Georgia). “Everybody has a right to manage their own numbers,” Richt said.

» Petrino also took the opportunity to criticize the NCAA for allowing Ohio State to delay the suspensions of five players deemed to have taken illegal benefits before the 2011 Sugar Bowl. “They kind of changed the rules for that bowl game,” he said.

» Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley plans to submit a formal proposal requesting that the SEC increase the staff sizes for its football programs. Dooley believes the player-to-coach ratio (12-to-1) in football is significantly worse in football than other collegiate sports (or the NFL, which is 3-to-1) and thinks that hiring additional staff members will also help combat off-the-field issues.

» Alabama head coach Nick Saban admitted Tuesday that he made a “mistake” not hiring Muschamp as the defensive coordinator when he took the Miami Dolphins job after leaving LSU. “When I went to Miami as the Dolphins coach, I didn’t want to put guys that were college coaches in coordinator positions until they’d coached in the league and got some experience,” Saban said, according to The Gainesville Sun. “I had coached in the league for two years at Houston and became the (defensive) coordinator at Cleveland and it was really, really difficult, only being in the league two years and understanding the league, the personnel, match-ups and a lot of things.
“I should have made Will the coordinator. Dom [Capers] did a wonderful job, but Will probably deserved to get that job. It was me trying to protect him. I wanted to give him another year before he was out there. I was trying to protect people that were important to me. I don’t think we have any issues or problems.”

FOUR BITS: Tyus, Parsons, NBA Finals, Dunker

1 » Florida Gators forward Alex Tyus may not have been invited to the 2011 NBA Combine, but teams have taken an interest in him. According to Tyus, who has been writing diaries for TheHoopsReport.com, he will be working out for Oklahoma City on Wednesday and will be traveling to New Jersey and Phoenix next week to see if he can earn a second-round selection or a spot on one of their summer league teams.

2 » Gators F and OGGOA blogger Chandler Parsons, who will be checking in with us late Tuesday from Miami, FL, was part of a Prospect Profile video produced by NBA.com. Parsons discusses growing up around basketball with his family, his ability to play in the NBA and more in the feature, which can be viewed here.

3 » Florida, as is probably known now by most fans, boasts more former players in the 2011 NBA Finals than any other school with F Corey Brewer on the Dallas Mavericks and both power forward Udonis Haslem and guard Mike Miller on the Miami Heat. The Finals, which will air live on ABC, begin with game one Tuesday at 9 p.m.

4 » The Wall Street Journal published a column Tuesday looking into how much high school football players believe they should be paid (in addition to a scholarship) to play college football. One of the players the paper interviewed, Gators four-star offensive lineman commit Jessamen Dunker (Boynton Beach, FL) “says he’d like to see schools offer ‘a little pocket change’ to the tune of $5,000 a semester.” Of the six players the WSJ spoke to, one said no additional money was necessarily while the rest provided figures ranging from $2,000-10,000 per year.

FOUR BITS: Tebow, Johnson, Heat, Macklin

1 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow’s new memoir, Through My Eyes was released Tuesday, but the number of fans who camped outside (yes, spent the night) waiting for him at a Books-A-Million absolutely stunned the Heisman Trophy winner. “It’s extremely humbling,” he told The Florida Times-Union. “I take it as a huge responsibility that people care that much about me and [I] really try to make it worth it for them, really try to make them feel special for doing it.” Tebow also spoke with the paper a little bit about the content of the book, which OGGOA should receive from the publisher for review on Tuesday. “It wasn’t just about football stories,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s more about inspiring kids to go out there and try to live their dream, and go after it and live with passion. That’s a lot of what it’s about, so hopefully, people will take it that way.”

2 » Back in Gainesville, FL after suffering a minor concussion during the No. 2 Florida Gators baseball team’s elimination game in the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover, AL, sophomore left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson is doing his best to recover quickly and get back on the field. Speaking with Florida Today, Johnson’s father said his son “is fine” and underwent a number of tests on Monday to evaluate his post-concussion symptoms. He is considered day-to-day for the Gainesville Regional portion of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, which begins on Thursday. The paper reports

He had base line testing while playing for a U.S. all-star team last summer so doctors are able to do comparisons, to make sure he returns to normal before playing again. UF is also consulting with noted Pittsburgh neuropsychologist Michael Collins.

3 » Discussing with Miami Heat power forward Udonis Haslem and guard Mike Miller their time playing for Florida, the Palm Beach Post’s Ethan Skolnick got the duo to open up about how head coach Billy Donovan ended up helping them form a bond. It all started when he called both players into his office. “Coach Donovan, was like, ‘You know, if the season started today, I couldn’t play neither one of you guys,'” Haslem told Skolnick. “That wasn’t the exact words he used. You got to get your, um, ‘S’ together. Because I just thought I was doing the best academic job in the world, and obviously I wasn’t. And neither was [Miller]. I don’t know what his excuse was. But, at that point, Mike and I bonded from there.”

Haslem even had Miller’s back when an incident occurred with an unnamed football player. “I had a football player that, um, that didn’t really like me,” Miller said with a smile. “For unknown reasons. And UD put an end to that.” Haslem remembered, “Yeah, I just let the guy know, if you got a problem with Mike, you got a problem with me. The guy never bothered Mike again.”

4 » Talk surrounding the 2011 NBA Draft from a Gators perspective has mostly focused on forward Chandler Parsons, who could be picked anywhere from the teens to the mid-second round. Parsons, who has been going around the country doing private workouts after successfully competing in the NBA Combine and select group camp in Minnesota, is not the only former Florida player eligible to be selected. Center Vernon Macklin, according to the Indianapolis Star, is one of six former college players working out for the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday. Macklin is projected to be a late second-round pick or go undrafted.

Tebow flew WRs to Jacksonville for workouts

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow conducted private workouts with his wide receivers in Jacksonville, FL last week, a source has told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

According to Schefter, Tebow paid for flights and lodging for pass catchers Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney and Britt Davis and organized workouts throughout the week.

The receivers that did attending considered it such a success that the group plans to reconvene again in another week or so in Arizona for two weeks of intensive workouts.

Between now and then Tebow will be promoting his new memoir, Through My Eyes, at book signings and media appearances across the country.

He no doubt hopes that the leadership he is showing to team executives, coupled with his improvement during the offseason, will help him win the starting job next season over veteran Kyle Orton, who has been the subject of recent trade rumors.

Photo Credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Meyer refutes Ohio State rumors for “this fall”

Former Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer, now a college football analyst with ESPN, released a statement Monday refuting rumors that he is currently in the mix for the Ohio State Buckeyes coaching job left vacant by Jim Tressel.

“I am committed to ESPN and will not pursue any coaching opportunities this fall,” Meyer said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the people at ESPN this spring and remain very excited about my role with the network this fall.

“Jim Tressel has been a respected friend and colleague for a long time. I wish Jim and his family the very best now and in the future.”

Though Meyer’s statement will should quiet the talk of his taking over the Ohio State program this year, its specific usage of the words “this fall” on two occasions will no doubt allow rumors to continue swirling that he could be in line to be the Buckeyes head coach in 2012. Ohio State, incidentally, has said publicly that it does not plan to hire a permanent head coach this year and will stick with interim coach Luke Fickell for the duration of the season. Meyer coached tight ends and running backs at OSU from 1986-87.

Photo Credit: ESPN

FOUR BITS: baseball bracket, softball in WCWS

1 » Awarded the No. 2 seed in the nation on Monday, Florida Gators baseball also received its opening round match-ups for the Gainesville Regional as part of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Being hosted at McKethan Stadium, the regional will feature one-seed Florida (45-16), two-seed Miami (36-21), three-seed Jacksonville (36-22) and four-seed Manhattan (34-17). Action begins Friday, June 3 with Florida-Manhattan and Miami-Jacksonville contests taking place; both games will air live on ESPNU at 4 p.m. and noon, respectively. The Gainesville Regional will span the weekend unless an “if necessary” finale is forced for Monday evening with the winner going on to face the victor of the Atlanta Regional in Super Regional action. The Gators will host the Super Regional if they advance out of their opening round bracket.

2 » The first team in Southeastern Conference history to advance to four consecutive Women’s College World Series, No. 4 Florida softball (52-10) begins action on Thursday when they take on No. 5 Missouri (52-8) in Oklahoma City, OK at 9:30 p.m. live on ESPN2. Opponents in the second contest, set for Friday or Saturday, will be either No. 1 Arizona State (55-6) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma (42-17); the winners of the two games will play Friday evening and the losers will square-off Saturday afternoon. The Gators, located in the bottom bracket of the WCWS, will be able to decide their fate by the end of the weekend as the championship series begins Monday, June 6.

3 » Just days after leading the Gators to the 2011 NCAA Championship in women’s tennis, sophomore Lauren Embree was forced to retire from the Final Four of the NCAA Singles Championships on Sunday due to a painful toenail and skin issue on her foot. Embree, who has been on absolute fire during the NCAAs, forfeited a tied match with Stanford’s Stacy Tan that was knotted at a set apiece (7-5, 3-6). If she had stayed in the match and won, she would have had the opportunity to compete for the individual title.

4 » Also ending their season was the men’s No. 17 doubles team of senior Alexandre Lacroix and sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. Dropping a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) match to No. 3 Bradley Klahn/Ryan Thacher of Stanford, Lacroix and Bangoura concluded a terrific year with a semifinals appearance. With no eligibility remaining, Lacroix will depart Florida as the school’s all-time leader in doubles wins (104) and overall wins (214).

Florida baseball blanks Vanderbilt 5-0 to win first SEC Tournament championship since 1991

Hoping to end the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament on a high note, No. 3 Florida Gators baseball took on the No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores in the winner-takes-all championship game on Sunday afternoon at Regions Park. Behind a terrific performance by junior left-handed starter Alex Panteliodis (5-2), the Gators (45-16) fought their way to a 5-0 shutout victory over the Commodores (47-10) to capture the team’s first SEC Tournament title since 1991.

Florida struck first in the bottom of the second, utilizing a pair of throwing errors to plate the first run of the game. Redshirt sophomore first baseman Vickash Ramjit walked with one out, and an infield single by junior left fielder Daniel Pigott followed by a bad throw by Vanderbilt’s shortstop advanced him all the way to third.

Sophomore third baseman Cody Dent followed with a sacrifice bunt, but a throwing error by the Commodores’ first baseman allowed him to reach and let Ramjit (1-3, R, BB) cross the plate. Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana, the next batter, hit a ground out to score Pigott from third and put the Gators ahead 2-0 through two innings.

With the score unchanged, Panteliodis reached his pitch count and was lifted after striking out five, allowing five hits and giving up one walk in 5.1 superb innings. He also got Florida out of a number of jams they faced, stranding multiple Vanderbilt base runners, many of whom were threatening the Gators in scoring position.

Looking to increase their lead in the bottom of the seventh, Florida found themselves with one out and men on first and third with junior right fielder Preston Tucker at the plate. Tucker (0-3, RBI) fouled out to deep right, giving the Gators a 3-0 lead as Fontana (1-4, RBI, R, BB) came home from third.

Junior LHP Nick Maronde, in as the second reliever, recorded a one-two-three inning in the eighth, forcing the Commodores to fly out thrice. Florida had their offense clicking again in the bottom half of the inning, loading the bases with no outs recorded. After a pitching change, Pigott (2-3, RBI, R, SB) was hit by a pitch and Dent (1-2, 2 RBI, BB) was walked, increasing Florida’s lead to 5-0 as senior second baseman Josh Adams (2-4, R) and sophomore designated hitter Austin Maddox (1-4, R) came around to score.

The Gators headed into the top of the ninth bringing Maddox in to close, three outs away from capturing the title. After allowing the lead-off hitter to crank a double to left field, Maddox got back-to-back batters out but gave up a single left to find himself with men on first and third. He then forced the final batter into a pop out, earning his sixth save of the season in the process.

Florida, which will host a regional for the 2011 NCAA Tournament at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL, now awaits their seeding in the event. The Gators’ SEC Tournament victory may have earned them the No. 1 overall seed. Seedings for the 64-team tournament will be announced Monday live on ESPN at 12:30 p.m.

2011 SEC Tournament Honors
Most Valuable Player: LF Daniel Pigott, Florida
All-Tournament Team: Pigott; P Hudson Randall, Florida; SS Nolan Fontana, Florida

Photo Credit: Southeastern Conference

Florida squeaks by Georgia 3-2, will play for title

Forced into an elimination game when the Georgia Bulldogs (31-30) beat them earlier in the afternoon, No. 3 Florida Gators baseball (44-16) scored a run in the top of the ninth to break a tie and advance to the finals of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament with a 3-2 win Saturday evening at Regions Park.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson got the start for Florida but gave up a run each in the bottom of the first and second. The Gators knotted the game at 2-2 just one inning later, when sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana hit his fourth home run of the year with junior left fielder Daniel Pigott on second base.

Whitson was pulled after 5.1 innings but Florida held Georgia scoreless for the duration of the contest. The Gators took advantage of a base runner to start the top of the ninth when redshirt sophomore designated hitter/first baseman Vickash Ramjit (1-4, R) doubled to right center. He advanced to third on Pigott’s (0-1, R, 2 BB, 2 SB) sacrifice bunt and scored two batters later when Fontana (1-5, HR, 3 RBI, R, SB) reached on a fielder’s choice to second base.

Sophomore RHP Austin Maddox was called on to pitch the bottom of the ninth; he allowed one hit but struck out two to earn his fifth save of the season, giving junior RHP Tommy Toledo (4-3) the victory.

With the victory, Florida will take on No. 4 Vanderbilt (47-9) on Sunday at 2 p.m. for the title. The Gators return to the SEC Tournament Championship for the first time since 2000 and have not won since 1991.

Junior RHP Alex Panteliodis (4-2, 4.65 ERA) will take the mound and match up against Vanderbilt’s Taylor Hill (4-0, 3.16 ERA). Florida was 2-1 in a regular season road series at Vanderbilt May 13-15, defeating them 6-5 and 6-3(12) but falling 14-1 in between.

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