New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, a Florida Gators booster, passes away at 80

New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has passed away. He was 80.

Steinbrenner, who will be remembered for leading the Yankees to 11 American League pennants and seven World Series victories as its principal owner, ceded day-to-day control of the team to his sons Hank and Hal Steinbrenner in 2006 as his health began to fail and he spent more time in Tampa, FL.

Purchasing the team for $8.7 million in 1973, Steinbrenner’s shrewd business acumen, tough decision making and unparalleled demand for success raised the Yankees’ value to over a $1.5 billion at the time of his passing.

He had notable disagreements with the commissioner’s office, fellow owners, managers and even his own players but also made significant and game-changing baseball moves in his career including being the first owner to sell his team’s television rights, turning the Yankees into a worldwide brand, signing free agents like Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield and Alex Rodriguez, and building the most lavish stadium in baseball history.

Steinbrenner’s son Hal, the franchise’s co-chairperson, general partner and de facto public face who earned a Master’s degree in business administration from the University of Florida in 1994, is one of the reasons his father decided to become a full-fledged Bull Gator and generous contributor to the Florida Gators program.

Though Steinbrenner did donate the lights at McKethan Stadium to the school in 1977, his largest contribution is the Steinbrenner Band Building, which was made possible by a generous gift commitment (believed to be in the seven-figures) from the family in 2002. Completed in the spring of 2008, it is located adjacent to the Music Building and serves a number of purposes for The Pride of the Sunshine, The University of Florida Fightin’ Gator Marching Band.

He also donated $260,000 in 1989 to help UF build the College of Veterinary Medicine’s large animal hospital and another $400,000 in 2005 which went toward the purchase of an equine imaging machine. Steinbrenner owned stables and horses.

Recently, George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, hosted The Florida Four, a two-game baseball tournament featuring arguably the four best schools in the state including the Gators. It was something Steinbrenner had hoped to see before he passed on, and he had the chance to do just that on March 2.

“As a past collegiate coach, it is George Steinbrenner’s dream to create this event for Tampa,” said Felix Lopez, the Yankees’ senior vice president.

A native of Ohio, the only time Steinbrenner did not root for Florida was during the 2006 BCS National Championship; instead, he cheered on his Ohio State Buckeyes.

“I wish the University of Florida luck in the championship game,” Steinbrenner said at the time, “but I have to say that I’m rooting for Ohio State.”

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, Haslem, Nelson, Dorsey

1 » On Tuesday, OGGOA tweeted a picture of former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow handing a football off to a kid that got some of our female followers pretty riled up. It appears that picture was taken from a Broncos Bunch kids club event that Tebow participated in over the weekend. The Denver Broncos rookie threw passes to and took pictures with a bunch of children – not all of whom were Broncos fans. “Gator nation really is everywhere,” Tebow told CBS4 in Denver, CO. “It’s great to be out here and to play with these kids, to meet the parents and just be here in the stadium. It really is humbling to have people supporting me and to have fans. It really does mean a lot. […] It’s just an opportunity to come out here, throw balls, take some pictures, hang out with people, get a chance to make a kid smile or a family smile and – it’s more important than winning games, when you really look at it.”

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Three more BITS on the futures of Udonis Haslem, David Nelson and Demar Dorsey.
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Tebow, Haslem, Nelson, Dorsey

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USC Trojans lose scholarships, face two-year postseason ban from NCAA

Reports from ESPN and the Los Angeles Times Thursday morning stating that the USC Trojans football program would face a two-year postseason ban, a reduction in scholarships and a forfeiture of wins when the NCAA released its sanctions for the university later in the day were confirmed by the organization at 3:00 p.m.

Specifically, USC will lose 30 scholarships over a three-year period (can only accept a maximum of 15 per season), may only have 75 players under scholarship at any given time in that same span, and will vacate the 2004 BCS National Championship and every victory from the 2005 season.

Though the NCAA could not force Southern California to relinquish its 2004 Orange Bowl win against the Oklahoma Sooners, the BCS came out Thursday evening and did just that. It is currently meeting to finalize a decision to have the 2004 title vacated; a new National Champion will not be named. Additionally, the Associated Press will not strip the program of its 2004 title.

Under investigation due to numerous violations in both the football and men’s basketball programs (specifically involving stars Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo), the Trojans had been awaiting a ruling from the NCAA Committee on Infractions for months. The postseason ban will specifically relate to the football team, but the NCAA has handed down penalties to the basketball program as well. The NCAA’s penalties are listed below:

Football:
- Two-year postseason ban; four-year probation (June 10, 2010 to June 9, 2014)
- Loss of 30 scholarships over three years (maximum 15 allowed per season)
- Reduction of outstanding scholarships to 75 per year over three years
- Vacated 2004 BCS National Championship*
- Vacated 2005 season – new record: 0-1
- $5,000 fine
- Bush’s individual and team records erased; he may not assist the university financially or with recruiting; complete disassociation
- Boosters and the like disallowed from traveling with the team, attending practice, participating in camps or having access to the sidelines or locker rooms

Basketball
Self-imposed
- One-year postseason ban from Pac-10 and NCAA Tournament (already served)
- One less scholarship for 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons
- Three recruits released from respective National Letters of Intent
- One less coach allowed to recruit for 2011 class
- 20 less days to recruit for 2011 class (from 130 to 110)
- Vacated 2007-08 season – new record 0-12
- $206,020 returned to NCAA as payment for 2008 NCAA Tournament appearance
NCAA-mandated
- Four-year probation (June 10, 2010 to June 9, 2014)
- Mayo’s individual and team records erased; he may not assist the university financially or with recruiting; complete disassociation
- Boosters and the like disallowed from traveling with the team, attending practice, participating in camps or having access to the sidelines or locker rooms

Women’s tennis:
- Former student-athlete used the athletic department’s long distance to make 123 calls (cost: $7,000) to her family during her admission
Self-imposed
- Vacated all wins from Nov. 2006 to May 2009 in which the player participated

As far as Bush’s Heisman Trophy goes, the NCAA could not strip him of the award, though the organization might. “The Heisman Trophy Trust will have a comment at the appropriate time,” the group said Thursday. “Until that time, it will have no comment.”

The NCAA’s report claims USC showed “a lack of institutional control, impermissible inducements, extra benefits, exceeding coach staff limits, and unethical conduct by an assistant football coach.”

The Trojans have released statement through the university’s Sports Information Department stating that the university will appeal some of the penalties imposed by the NCAA. Due to this appeal, punishments will not go into affect until a decision is rendered – possibly delaying the inevitable and extending the school’s sentence. From Todd Dickey, senior vice president for administration:

We acknowledge that violations occurred and we take full responsibility for them. However, we sharply disagree with many of the findings in the NCAA Committee on Infractions Report. Further, we feel the penalties imposed are too severe for the violations identified in the report.

We will accept those sanctions we believe to be consistent with penalties imposed upon other NCAA member institutions found guilty of similar rules infractions. We are hopeful that the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee will agree with our position on appeal, and reduce the penalties.

Read the NCAA’s report on USC’s violations here

OGGOA will continue updating this story throughout the day.

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Meyer’s chest pains originated in esophagus

Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer is feeling better.

That, above all else, is the gist of what the two-time BCS National Championship-winning coach wanted to convey when speaking with members of the media at the 2010 Southeastern Conference Spring Meetings in Sandestin, FL, on Tuesday.

However, the specifics of what Meyer revealed about his health scare and subsequent resignation last season are interesting nonetheless.

According to Meyer, his chest pains were diagnosed as being caused by esophageal spasms, defined by the Mayo Clinc as “an uncoordinated series of muscle contractions that prevent food from traveling properly from your esophagus to your stomach.”

Chest pain is listed as a common symptom of the affliction; it “can be very painful” and is “often intense, which [one] might mistake for heart pain (angina).”

“The biggest thing is I wanted to find out what those darn chest pains were and I did,” said Meyer as transcribed by Florida Today. “I’ve just got to be smarter in the future and I’m going to be. I’m not going to let that happen again. But the biggest thing was all that was related to what the heck were those pains going through my chest. Once you find out what it is, life gets a little better quickly.”

Meyer likened the feeling to “waking up every morning with a toothache in your chest,” saying it is now under control due to prescription medication. He noted that he has not experienced any issues since January and is ready to proceed with his job as scheduled.

“I feel fantastic,” Meyer said.

Photo Credit: Butch Dill/Associated Press

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TWO BITS: Ingram’s knee, Rainey and Howard

1 » Wide receiver Riley Cooper may be the latest former Florida Gators player to join the Philadelphia Eagles, but the one who was once thought to make the greatest impact was tight end Cornelius Ingram. Though he came into training camp his rookie year off of season-ending ACL surgery that forced him to sit out the Gators’ 2008 BCS National Championship run, there were hopes that Ingram could take the starting job right away. Instead, he re-injured his ACL during camp and Brent Celek stepped into the role. Now, one year later, Ingram’s knee is holding up well and he hopes to start his NFL career as Celek’s back-up.

“I think I came into this camp with way more confidence than where I was this time last year,” Ingram told the Philadelphia Inquirer after completing a long workout. “That helps out a lot — just knowing you can relax and just play football. It’s going good. I know I can play this game. I know if my knee’s healthy, I can play this game at a high level.” Ingram has been able to do whatever has been asked of him so far including cutting in both directions and running at full speed.

2 » Florida strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti told the Orlando Sentinel Thursday that he has been most impressed with redshirt juniors wide receiver Chris Rainey and defensive end Jaye Howard thus far during early summer workouts. “A lot of it is maturing,” Marotti said when discussing Rainey. “After a while, [players say] ‘I better gain some weight’ or ‘I better get stronger.’” He is equally impressed with Howard’s drive. “I see a little bit more, I don’t know if it’s hunger or what,” he said. “He lets me know at the end – ‘I’m better, huh?’ — because he moved up two spots. It’s all based on attitude. That’s one guy I can say, ‘Wow.’”

Photo Credit: Tracy Wilcox/The Gainesville Sun

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TWO BITS: Baseball takes Bama, Wright inspired

1 » No. 4/6 Florida Gators baseball (32-11, 16-6 SEC) handled the Alabama Crimson Tide (28-18, 9-13 SEC) on Friday on the road at Sewell-Thomas Stadium, coming away with a 9-3 victory on the heels of freshman starter Hudson Randall’s seven shutout innings. Randall (6-3), cleared way for the Gators’ bats to get to work, and the lineup responded with every single player getting a hit. Freshman catcher Mike Zunino (2-4) led the way with three RBI; freshman third baseman Austin Maddox (2-5) attempted to match him with two RBI and two runs of his own. Florida faces Alabama the next two days before returning to Gainesville, FL, for a five-game home stand.

2 » A day before Mother’s Day, it is good to hear a nice mother-son story prominently featuring a former Florida football player. For new Chicago Bears safety Major Wright, his mother Andrea Eluett has stood as a major part of his life, which is the reason why he gave her his 2009 BCS National Championship ring last year as a present. “She’s been a big inspiration in my life,” Wright said. “Growing up, we didn’t have it all. Everything wasn’t going right for us. But she’d always be there for us no matter what it took. Her [returning to school for a pharmacy degree] showed our family that we could go to college and be productive and get great jobs. It let us know that we could do all things and not to let anything hold us back.” Read the rest: ChicagoBears.com

UPDATE » Four former Gators started competing in The PLAYERS Championship on Thursday, but only one remains after two rounds of action. Camilo Villegas (143), Brian Gay (144) and Mark Calcavecchia (147) all missed the cut while Chris Couch will continue competing with a two-day 142 (-3).

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FOUR BITS: Leonard, Davis, Tebow’s party, SEC

1 » Florida Gators 2011 tight end commitment A.C. Leonard (Jacksonville, FL) will be transferring to his second high school in as many years. According to The Florida Times-Union, the goal is for Leonard to improve his test scores in order qualify for admission to the University of Florida. “Academically he’s on the right track,” University Christian head coach Heath Nivens told the paper. “His grades are solid, but he’s got to get his test scores up. We’re going to help him with some of those things this summer, as far as an SAT prep class so that in July he’s in great shape to qualify.”

2 » Former Gators defensive tackle Torrey Davis, who played his final college season with the Jacksonville State Gamecocks after leaving Florida due to academic and off-the-field issues, has agreed to a free-agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers according to The Birmingham News. One of the nation’s top recruits in 2007, he is best known for making two exciting goal line tackles in the 2009 BCS National Championship game against Oklahoma. He will attempt to make the Buccaneers’ roster during mini camp workouts.

3 » Apparently a radio host in Boston, MA, named “Toucher” working for 98.5 The Sports Hub, after former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow was selected by the Denver Broncos, said his family’s celebration “looked like some kind of Nazi rally … so lily-white is what I’m trying to say. Yeah, Stepford Wives.” As David Whitley of Fanhouse explains, it will be interesting to see whether or not CBS decides to take action against the host like it did against Don Imus for calling the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” Take a look at Whitley’s thoughts and decide for yourself.

UPDATE: On Monday, “Toucher” apologized for his comments. “Anyone who listens to the show regularly knows that I am not the most articulate person in the world,” he said. “I apologize to you that were offended. You know, I just apologize, and I regret what I said.” CBS still has a decision to make…

4 » Though he told reporters that he has yet to speak with any universities in particular, Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive said Monday that his organization is discussing expansion internally. “Given the success we’ve experienced over the past decade, we are comfortable in the position in which we find ourselves,” Slive said. “Having said that, if there’s going to be a significant shift in the conference paradigm, the SEC will be strategic and thoughtful in order to maintain its position as one of the nation’s premiere conferences.” In other words, if the Big 10 chooses to expand to 16 teams, the SEC will do its darnedest to make sure they are not upstaged.

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TWO BITS: Meyer to Cowboys? Kitchens’ struggle.

1 » One rumor that was circulating throughout the World Wide Web when Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer initially announced he would step down from his job was that the two-time BCS National Championship-winning coach would be heading to the NFL to replace head coach Wade Phillips of the Dallas Cowboys. The Orlando Sentinel‘s Jeremy Fowler caught up with four-star running back commit Mack Brown (Lithonia, GA), who said that fallacy was perpetrated by rival recruiters. “They would say, he’s tricking ya’ll — he’s going to the NFL to coach the Dallas Cowboys,” Brown said. “I was like ‘What?’ There’s no way. I wasn’t too worried about it anyway, but coach Meyer told me he’s a Gator. He’s coming back.”

2 » Three-star linebacker recruit Darrin Kitchens (Homestead, FL), who is currently uncommitted but deciding between the Gators and Texas Tech Red Raiders on Wednesday morning, has “survived the struggles in Homestead and still achieved [his] dreams,” his head coach Bobby McCray, Sr. (father of the New Orleans Saints defensive end and former Florida player) told The Miami Herald. Kitchens has used his strong work ethic and immense passion to propel him to a 3.0 grade point average and a Miami-Dade County-high 19 sacks his senior season.

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