Nov 9, 2008

State of Florida Sports: Why UCF Is Irrelevant

The third part of my examination of the Florida Sports Scene is an honest look at my favorite college team, UCF.

I love UCF.  There may be some pulling of my heart in other sports between teams.  But there is nothing of the sort with college sports.  It is UCF all the time, all the way.  The day I set foot on that campus, every other school fell away.  I still align with UGA when it comes to big things, but there is a clear number one - and no number two.  I have told my kids they are free to cheer for other teams in other sports.  But they have to root for UCF if they root at all.  Being the fan of a mid-level school is hard.  As badly as you want them to be important, it rarely happens - rarer still for them to be important in multiple sports.  As bad as I could wish that I could shut my UF supporting buddies up, I know that won't happen.  UCF is not in their league.  And honestly, it probably never will be.  Here are some things that I see, as a very ardent supporter of UCF, that keep UCF from playing any role in college sports.

1. INFERIORITY COMPLEX - I once had a buddy who worked at a very large church.  When I asked him about the place, he told me, "It is a big church that thinks it still is a small church becoming a big church."  It was always trying to prove it belonged, trying to look big.  It never realized that it WAS big and should just be itself.  UCF is the same way.  They are like the 5th largest school in the country - the largest east of the Mississippi.  They have a gorgeous campus, a new on-campus stadium, rabid fans, a supportive community, a brilliant President, and amazing academic programs.  They are a part of a mid-major conference, have been to two bowls, the NCAA Basketball Tourney, and the College Baseball Regionals.  They have produced major league baseball players, NFL players, Olympians.  Why are they still trying to prove they deserved their invite to the party?  Get over it and just BE yourself.  

2. CELEBRATING MEDIOCRITY - As a friend reminded me today, UF fired their football coach for going 7-5.  UCF gave their football coach a 10 year extension and a raise for GOING to (and losing) a bowl game.  The basketball coach is constantly rewarded for getting to the NCAA Tourney and getting destroyed in the first round.  Every year, the football team plays between one and three "real teams."  In their history, they have won exactly ONE of the games.  They always play the games close.  But they never win them.  However, there is still that "way to go guys, you did great against them.  No one expected you to win."  Why not?  Appalachian State can beat Michigan and UCF can't knock off a pathetic Miami?  Now that UCF is in Conference USA instead of the uh, Atlantic Sun, or MAC, it is now okay to not make the postseason in basketball and baseball.  Since Memphis in roundball is there, and Rice in baseball, we are excused.  That's just ridiculous.  Start demanding more.  Which ties into point three.

3. UCF HANGS ON TO COACHES TOO LONG - UCF didn't want to fire Gene McDowell because of his contributions to the football program.  They finally did, and then kept Mike Kruczek too long because he got Daunte Culpepper to go to UCF.  Then they brought in O'Leary.  In his five years at UCF, O'Leary has led UCF to 0-11, 8-5, 4-8, 10-4, and now 4-8.  In addition, a player died during the offseason at workouts.  The entire event was characterized by coverups, lies, and threats by UCF.  O'Leary on several occasions lied about what happened - this from a man with a history of lying.  Yet he is still not in hot water?  Loyalty is an admirable quality.  Refusing to pull a trigger is another.

4. LACK OF VISION - When UCF opened their stadium, they actually had a real home field advantage for the first time ever.  The stadium itself would bounce and sway when fans got excited.  They jumped on the bleachers and made the whole place shake.  It was known as The Trampoline.  Other teams actually FEARED FOR THEIR LIVES.  You could hear audible fear in announcers' voices.  ESPN guys called the stadium the loudest stadium they had been in.  So, what did UCF do?  They banned the song.  They forbade the jumping.  They solidified the stadium.  So, instead of being a place where opponents feared to play, it became a source of discontent for the home crowd.  BRILLIANT!  Kirk Speraw, UCF basketball coach, has made his entire career of recruiting JuCo players, only getting two years of play before they graduate.  There is no continuity, no long-term plan.  They reload every two years.  Fans can't get used to the players.  They just transfer in for a year or so and then leave.  BRILLIANT!  The fact that UCF took 20 something years to decide that they should play Division I football shows this best of all.

Until UCF is willing to fully commit to its sports program, and address the problems, it is going to remain a distant competitor - watching its bigger neighbors play for all the marbles.

Nov 7, 2008

State of Florida Sports: The Bandwagon Lives Here

The second part of my examination of the Florida sports scene addresses the dreaded "Bandwagon."

The fact that Florida as a whole functions as a "sports town" means that our state is more susceptible than most to the sports Bandwagon.  For those of you unfamiliar to that term, the Bandwagon can be defined one of three ways:
  1. The showering of positive predictions on a franchise by a large group of sports "experts" - usually a team that has had a checkered past and is aimed at a "breakout season."  EX: This year's Portland Trailblazers in the NBA.  [A Corollary to this is a large group of experts predicting doom for a team - like this year's Spurs.]
  2. A large number of fans suddenly supporting a team that is doing well.  Often this involves a team with a "good story."  EX: This year's Tampa Bay Rays
  3. A large number of fans suddenly claiming "I've always liked this team" when that team starts doing well - even though they never indicated that before.  EX: The millions of Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots fans that crawled out of the woodwork in recent years as those teams did well.  The same thing happened last year with the Celtics.
The reason that Florida is more vulnerable to this problem is that it seems that everyone here is really from somewhere else.  This makes them likely to jump on the Bandwagon with both definitions 2 and 3.  Here is how it all works.

Johnny moved from Connecticut to Lakeland when he was eight years old.  Before they moved, the family cheered for the typical New England Combo Platter - Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox, Bruins.  Since they moved to Florida, they followed those teams, but they were never diehard fans.  They lived in Lakeland, so they actually had more pull towards the Detroit Tigers, since they had a minor league team there.  Every Sunday they were predestined by the NFL to watch the Bucs.  And the local papers eventually started more coverage of the Magic and Rays and Lightning.  So, by geography, they became more familiar with and invested in the local teams.  And it helps that for the first portion of their lives after the move, the Boston teams were lousy.

So, like most Central Florida residents, they got behind the Bucs in 2002 when they won the Super Bowl.  And they pulled for the Magic when they got in the playoffs.  But, they also had the pull to the Boston teams once they started doing well and getting national coverage.  So Johnny buys a Patriots jersey, a Red Sox cap, a Celtics shirt.  And he claims he "always cheered for those teams."  No one around him growing up knew that.  But now, he is more vocal - partly because they won.  And he also is happy when his Florida teams win.  

So, Johnny has become a Bandwagoner.  Even though he has legitimate reasons, he jumped at both groups of teams with their success.  If you check his closet, he has a Bucs jersey and shirt ("In case I go to a game").  During the course of a year he watches 30 Magic games and 10 Celtics games.  He actually has taken his Bandwagon ways and expanded them into what Bill Simmons labels "Sports Bigamy."  He truly has two teams in each sport - the local and the "real team."  This is a natural pull - especially in today's media heavy sports world.  It is hard to not care about the local team when that is what you are saturated with.  It is easier to get coverage of your team from back home, but the local stuff is everywhere.  

So, for one of many reasons, most Florida residents pull off this Bandwagon jumping and Sports Bigamy with every sport.  It could be that they went to a different college than the one they cheered for growing up.  That happened with me when I went to UCF after being a UGA fan.  UCF is clearly my college team, but we're usually out of play long before UGA is (something I'll address in my next post).  It could be that a spouse liked a team different than them.  They may move within Florida.  Moving from South Florida to Orlando will test those Dolphin allegiances - since they teams shown here are the Bucs and Jaguars.

What is the big deal?  There isn't really any big deal.  To people who spend way too much time worrying about sports and how other people deal with sports, both the Bandwagon and Sports Bigamy are very offensive.  These are the people who want you to "pick a team and stick with it."  If your team moves or shuts down or becomes offensive, you should cheer for no one rather than pick a different team.  And most of these people are from New England - where they have nothing to do for months except think about things like this.  I think a lot of it comes from being Red Sox fans, and staying true for 86 years, and then watching a bunch of people jump on the Bandwagon right at the end.  They wanted to separate themselves (the "real" fans) from the newcomers (the "bandwagoners").  This is why Florida is so offensive to those people.  The whole state is a bandwagon.  Our newer teams and recent success and tons of implants from other areas invite you to cheer for two (or more) teams.  

So, next time someone accuses you of jumping on the Bandwagon when you haul out your brand new Arizona Cardinals jersey or Atlanta Falcons hat, don't try to defend yourself.  Don't tell them about how you have always really loved the Cardinals, since they were in St. Louis.  Don't give some story about your family history in Atlanta.  Just say, "That's right!  I'm on the Bandwagon.  It's a Florida thing - you wouldn't understand.  Until you move here when you get old and drive slow in the left lane."

Nov 4, 2008

State of Florida Sports: Florida is a Great Sports Town

After watching Tampa Bay's amazing run to - and pathetic performance in - the World Series, it really got me thinking about sports in Florida.  I have lived in Florida all my life.  And really, it is a great place to live if you are a sports lover.  But it is a little unique in the world of sports.  Most of the time, there are big cities that have teams and rabid fan bases.  Look at places like Boston, New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia.  They are known as "sports towns."  They have teams with histories and lots of very opinionated fans.  And in the mainstream sports media, they are respected more than the "casual" fans that populate other places - like Florida.  
The thing that you have to think about is that Florida is a new sports frontier.  The state itself has grown by leaps and bounds.  Did you realize that Florida is the 4th most populous state?  And it probably will pass New York before long.  In 1980 it was 7th.  In 1950 it was 20th.  In 1920 it was 32nd.  So, when teams like the Red Sox and Cubs were already developing curses, Florida was a nothing state.  I am 34 years old and Florida native.  I was born in West Palm Beach and lived there until I moved to Orlando for college.  With the exception of the Dolphins, every single Florida professional franchise began after I was born.

So think about that for just a minute.  I have three kids and am trying to get them interested in sports.  There is not a multi-generational rooting structure in place.  My dad cheered for the Celtics and Chicago Bears.  When I was kid, what did I have to pick from?  In the NFL there was Miami (which I hated) or Dallas (the big team at the time).  So I was a Cowboys fan.  In baseball, there were the Yankees and Dodgers - so I picked the Yankees.  In the NBA, well I started cheering for the Hawks because TBS showed their games.  And I was Georgia Bulldog fan because I lived on Georgia Avenue and they were big because of Herschel Walker.  Since I was a kid, here is what has happened on the Florida sports scene.

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Founded in 1976 - Six Division Championships - One Super Bowl
  • Jacksonville Jaguars - Founded in 1995 - Two Division Championships - Two AFC Title games - Six playoff appearances
  • Miami Dolphins - Two Super Bowl Losses
  • Orlando Magic - Founded in 1989 - Three Division Titles - One Finals Appearance
  • Miami Heat - Founded in 1987 - Seven Division Titles - One NBA Title
  • Florida Marlins - Founded in 1993 - Two World Series Championships
  • Tampa Bay Rays - Founded in 1998 - One Division Title - One World Series Appearance
  • Tampa Bay Lightning - Founded in 1992 - Two Division Titles - One Stanley Cup
  • Florida Panthers - Founded in 1993 - One Stanley Cup Appearance
NCAA (Since 1974)
  • University of Florida - Eight SEC Football Championships, Two Football National Titles, Two Heisman Trophy Winners, Fourteen Basketball NCAA Tourney Appearances, Two Basketball National Titles, Five College World Series Baseball Appearances
  • Florida State University - Twelve ACC Football Championships, Two Football National Titles, Two Heisman Trophy Winners, Four Basketball NCAA Tourney Appearances, Fourteen College World Series Baseball Appearances
  • University of Miami - Nine Big East Football Championships, Five Football National Titles, Two Heisman Trophy Winners, Five Basketball NCAA Tourney Appearances, Twenty-three College World Series Baseball Appearances, Four Baseball Titles
  • University of South Florida - Football team founded in 1997, Three Football Bowl berths, ranked as high as 2nd in polls
  • University of Central Florida - Football went Division I in 1996, One Conference-USA title, two both berths, three NCAA basketball Tourney appearnaces
  • Florida Atlantic University - Football team founded in 2001, One conference title, one bowl berth
  • Florida International University - Football team founded in 2002
In addition, we host about 25% of Super Bowls thanks to Miami and Tampa being two of the best host sites.  The Orange Bowl in Miami hosts the BCS Championship every four years.  The Capitol One, Outback, Gator, and Florida Sports bowls bring top teams to the state every year.  The Daytona 500 and Pepsi 400 are in Daytona each year.  And the UF/UGA game is in Jacksonville every year.  

So, as you can see, there is a lot of sports development in Florida in the past thirty years.  The thing is, just about everyone here is from somewhere else.  So they cheer for the team from whence they came (Steelers, Red Sox, Oklahoma) and then they celebrate when Florida based teams do well.  Some would label this bandwagon-riding (something I will address in my next post).  But this also is because there is not a lot of passion for Florida-based teams - for the most part.  People around the country don't have a lot of connections to Florida teams.  And Florida residents are kind of just happy that their state is doing well. [This of course does not apply to UF/FSU or FSU/UM rivalries.]  It is like the whole state is a sports town.  If you talk about Cleveland's or Philly's title droughts (well, not Philly now), that means that the city hasn't had a winner in decades.  But in Florida we are like, "Yeah but Miami won a few years ago and Tampa won."  There are HUGE differences between regions in Florida.  But not as much of a difference when it comes to sports.  There is a "all for one, one for all" mentality in most people.  I'm not sure if that is a good or bad thing.