Tuesday, March 27, 2007

On Hoops - Observations of a (Primarily) Football Fan

For this Florida fan, Billy Donovan has changed everything.

Florida, like most southern schools not located near tobacco road, has long been a devout member of the Church of Football. Basketball was nice – hell, it was even exciting sometimes, like when the Gators made the Sweet 16 in the 1986-1987 season. But mostly, it was an off season diversion – something to fill the long days between pigskin season. Deep tournament runs were for the likes of the Duke’s and Kentucky’s of the world.

Now, I have long been a fan of the NCAA tournament, arguably the most exciting sports even in America. From the legendary UCLA teams, to the NC State miracle National Championship, to the Michael Jordan UNC-Georgetown game, to the Christian Laettner shot against Kentucky – March Madness was fantastic; it was just not the domain of the Gator fan.

Then Florida hired Billy the Kid.

By his third season, Donovan had the Gators in the Sweet 16. But the moment of basketball joy-realization came for this fan the year after, when the Gators went 29-8 and lost to Michigan State in the national title game.

Seemingly suddenly, basketball in Gainesville was fun.

Sure, the Gators suffered early tournament exits for the next 5 years. But the basketball atmosphere in Gainesville had changed. Enter sold out games, difficult to get tickets, national coverage. Enter the Rowdy Reptiles.

Last year, naturally, was the crowing achievement. Yet, it was during this year’s run to the Final Four that it finally hit this football fan squarely between the eyes.

The NCAA tournament is better than anything college football has to offer.

Sure, the atmosphere at big time college football events is unmatched. There is no basketball equivalent to Florida-Georgia, Ohio State – Michigan or Texas - Oklahoma. And winning the mythical national championship in football is still the paramount of college achievement.

But the NCAA tournament is better than all the college bowl games combined. For sheer excitement, meaning and drama, the tournament has no equal. I have watched each Gator game in the tournament this year with clenched teeth and twisted gut. The vast majority of college bowl games range from the irrelevant to the ridiculous.

Of this year’s Final Four, longtime UCLA fans and Georgetown fans know what basketball fever is all about. Ohio State fans, if to read their blogs is any indication, are undergoing a discovery similar to mine.

The high-sporting season doesn’t have to end in early January. What can last through March is just as good. In some ways, it is better.

In other words fans of the Blue Devils, the Wildcats and the Tar Heels – I finally get it.

And though you may not welcome the Gators to your ranks of college hoops achievement, this Gator is certainly glad to be there. Thanks to Billy Donovan, I now know what I was missing.


Henry Gomez said...

Obviously the implication, as we have both been saying all along, is that college football needs something akin to March Madness. That doesn't mean a 64 team tournament but it means some sort of legitimizing playoff that will be the focus of sports fans during December and early January.

Mergz said...

I was going to add that point exactly, but somehow it got lost in the the thought to paper process.

College football would be far better if the MPC Computer Bowls of the world didn't exist.

Henry Gomez said...

I don't mind that the MPC bowl exists just like I don't mind that the NIT exists. But there should be an NCAA tournament for football like there is for Basketball.

Gator Duck said...


Anonymous said...

Agreed, Henry and Mergz. When we'll ever see wither a playoff or a revamping on how the National Champion of Division 1-A football is determined, who knows.

As far as basketball goes it's been great to see that Billy Donovan has achieved results since arriving in Gainesville and excited Gator Nation post-football.

What can we say? Right now it's a GREAT time to be a Florida Gator, and ALWAYS!!!!!