There is a country music song with the lyric “You find out who your friends are!” As you might imagine it involves lots of hardships and some tragic situations as the source of the revelation of who your friends truly are. Friends seem easy to come by when you are on top, whether that’s professionally, financially, or any other way. Everyone wants to be your friend when things are going great. But as the song says, you really find out who your friends are at 2 am when you need a favor, when your luck runs out, or when tragedy overtakes you at any moment. Maybe that is the difference between a friend and an acquaintance. Friends are there before the streak begins and remain long after your circumstances change for the worse.
You see that all too often in athletics. Those who have played the games at higher level know that all too well. Everyone is a fan when it is going well but starts to slip and so does the fervor of many of the faithful. Gator fans of late have been extremely spoiled. We are used to our teams being on top of the SEC in every sport. Heck, we are used to be in the top of national polls in most sports. Somewhere along the line we have begun to embrace the entitlement mentality that is so prevalent in our society. We think it is our “right” to be treated to the best possible example of sporting entertainment. We pay our coaches well and we expect a good return on our investment. Believe me, the coaches know that. At least the ones I know personally are fully aware of that sentiment. They embrace it or they would not have accepted the gig. This is not about expectations because fans can never expect more of a team than the coaches and players place on themselves.
This year has been a disappointment to say the least for our football team. Three losses at home just never happen at UF. In fact, it has been over 20 years since that happened the last time. That’s the point. It has been an incredible 20 year run that may not be repeated again. Just look at the national landscape, when TCU and Boise State can amass the talent and coaches to rank in the top 5 in November, the world of college football has changed and it ain’t going back! Coaches have learned that the lure of bigger programs might just be the lure to a noose around your own neck! The grass isn’t always greener on someone else’s field. In fact at Boise, they like their smurf turf! And Coach Peterson has turned down several offers from “Bigger” and supposedly “Better” programs to remain at BSU. The result has been a loyal fan base and the ability to lure top athletes away from bigger and better programs. The landscape has changed indeed. I think it will continue to move this way because now everyone has a bigger share of the dollars thanks to the ESPN and other networks bidding for more TV games. This means more players are getting seen every week, so the recruiting pitch that if you come to school x, you will get on TV more often doesn’t hold as much sway as it once did. The fact that NFL scouts go to other schools other than the BCS conferences can be seen by watching the introductions of NFL teams every week. Sure the majority of players are from schools you recognize as a casual fan, but notice how many players are from schools that you have no idea what conference they play in or even where the school is located. IF you are talented enough, the NFL will find you!
So the next time you wonder why the Gators are not the champs of the SEC East, remember that neither is Georgia or Tennessee. It’s the first time anyone else has represented the East. Maybe it’s a sign of the times in college football and not so much a reflection of poor coaching and execution. Unless by that you also mean recruiting the right players and having them work hard enough to out develop the other 3 or 4 star athletes that the other schools are recruiting. The national title may go to a school that doesn’t share an automatic bid, but I doubt it. Not because they aren’t talented enough to win it, but because the system is skewed in the favor of the BCS conferences to such a degree that it is almost impossible to overcome. But that’s a story for another blog!