Your All-Time SEC Champions

The Birmingham News (which isn’t exactly the New York Times, but whatever) ranked the SEC’s athletic programs Sunday, going all the way back to the founding of the league in 1933. With added considerations for football and basketball championships, as well as baseball and women’s basketball being the most important non-revenue sports, you’d have a few usual suspects for top program; Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and LSU. The Tigers have been competitive in all four of those sports with continued success in football, basketball and baseball, going back several decades. But guess who is Number One?

 

Florida.

Naturally, schools specialize in particular sports and place more resources into some than others. GAP identifies the best of the best - those athletic departments that win in the popular sports and choose wisely in how to build successful all-around programs.

No one has done it better than Florida.

"We've had tremendous coaches and tremendous student-athletes, lots of resources and great alumni support," Florida Athletics Director Jeremy Foley said. "We've had people who have really taken a vested interest in Gator success across the board, not just football."

In ranking 18 SEC sports, as well as non-league sponsored sports and Directors’ Cup points, Florida dominates. The Gators are in the top-3 of 14 categories, and wins seven of them. Fans like to take pride in the success of Florida Football, but historically, the program does not matchup with Bama, Tennessee and LSU, the top-3 in that sport (UF was tied for fourth). But the Gators’ success in Golf (winning both men’s and women’s), Swimming (second in men’s, first in women’s), Tennis (second in men’s, first in women’s), Soccer and Volleyball create a legacy in sports that isn’t always on ESPN or a message board. Even better, for a seam-head like me, Florida is the only SEC school to have played for national championships in baseball, basketball and football.

Florida’s success can be tied to a few things; Jeremy Foley, Steve Spurrier and Title IX. Foley is willing to drop a few million on a sport, but when success is lacking, he develops a Steinbrenner-like quality and isn’t afraid to make sure heads will roll. Foley’s biggest mistake was hiring Zook, a move he saved by hiring a bright young coach to fill the position, just like he had done with basketball.

Foley may still wear the black hat with some fans after his contentious relationship with Steve Spurrier. But it was Spurrier’s success with football that filled UF’s wallet and provided the cash needed to operate an all-sports powerhouse. Unlike schools that have had to play catch up and build women’s sports, Florida already had great women’s golf, gymnastics, tennis and volleyball teams, so an infusion of cash from the growth of football pushed them all out of the SEC and into national dominance.

The Gators’ success in non-revenue sports is impressive, but it is a sign of a healthy athletic department. That is why it is so important for softball to continue being elite and for women’s lacrosse to show results. Basketball and football drive the blog posts and message board chatter, but that’s the body and engine of a great car. Without everything else, that car and Florida athletics won’t work.

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