Florida Gators Mailbag: Sugar Bowl ticket sales, 2014 recruiting, and Kenny Boynton

Kevin C. Cox

The mailbag tackles all topics in a special Friday edition.

What do you think about the poor ticket sales for the Sugar Bowl? (@UFFitz)

A report earlier this week indicated that Florida's having major issues selling tickets to the Sugar Bowl through the UAA, and may need assistance from the SEC to avoid taking a huge loss on the trip to New Orleans. (The UAA gets an allotment of tickets from a bowl, and is responsible for paying for them all whether they get sold or not, though the SEC can provide relief.) I think that's unfortunate, but also an unfortunate product of the bowl system, and of Florida's economy.

I hesitate to call Florida fans spoiled, and I don't think that this is necessarily an example of Florida fans being spoiled, but the easy, lazy conclusion is this: Florida fans are awful front-runners who only support the Gators by going to national championship games. That's, of course, not right, and it elides a bunch of other factors.

  • Florida's had a weirdly expensive year. Season tickets this year got Florida fans to big games with LSU and South Carolina, but there were four really appealing road games (Texas A&M, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Florida State) and the Florida-Georgia game to drop cash on, too. I was a UF student and a part-time worker in the fall, and I still managed to go to A&M and FSU, and to Jacksonville: I don't regret any of those decisions, but they were not inexpensive, and that's even with me driving to Jacksonville and Tallahassee and sharing a (kinda dingy) hotel room and rental car in College Station with two other people. The people who go to bowl games have more income than I do, but they're more likely to have spent more on those other games, too, and to have more than one person to be responsible for and to pay for, and, critically, they're often not commuting from Gainesville to home games, and so that costs more, too. It's not cheap to be an avid fan of a college football team, and it's been more expensive than it usually is for Florida fans this fall. (And there was that basketball game on a boat, too.)
  • Florida's still in some dire economic straits. Florida's unemployment rate has fallen to 8.1 percent according to a report released this Friday, and is still higher than the national unemployment rate. I would also think, with little tabbed data to support this, that the Florida fanbase is rife with people who have made their money on either construction or real estate, and the slow rate of new construction of late has probably significantly impacted them.

    In 2006, when Florida made a national championship run, Florida's unemployment rate was under 4.0 percent; in 2008, when the economy nose-dived and Florida's unemployment rate skyrocketed, it was only up to 8.2 percent in December, and the BCS National Championship Game that year was in Miami, a relatively cheap drive away for most Gators fans. And it's easier to have discretionary income when you've recently lost a job or have been mostly on an upward trajectory than when you've endured four years of iffiness, and harder to justify anything but the cheapest expenditures when you're choosing between tickets and other things.

  • The secondary market is going to kill college football or bowl games. And it won't be college football. You know how complaints about bowl game attendance and bowl game costs have been ramping up in recent years? Those complaints are contemporaneous with increasing prevalence of and tolerance for secondary markets where people can buy and sell tickets for under face value, allowing people to delay decisions on buying tickets and buy the cheapest ticket possible instead of a ticket direct from the school. Smart fans know how to use TiqIQ or StubHub or any of a half-dozen other sites to save a few bucks on tickets, and it's much easier to justify a pricier trip to New Orleans or Miami or ... anywhere, really, if you can save a little money here and there.
  • I recommend not getting too worked up about the slow ticket sales: They're mostly fodder for dumb arguments made by people who like to tell people what to do with their money, and they'll disappear after the Sugar Bowl if, as I suspect, Florida fans still show up en masse to party in the French Quarter and celebrate a great year. But if you ever wonder "What can I do to support Florida?" to yourself, one great answer is buying bowl tickets, because you're, in essence, saving the UAA money.

    Whether you do that is up to you. I don't think you're any less of a fan for watching at home and saving the money; I save my eye-rolls on that subject for students who already spent money on football tickets, because it's dumb not to go and end up regretting it.

    Any chance Florida rolls out new uniforms in the Sugar Bowl? 2013 season? (@ECharlesW5)

    Virtually no chance that there are new uniforms for the Sugar Bowl, and only a marginally better chance for a new uniform in 2013. Florida doesn't wear new uniforms unless there's a compelling anniversary to celebrate (the awesome throwbacks worn against Alabama in 2006 commemorated 100 years of Florida football), or because Nike tells it to, and while there's a chance Nike could come up with something, I wouldn't bet on it.

    What will be the top positional needs in the 2014 recruiting class? (@sw00d23)

    I should probably make one of those scholarship/recruiting charts, huh? Anyway: The way to figure out needs is t figure out what Florida's going to be losing both the next year and the year after.

    Florida already answered the biggest question, securing Will Grier to be a quarterback of the future after Jeff Driskel graduates in 2014, and it will have an easier time working down the board with that squared away. Defensive ends Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard will be 2015 NFL Draft candidates, so look for Florida to push for defensive ends in 2014. Florida will have a lot of upperclassmen on the field and talent and youth on the bench in the secondary by the time 2014 rolls around, but it could use another corner or two in case four corners all leave Florida at once after 2014. Offensive line will always be a priority, and Florida will probably look for players who can push piles inside, along with a tackle or two. Getting another elite wide receiver (Florida already has the very good Ryeshene Bronson committed) in a year with a bunch of good ones in Florida would be good, and so would taking a running back or two from another loaded Sunshine State class.

    But one thing that Florida fans should prepare for even now is the chance that Florida doesn't take quite as big or impressive a class in 2014 because it can't fit as many players into it. Will Muschamp and Co. are now able to pick players they really want to have around and keep them around instead of recruiting to fit holes, and the attrition that will help assemble this 2013 class may be harder to accomplish.

    You agree that Boynton is a hindrance more than a help to get to final 4? (@mike_oney)

    This is the question posed by Sports Illustrated's Andy Glockner in an article written after Florida's loss to Arizona last Saturday. (Disclosure: Glockner and I are Internet-friendly, occasionally swap DMs, and have discussed Boynton in the past.) And I think it's a valid question, especially given how poorly Boynton has played of late.

    My time here at Alligator Army has only spanned Boynton's junior and senior years, but as a freshman and sophomore, Boynton was a truly maddening offensive player and I was one of his biggest critics. Boynton took over 240 threes in each of those first two seasons despite not making even a third of them, a cardinal sin for a shooter: Threes worth less than 1.0 expected point per shot are typically bad shots, and Boynton's in his freshman year were worth .882 points per shot. He got to .993 in his sophomore year by getting hot late in the year (he made two or more threes in eight of Florida's last 10 games in 2010-11), and then started 2011-12 on fire to a degree that made him one of the most efficient offensive players in the country, even after cooling off in SEC play and settling at 40.7 percent from three for the year.

    Now? Boynton's shooting 28.6 percent from three, worse than in his freshman year, and he hasn't made up for it with substantially better play elsewhere. And, without having read it, I basically just explained much of the thesis of Glockner's argument. But he takes it a step further, asking how much of Florida's winning is because of Boynton. That's a really good question without a really good answer, and Glockner basically decides that he's an impact player who remains an enigma. I'm not sure that's right, or that my answer's better, but I have a different one: Boynton's a very good Billy Donovan shooter being asked to be a Billy Donovan point guard, a tiger trying to fly.

    Glockner writes that Scottie Wilbekin's been running the show this year, and that's not all that true: Boynton's been the primary ballhandler more often than not, and he's been initiating offense, if not running it like Wilbekin and Erving Walker can. Boynton's not an exceptional passer, and doesn't have great vision, and doesn't have practice penetrating to create; Walker was superior in all three areas, and Wilbekin's better at the latter two at least. Wilbekin's also just as good a defender as the excellent Boynton, who nearly never lets his man go off and is one of the best at defending without fouling in college basketball.

    But Wilbekin is mediocre at creating for himself, and constrains Florida's offense when he is on the floor: Like Walker, he's most dangerous as a spot-up shooter, but requires help to get open shots. Boynton is good at creating, but only for himself, and when he's running the point, that's not what he's doing.

    The simple solution would be for Wilbekin to start assuming more point guard duties, but that runs up against why Boynton's playing point in the first place: To become a better pro prospect. While there are some 6'0" point guards in the NBA, there are no 6'0" shooting guards that I know of. (And Kenny's not actually 6'0", I don't think.) Donovan's trying to teach a tiger to fly because that tiger's a senior who has done everything asked of him at UF, and may well be Florida's leading scorer when he leaves.

    I think Florida's less likely to get to a Final Four if Boynton never fully masters that flying bit. But I have faith that he and Donovan are smart enough to either get him airborne or scrap the decision entirely at some point before March.

    Who gets drafted higher, Murphy or Young? (Assuming he leaves early) (@TenneyUF)

    Erik Murphy's developed a lot more at Florida than Patric Young has, but Young started so far ahead of Murphy in terms of NBA potential that it's really close to a dead heat right now. I haven't seen either player projected in the first round this year, but Murphy's sweet stroke and offensive versatility should be catnip for NBA teams that can see past his lack of lateral quickness and athleticism and project him as a combo forward.

    Young's a little harder to evaluate, because you don't know for sure if you're getting a polished offensive player with a bunch of good moves and tremendous athleticism that translates on the defensive end or a passive post player who doesn't demand the ball and is a showy defender but not a consistently solid one: He's been both, and is capable of being both in the span of a single game.

    Increasingly, I think this will be a moot point, because Young is unlikely to leave unless he's a first-round pick, but I would bet on Young being drafted before Murphy in the second round. I also think both guys are likely to be steals for the team smart enough to snatch them.

    How much does Florida miss Nimrod Tishman? Guys with his kind of name, err, skills, don't come around often.(@JZWilliams)

    Nimrod Tishman would provide valuable cover for fans who are angry at Florida's sometimes-spotty shot selection. So a little?

    Have a question you would like answered about the Gators, UF, or life? Tweet to @AlligatorArmy, use the #AAMailbag hashtag, or drop a question off on Facebook, and I'll get it answered.

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