I saw the same report you did that kicked off our week of speculation about the Florida-Miami series. I saw it, Barry Jackson's passing mention in a Sunday column, via a State of The U tweet on Sunday.
Here's the full segment of Jackson's column that references Miami and Florida.
Athletic director Blake James said UM intends to play FIU in football sometime after 2015 and that UF athletic director Jeremy Foley was receptive when James recently asked him about renewing the UF series. The Gators will agree only to a neutral site. "I would have to think about Orlando," James said. "That’s not real neutral but it’s an easy distance to our campus."
It's a brief mention — so brief, in fact, that it takes up less space than another section of the column about the Miami Dolphins drafting players from small schools. It also comes from a writer that I'd admittedly never heard of before Sunday; though I wouldn't run a Miami Newspaper Writers category on JEOPARDY!, I'm confident that I'd at least get a few of the answers.
A question: How is this different from Pat Dooley noting last fall that Jeremy Foley said Florida would only play Miami at a neutral site and reasoning out that Florida has only a little interest in doing that, something he just doubled down on?
The structural reasons Florida doesn't want to play Miami — the Florida schedule's hard enough as it is, a home-and-home benefits Miami more than it does Florida, the neutral site game would come at the expense of one of Florida's precious seven home games1 — remain the same. The only differences from last September I can see are Florida having lost the "last" game in the series in dispiriting fashion, which matters to decision-makers far, far, far less than it does to fans, and a Miami columnist writing that Miami's athletic director told him that Foley was receptive — and it's funny how "receptive" has been used as a quote, when it's Jackson's phrasing and not something Blake James said — to the idea of a neutral site game when James approached him recently. (It was also funny to read this morning that Foley characterized his interaction with James as a "10-second conversation.")
I imagine Foley would be receptive to ideas like Miami agreeing that a neutral site game with Florida — one that would always favor Florida unless the neutral site was south of Lake Okeechobee, which it would never be — is the only way the series can be resumed to Florida's satisfaction. Foley would probably also be receptive to the idea of, say, making a matchup with Miami at AT&T Stadium, which could fill Florida's coffers like the $6 million guarantee from the Gators' 2017 season opener with Michigan will. I would like to note for the record that I would be receptive to the idea of a dinner date with Miranda Kerr.
We are all receptive to ideas that still have little chance of becoming realities, in other words.
What we know about the Florida-Miami series — that, if it is resumed, it will almost certainly be at a neutral site; that Orlando is the most likely neutral site; that college football fans, Will Muschamp included, like the rivalry; and that Miami's athletic department is more inclined to publicly agitate for its resumption than Florida's — did not change over the weekend. We just got a refresher on those facts, thanks to Miami's AD talking to a Miami columnist.
This was a pump fake. Don't bite too hard on it.
That discussion about Miami and the one that has arisen anew about Florida's SEC scheduling in the wake of the conference announcing its rotation of non-annual foes through 2025 led our old friend Neil to ask me yesterday for my ideal schedule for Florida.
Here it is, with the understanding there would be two byes in there somewhere:
- Oregon at Levi's Stadium
- vs. Miami
- at Tennessee
- vs. Kentucky
- at Missouri
- vs. Auburn
- at LSU
- at Vanderbilt
- Georgia at EverBank Field
- vs. South Carolina
- vs. Florida A&M OR Bethune-Cookman
- vs. Florida State
This ideal schedule gets both Miami and Auburn back on Florida's slate, makes a dream out-of-conference game happen, puts all of Florida's tough SEC East games in the state of Florida, and both puts a true cupcake on the Gators' plate before the Florida State game, which makes 'Noles mad, and ensures that the revenue of a guarantee game goes to one of Florida's two relatively poor in-state HBCUs.
Of course, this schedule also requires a radical renovation of Florida's rotation of permanent SEC foes, a major concession from Miami that isn't likely to come, top-level matchmaking in non-conference scheduling, and another trade of seven home games for big-name foes. This is why my ideal schedule only happens in video games.
A more plausible ideal is what we're actually going to get in 2017:
- Michigan at AT&T Stadium
- vs. Nowhere State
- vs. Tennessee
- at Kentucky
- at LSU
- vs. Texas A&M
- at Missouri
- vs. Vanderbilt
- at South Carolina
- Georgia at EverBank Field
- vs. Western Cupcake
- vs. Florida State
Yeah, that looks brutal. But it also gives Florida fans a big-time non-conference game to flock to, preserves that virtual bye before Florida State, doesn't put the Gators on the road for more than two straight weekends, and mostly staggers the more brutal games with less challenging ones as much as one can in an odd-numbered year, one in which Florida has to play Georgia, LSU, Missouri, and South Carolina away from home for the forseeable future.
Either way, crafting an "ideal" schedule is a fool's errand. Nothing about college football is ideal, and daydreaming about the possibilities of an ideal in a sport that likes chaos far more than cleanliness is just silly.
Also silly: The debate Dooley started last week about whether Billy Donovan or Kevin O'Sullivan had done the better job with his respective team in 2013-14. And I get Dooley's points about O'Sullivan's team winning games despite not being the most talented team in the SEC and Donovan having more seniors on his basketball team than Sully has on his baseball team — Billy has four; Sully had three before Keenan Kish's injury, and now has two. Really, I do.
But Donovan's Gators weren't the most talented team in the SEC, either, not given Kentucky's stable of thoroughbreds. Hell, they might not have even been third in the SEC, behind LSU or Tennessee, when it comes to the number of future NBA players who played significant minutes in 2013-14.
All that team did was never lose an SEC game, something that had never happened before, and produce the most satisfying season that didn't culminate in a national title in program history — maybe the most satisfying season by any non-national champion Gators in the school's history.
This Florida baseball team has plenty of future pro talent; it's just young. It lost a series to lowly Texas A&M, and got sideswiped by Illinois and Florida Gulf Coast at home. And it will have to at least get to the College World Series to make the "Better coaching job?" question worth arguing.
But unless it wins a title to trump Florida basketball, I don't think there's any way it can sway me to think O'Sullivan's the answer to Dooley's question.
That Dooley story includes an estimate from Visit Gainesville, or the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau, that each Florida home football game is worth $4.5 million to the Gainesville area. Even if that number seems high to you, as it does to me, consider this conservative estimate: 40,000 people coming into town who would not otherwise have come into town and spending $45 each (three meals, maybe?) per football weekend would get us to $1.8 million spent in Gainesville that would otherwise not have been spent in Gainesville. That's still a far cry from the economic impact that Visit Gainesville measures, sure, but it's a very conservative estimate, and that's still a lot more than the goose egg that Gainesville businesses register for road games.
And that money goes to people who support Florida sports — not just football — in various ways on a year-round basis. You better believe that supporting the community that supports it in turn matters to Florida's athletic department.