One of Florida Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin’s favorite phrases, as we have learned over his time on Twitter, is “Is that good? That seems pretty good.” Used to refer to Florida’s host of nationally-ranked national championship aspirants — teams and individuals both — it is a semi-humble form of aggrandization, a way of smiling and shaking one’s head and marveling at the accomplishments of one of the best athletic programs in all of collegiate sports.
But this spring of of Florida sports have made me wonder about something: Where does “Is that good?” meet “Is that good enough?”
I started musing on this way back in April, as Florida had two of its finer gymnastics meets of the year at the NCAA Championships, in the semifinal and Super Six rounds, and still finished well back of LSU and Oklahoma, respectively, in those competitions.
The Gators did not blow up in St. Louis, performing well despite a few minor flubs here and there, and they certainly did not disappoint like some of the teams that had meltdowns in the Arch City — one of which has since fired its head coach after an ugly performance and a shady “dismissal” of gymnasts. And Alex McMurtry stamped herself once again as one of the sport’s finest performers, winning an individual national championship for her efforts.
But Florida has been to the mountaintop in gymnastics — been there three years in a row, in fact. McMurtry is the third Gator to win an all-around national title, not the first — and her two predecessors won more than one. The expectations for Florida gymnastics were, for the longest time, competing for a national championship, something the program had never captured.
Now, since it has captured one, it seems to me that the expectation is winning a national championship, or at least that anything less than a national championship is at least somewhat dissatisfying. That’s not a massive difference, of course, but it is a significant one, I think.
And that’s especially true at Florida, and for an athletic program that has seen 13 distinct teams win national championships, most of them coming in the last two decades.
Prior to the 1991-92 academic year, Florida had won seven NCAA team championships in four sports — men’s and women’s golf, and men’s and women’s swimming — and one AIAW title in gymnastics. Since then, Florida has won 26 more NCAA team championships across 10 sports, along with three football national championships not awarded by the NCAA. Between the time I originally started drafting this post in April and today, Florida won another national title.
Winning it all: Just a thing that Florida does.
But this Monday presents one of the more interesting dichotomies in recent memory for the Gators, and Gator Nation.
Florida’s softball team is two wins from a national title, and playing as well as it has all year, making good on a No. 1 ranking and a roster with talent stacked upon talent. Florida’s baseball team is one win from a Super Regional, but one loss from its season ending in truly shocking fashion — with a second straight loss to Bethune-Cookman, a program that had never beaten the Gators on the diamond until Sunday.
It is, unquestionably, good that Florida has one of the last two softball teams standing. I think it’s close to inarguably good that Florida is playing in a Gainesville Regional as the No. 3 national seed in baseball.
But is it good enough for the Gators to just make it to the championship series, if it seems crystal clear that they have a team more than good enough to win it? Is making the NCAA Tournament and then getting ambushed by Bethune-Cookman good enough?
Was making the NCAA Tournament as the No. 3 seed in lacrosse good? Sure. Was subsequently falling at home to a resilient USC team good enough? It got my rather gentle assertion that it was still a great season for Florida lacrosse summarily dismissed on Twitter.
Is being at or near the top of the rankings in track all year good enough if Florida can’t turn that into SEC or national titles? Coach Mike Holloway has implied, strongly, that it isn’t — Ctrl + F “happy to be here” — and I’m not one to argue with the coach who has brought more national titles to Florida than any other.
Former Rowdy Reptiles president and erstwhile Alligator Army contributor Lucas Dolengowski marveled about Florida’s softball team on Sunday, saying a simple and very profound thing about their rampage in Oklahoma City.
We are so good.— Lucas Dolengowski (@LDolengowski) June 4, 2017
But Florida assistant athletic director and marketing whiz Alicia Longworth — whom you may know as the den mother of the Rowdy Reptiles, or as the person principally responsible for that freaking amazing court projection — seized on that point to make an even greater one.
Think about how many Florida teams you say that about & how often...It's not easy, but yet our teams make it look that way.— Alicia Longworth (@AliciaLongworth) June 4, 2017
Every Florida team is the product of millions of hours of effort put in by its players, coaches, and support staff, and thousands — usually, millions — of dollars of financial support from an athletic department that has made significant investments not just in the leviathan that drives revenues in collegiate sports, but in all of its nearly 20 varsity sports, allowing champions and contenders to develop.
And, almost without exception, those teams win. And win a lot. And make “Is that good?” a purely rhetorical question.
But is that good enough? That’s for us to decide.