2004 was not kind to Gator sports teams


Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 12:19 a.m.

In college athletics, the calendar runs with the semesters, which is a little like running with the bulls except there is less blood. The rest of us use this archaic system we like to call a "year."

The year starts, strangely enough, on the first of January and ends when a guy with a keg for a stomach and breath that smells like burnt Velcro and sour olives signing a slurred version of "Auld Lang Syne" as he leans over to give your wife or girlfriend a smooch.

That's the year I go by and I'm sticking to it. As 2004 died and 2005 sprung to life, I found myself sitting in the press box of the Georgia Dome with other hacks where we were banging out stories and columns about a season that ended with a whimper.

Once the story was filed, we were in a new year. If you are a fan of Gator sports, you hope it's a lot better than the last one.

Because 2004 was not a "Great ... to be ... a Flo-rida Gator" kind of year. It had its moments, but overall it was a stinker.

Not a stinker in terms of the rest of the country. I'm sure there are schools that would die for what Florida was able to accomplish in ought-four. But the bar is set high at UF and this last year was hardly the Gators at their best.

Track, very nice year. Same goes for field. Swimming had top five finishes. Gymnastics, thumbs up.

But no matter how you cut it, it was a very mediocre year.

Any year where you have three teams end their seasons with losses to - gasp - Miami is not a good one. Baseball, football and women's tennis all saw their seasons end with losses to the Hurricanes.

Baseball, we're getting used to. Football? Michigan, Iowa, Miami, does it matter? But women's tennis?

Or is that actually better than having your season ended by Central Florida, as soccer did.

Could be worse. Could be Manhattan.

Ouch. We shouldn't kick the basketball program when it's coming off a loss at Florida State. Especially when it already has lost to Miami. Third in the state? How long has it been for hoops?

New Year's resolution No. 1: Go back to the old days and quit scheduling Miami. In everything.

New Year's resolution No. 2: Ditto Stanford.

Stanford did its part to add to the Year of Living Ordinary by ending the seasons of the volleyball and men's tennis teams. (I know that the NCAA sticking UF volleyball in the Tallahassee regional with the Cardinal showed the selection committee found a fifth of Dewar's in the meeting room but facts are facts).

There is more to this than just a case of orange and blue depression. Florida usually gets off to a nice start in the fall in the Director's Cup standings, which measure a school's athletic programs.

A year ago, Florida's fall sports managed to pick up 187 points on its way to another top 10 finish (sixth). This year, football almost assuredly will pick up zero points because it will finish unranked, unless Mack Brown decides to lobby for the 7-5 Gators. Volleyball and soccer, which last year accounted for 163 points, earned 75 this fall.

Thank goodness for men's cross country, which picked up points (20) for the first time in seven years.

You may be saying I spent a lot of time, newsprint and research to tell you something you already knew because you spent way too many mornings with the hangover a loss brings.

I'm here to tell you the burden for change falls on one man.

Urban Meyer.

Don't laugh. He may be in charge of only one sport, but football drives more than just the finances of a major athletic program. When football is winning, all of the athletic teams have more of a swagger, more confidence. Here come the mighty Gators.

But when football is struggling through three five-loss seasons, it bleeds throughout the rest of the programs.

Yep, I just figured out a way to blame Ron Zook for the soccer team's early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

That's silly, of course. So is any feeling that the Gators are slipping as one of the top 10 athletic programs in the country.

This last year was an aberration. But I'll bet you're happy it's history.

You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can hear The Pat Dooley Hour each weekday from 11 a.m. to noon on The Star 99.5-FM.

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