The Back Nine: Here’s how to attract college football fans

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Fireworks go off while Gators fans sing a Tom Petty song between the third and fourth quarter during the game against the Florida State Seminoles at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Nov. 30. [Matt Pendleton/Correspondent]

The Back Nine comes at you after another lazy weekend where …. Bzzzzzz … what the heck is that? Anyway, it was the seventh straight weekend without live sports to … bzzzzzz Hey, get away from here! … So we may be moving closer …. bzzzzzzzz Is that … is that … a Murder Hornet? Well, that’s just great.

  1. The above was a reenactment of the movie script I am writing called “Corona vs. the Murder Hornet.” I think you see that I am losing my mind. But before I went off the deep end, I was thinking about what college football can do to attract fans (fans, not hornets) to stadiums once we get started. Because it’s going to take more than just the fact that there is a game to get some people to show up, right? College football was battling dwindling attendance before this all started. Let’s give this a shot. Maybe relax some of the celebration rules. Or have kickoffs from the goal line. Don’t allow any contact at all on pass routes. Let fans run the instant replay reviews. Have a trivia contest in the stadium where the winner programs the third-quarter music. Have a Gator Great be Mr. Two Bits in each section with the whistle and everything. And for gosh sakes, start selling beer in the stadium the way Florida does for the other sports. And then I started thinking, I’m not sure they really want a packed stadium. Who knows how many people will be allowed in The Swamp when we start? And so I went back to watching “Breaking Bad, Season Four.”
  2. We lost a pair of legendary coaches and people over a four-day span and that makes me very sad. I covered Don Shula, who died at the age of 90 on Monday, when I was a writer in Fort Lauderdale and he was so genuine that I became a big fan. But the thing I remember most was the time in 1986 when the Dolphins and Falcons spent several days in camp together in Suwanee, Ga., where the Atlanta headquarters were located. And one night, a few media boys were invited to the lounge area there for a few drinks and we were entertained (and I do mean entertained) as Shula and Dan Henning were belting out every Irish ballad they knew. That is a memory of probably the best NFL coach ever that I will cherish forever. 
  1. And Bill Matthews left us at age 77 on Friday morning. He was a high school coaching legend in Mississippi and, of course, the father of one of the best UF quarterbacks ever in Shane. Bill coached at four different high schools in the state and won a Class 5A title at Pascagoula High. But he made sure he made it to Shane’s games and many of his practices. Thoughts and prayers to both families.
    13. We are closer to full strength in terms of golf courses being open in Alachua County now that the UF course opened for play this weekend. Ironwood is now the lone holdout adhering to the city directive about parks and recreation activities, but will airify its greens this week and could be open soon. I went by Meadowbrook and UF on Sunday and they were both slammed with golfers on a perfect day. At the university course, they were being so careful you couldn’t even drive into the parking lot without a tee time. Both of those courses are using the inverted cups to keep golfers from touching pins or reaching into holes. Other courses in our area — such as the Gainesville Country Club and Ocala National — are using foam stoppers in the holes so the ball sits up higher after going in. I talked to a couple of the better golfers in our area and they know that the inverted cups are better for scoring because, as Scott Dombek told The Back Nine, “You can take dead aim and just nail it. We are seeing more chip-ins, too,” Yeah, just think. If they had inverted cups in the 2005 Masters, Chris DiMarco would have a green jacket. I end this discussion of inverted cups with former NCAA champion Nick Gilliam — “It is cheating, but this is a unique time. It’s just great to be outside.” Amen.
  2. The thing about weekends is that the lack of sports really hit home on Saturdays and Sundays. It doesn’t help that the neighborhood pool is also closed down. So your mind tends to wander, which is what mine did Sunday and I came up with a bit of a social experiment using social media by asking five questions: 

* Are you so desperate for live sports you would watch any two former Gators play an 18-hole match? This was a close one with yes winning with 51.7 percent of the vote.

* You have spent this many hours binge watching shows that have more than one episode. The winner was 11-40 hours with 39.9 percent. I am right there with you and on the high end.

* Have you gained or lost weight in the last seven weeks? Let’s see, 37.7 percent said they have stayed the same and 37.3 percent said they have gained. I have lost and gained, depending on how much I crave comfort food.

* If Florida plays Eastern Washington on Sept. 5 how likely are you to attend the game? Well, 37.5 percent of you said yes (Murder Hornets be damned), while 30.6 percent of you said it’s not going to happen. Do you mean the game won’t happen or you going to the game won’t happen? I didn’t word that question properly.

* And finally, if you have grown a beard during the last seven weeks, will you keep it when we get back to working in offices? As wives around American rejoice, 39.9 percent of you said you’re shaving it off. But 26.4 percent said you will go with a trimmed version. Me, I can’t decide because, while it is lame, it beats shaving.

  1. The one thing we all have to look forward to on Sunday night’s is the Michael Jordan documentary on ESPN. It has been spectacular, even if it glosses over some things because MJ had the final say in the production. It’s funny, because I was never a Jordan guy, but respected his game. I mean, he was — and is — the GOAT. As I watch this series each Sunday, I kind of fall in love with the player and then he does something and I say, “That’s right. That’s why I didn’t like him.” Anyway, it is definitely appointment TV, especially for someone like me studying his interaction with the media and vice versa. 
  2. One column idea that I have seen from a few writers (including my friend Mike Bianchi) is that athletic departments should take the concerns they are facing about budgets now and evolve into some more sensible spending. And I agree. Although any cuts that are made now won’t last once the economy comes back. I guess the point is that everyone now sees just how fragile athletic department budgets are. You can suggest that we quit building these palatial football-only facilities, but most of them are already functional and that would simply hamstring the ones who don’t have them. You can suggest that coaches don’t get these huge salaries, but this is still America where there is a free market. Here are three things that I would do and the NCAA doesn’t have leadership to do any of them:
  3. Restrict travel for all non-revenue sports. This would be a big problem for the ACC with teams in Boston and Coral Gables. But we can work it out.
  4. Put a cap on recruiting budgets for football. (Somewhere, Dabo Swinney just cursed).
  5. Put a cap on buyouts for coaches.

See? Problem solved. 

  1. The Tweet of the Week is a double Tweet from Aubree Munro, the former Florida softball catcher and one of the best to play at UF. It’s pretty powerful stuff — “Someone in #TheLastDance said the 3rd one was more of a relief & I’m gonna be REALLY honest it’s prob(ably) the top thing I can nearly (lol) level with MJ on. We didn’t even win the 3rd one in 2016-got beat in supers but the pressure of that season was something else. Sometimes I wish I had done some things differently. Cause even though it would have been my 3rd it would have been someone’s first. And I wish I would have taken that mindset more. I learned A LOT from that year.”
  2. OK, I think the beach is pointing at me so I’m gonna give it a shot this weekend and will probably take this playlist along: 

* “Aesop Rock” by Rogue Wave.

* “Snap Out Of It” by Arctic Monkeys.

* “When You’re My Age” by Lori McKenna.

* “Diabolik” by Surf Rock Is Dead.

 

* And for a real old one that takes me back to seeing these guys in the rain in Jacksonville long after they were a big deal, “Sure Gonna Miss Her” by Gary Lewis and the Playboys.

 

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.