GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's easy to wag a finger at Florida these days.
There have been two national championships in three seasons, but at what cost? That's not only an observation, but also a headline that will pop up sooner or later.
Florida football is one of the major offseason stories for all the wrong reasons. Charlie Weis: Will he hang on at Notre Dame? Lane Kiffin and his mouth of the South. USC and its double-barreled probation problems.
|If Urban Meyer keeps winning, the other stuff won't matter. (US Presswire)|
The total now stands at 24, as in the number of arrests in Urban Meyer's four seasons. The number would be appalling if we weren't such hypocrites. The reason we care about that number for a fleeting moment is the reason we'll forget just as fast.
Two national championships trump 24 arrests. The legal problems are a smudge on the Corvette's paint job. Crass but true. A smart-ass might note there has been one arrest for every Florida point on the scoreboard against Oklahoma. A really smart-ass might point out that Jack Bauer's 24 draws more interest in Gainesville than Meyer's 24.
A realist knows that .833 (Meyer's winning percentage at Florida) gets you a raise. Meyer is due to get a big one.
Would the administration be so generous had the coach lost those championship games or never reached them? Doubtful.
If that winning percentage slips, then arrests become a convenient excuse to start the questioning.
Simplistic? Friday marks the 20th anniversary of Barry Switzer's forced resignation at Oklahoma. The Sooners coach was overseeing a cesspool at the end. The program was on probation. There were guns being waved, rape accusations. Quarterback Charles Thompson was caught selling crack to an undercover FBI agent and eventually spent 17 months in federal prison.
Lawyers, guns and money were more prominent than yards, recruits and bowls. Curiously, Switzer's job was at risk only after a 9-3 season in 1988. Back then, that qualified as slippage in Norman. When he was forced out, the Sooners were a year removed from three consecutive Big Eight titles. One of those, in 1985, included a national championship.
In the end, the issue had become less about how Switzer was winning than if he was winning enough. Machine guns and coke were bad, but the Citrus Bowl wasn't going to cut it. Switzer fought for his job. He lost out to his own legacy.• Doyel: Gator stays in jails show Urban's way fails
Anyone remember Georgia last year? The Bulldogs were the preseason No. 1, on their way to their seventh consecutive season of at least nine wins. They were also No. 1 on the police blotter. There were eight arrests in the offseason. Thirty Bulldogs have been arrested in the same four-year period, six more than Florida.
You reading much about that lately? That's the hypocrisy. If we're going to scrutinize the national champion, let's be fair and balanced. Miami has quietly turned into the Coral Gables Young Men's Choir. Randy Shannon hasn't won (enough), but he sure has cleaned up the program.
But Georgia and Miami don't matter in the big picture. You probably had no idea that the Bulldogs are bigger "renegades". You had less of an idea that Luther Campbell wouldn't recognize the Hurricanes of today.
How could you with Alabama commanding the stage last week? Next week it might be Florida State, where the number 14 (possible vacated victories) is much more significant than 13 (arrests in the last four years).
We're numb, bored with it all until an offseason news hole and the defending national champion's mounting crime numbers congeal.
Sure, Florida athletes have to be held to a higher standard. But do they have to be held to a higher standard than everyone else?
We live in a world where coaches and administrators can justify anything. Miami admitted linebacker Willie Williams years ago while he was on probation. That was only after his 11 arrests. UCLA had plenty of questions about NCAA outlaw Rick Neuheisel. In the end it paid attention to one number -- his .688 winning percentage -- when it hired him before last season. Those weren't the first times winning potential was valued more than a sordid past.
Coaches get a pass for a lot of things as long as they win. This is not a revelation. It's a system we helped create and perpetuate. We -- media, public, ADs, administrators -- are as much a part of the problem as the coaches. So why should Florida be flogged in public? Meyer doesn't recruit thugs, at least no more than anyone else. Just like everyone else, he pursues the baddest athletes on the planet in order to keep feeding the monster that he created.
"It's never been this hard to recruit," he said.
Especially with Kiffin commanding the stage.
Meyer has risked his reputation in backing his players in the past. Sure, he's had a lot of guys screw up at Florida. He had a real big screw-up at Utah. Marty Johnson did time in jail and was allowed back on the team.
But that was Utah, not the fish bowl that is Florida. You wonder if a Marty Johnson would be allowed a fifth chance with the Gators. You understand, though, why Meyer would fight for that fifth chance. Come down with too big a hammer and you risk alienating recruits. Too lenient and you become an easy target for us hacks.
Coaches will take their chances with media criticism anytime. You probably don't know that 43 percent of the Gators have at least a 3.0 GPA. Or that all 13 seniors from 2008 graduated.
"It's not news," Meyer said sarcastically.
Actually, it's not news. Players are supposed to graduate and get good grades. A soaring arrest total is the car wreck that makes us slow down and gawk. Never mind that Meyer recruited only 15 of the 24 players or that, according to the Gainesville Sun, the arrest rate is generally even with that of the of the general student population.
Florida has the glass bowl(s). Miami has repaired its rep.
Guess which sentence matters more to Florida and Miami. That's because the Gators rule the world. They already have (arguably) the best team, the best player and the best person in college football.
The reputation thing? It's coming along.
"We talked about it," Tim Tebow said of the arrests. "This is a thing that's going to put us back on edge. We're not just good players; we're going to be good off the field."
As long as Florida keeps winning big, does it really matter?