This is a difficult piece to write without sounding bitter or jealous. Let's face it, our neighbors to the north have been the standard for intercollegiate athletic success for a long time now. On the field, they've won three football national championships, two more in men's basketball, and enough Olympic sport and SEC titles that Jeremy Foley should probably put an in-house jeweler on staff for the rings. Their fundraising arm, the University Athletic Association, donated over $8.5 million last year to the general scholarship fund of the university. UF is one of the few major programs where athletics truly does benefit academics directly. And their student athletic fee is a minute fraction of what USF's is, so the right people (donors, TV contracts, ticket sales) are paying the freight for their nine-figure athletics budget.
They've also done it without the taint of scandal. Despite being the most successful school in terms of revenue sports championships over the last 15 years, they've managed to mostly steer clear of the NCAA so far. And unless Chris Rainey is allowed to give a press conference every day, they'll probably stay wide of that for a while.
Is there some little brother syndrome involved in my dislike? Absolutely. It's hard to admit that, but it's true. In 2002 I went to the O'Connell Center three times in three days, as USF Volleyball was in the NCAA Tournament Friday and Saturday, and men's basketball played the Gators on Sunday. We beat FSU on Friday in volleyball, but lost a four setter to end a great season to an eventual Final Four UF volleyball team. We then got worked by Billy Donovan the next day, with our USF allocated seats far in the upper deck. But what doesn't stand out was the end of a great season and a great match, but what happened in the stands during that volleyball loss.
As we're down two sets to none on Saturday night, we noticed something the Gator student section had written on a whiteboard. They were writing random things on it throughout the match to bait our fans and players, doing what good fan bases do. But the one that stood out, and still rips at my soul, was this one:
"RIVALS WIN SOMETIMES."
There is simply no response to that. Unless you're the former USF student-athlete that was sitting next to me and had more than a few beverages before the match. In which case you run into the Gator student section, steal the whiteboard, take off running, then break it over your knee before you get kicked out of the O-Dome.
And that's the problem. I don't want petty violence and stupidity to rule. I just want to win fair and square. You can belabor the inherent advantages Florida has over USF in every measurable category of intercollegiate athletics (budget, facilities, history, generations of invested alumni, rings), and they are numerous. But until you do something about it on the field, there is no comeback. This isn't the Premiership, where Blackpool is just happy avoiding relegation. It is the stated mission of USF Athletics to compete for conference and national championships. To get to that point, we're going to have to go through Gainesville a significant portion of the time. And so far, our record in that department has been wanting. Justifiably so considering the difference in history and funding, but still... these are tough numbers to see:
Men's basketball - 5-17 all-time against UF (teams have not played since 2002)
Women's basketball - 5-30 all-time (last USF win was in the 2005 WNIT)
Baseball - 22-49
Softball - 11-30
Women's soccer - 0-3, though USF did win an exhibition match this year
Volleyball - 3-30
Men's tennis - 3-40
Women's tennis - 1-47
That's a total of 50-246, or a combined winning percentage of 16.9%. Yikes.
We've got a lot of catching up to do, and that sucks. And this type of catching up doesn't take seasons, but generations. The plus side is it's nice having the benchmark for where you want to get to be just two hours north on I-75. So yes, they are the big brother and we the little one. But I have no doubt that we will continue to level the playing field over my lifetime. Though as it stands now, we are what we are, and they are what they are.
But jealousy isn't the reason for my great dislike of everything orange and blue. It's the arrogance. The unrelenting, unfettered arrogance. Not necessarily from the alumni, as most that any of us know are pretty nice people. They might be a bit full of themselves regarding their alma mater's athletic accomplishments, but that I can't begrudge. If we had that resume, I'd be shouting it from the rooftops as well.
Instead, it's the Daywalkers that irritate me. They've adopted the university as their own simply because of the name and the state of residence of birth. The bar is set pretty low for being a Florida fan. Be born in a state full of enough crazy people that Carl Hiassen became a multi-millionaire documenting them, and declare your superiority to all comers by simply yelling, "IF YOU AIN'T A GATOR, YER GATOR BAIT! WOOOOOOO!!!"
Don't give me that "this is cognitive bias" argument, either. As a rule, the less time you've actually spent in a classroom is directly proportional to the increased likelihood your being a Gator fan. I of course can't prove this with data, but rather the decades of experience living in this weird, quirky, and beautiful state I call home. And let me say that it's not just Jort Nation that makes me want to drive into oncoming traffic. Our friends at Da U have the same problem with Miami-Dade residents. It happens everywhere. But I'd argue it's probably worse with the Gators than any team outside of the Crimson Tide. What Notre Dame calls its "subway alumni", Florida should refer to as its "Maury/Jerry/Tyra alumni."
To be fair, we have our idiots as well. Check our message boards. Plenty of morons crapping in their hand and flinging in any direction just trying to see what sticks. (A fate we're sworn to avoid here.) But per capita, I'd argue our fan base is certainly more informed and less ridiculous. I think that's because if you root for USF, you're more likely an alumnus, a student, or a parent of one. There's a tie to the university that filters out some, but certainly not all, of the white noise.
It's pretty easy to be a Gator fan, too. They don't lose very much. They give you lots of points of pride. But just like it's pretty annoying to see LeBron James, born and raised in Akron, be a Yankee fan for no other reason than they win a lot, it's just as disturbing to see so many people harboring allegiance to UF simply because they win. I'm not saying fandom should be hard, but picking your favorite team for no other reason but you want to root for whomever the likely victor is seems pretty shallow to me. As USF has grown, we've actually started to have a few of these types pop up around us as well. Though no program can grow without them, they're pretty awful to have to tolerate. And Jort Nation (a separate entity from Gator Nation, to be sure) is just terminally awful to deal with in this state, with their insufferable arrogance being their biggest crime against humanity.
Sometimes that arrogance can extend to the teams as well. Urban cursing out a reporter for accurately, though out of context, quoting Deonte Thompson is just the latest example. Don't like what is said about your program at a public university? No problem. Kick the media out of practice, and hire your own in-house reporter -- who coincidentally was hired away from the USF beat for the Tampa Tribune, where he did a fine job -- to cover your team as you see fit. Don't like the paradigm? Change it without consequence. That isn't the way it should be.
There's also the legislative cabal doing everything they can to keep a school in the middle of Nowhere, Florida, as the state's "flagship" school. They have tried to codify this on multiple occasions, almost guaranteeing that state education funds aren't allocated based on merit, but rather a preset formula that will act as a ceiling on other state schools that might excel, and thus assuring the largest piece of the pie. My alma mater is one of those schools, and probably the one most likely affected by that decision. As those that follow the higher education politics of this state know, the system of funding and governance has changed frequently, and will change again over the next years and governors' terms. But the built-in system of consistent funding and power grabs for Tallahassee and Gainesville is really difficult to watch, especially when a school like USF has all the resources and facilities in place to continue to narrow the gap with a fair funding fight. Yes, the system is the system. But this isn't the way it should be.
There is also one perception that continues to stick in my craw, though it is one that lessens every day. That's the belief that Gainesville is a better place to attend college as an undergraduate than Tampa. I've often said that happiness is Archer Road in your rear view mirror, and that's because our state's most well-known school sits in a cultural wasteland. Granted it's a great place to party, and I've done my fair share of it there. But if doing something that occasionally does not involve getting hammered is more your speed, Gainesville is certainly not your destination of choice.
So the arrogance of Gator Nation that UF is better place to attend college is something I'll never understand. For a much fuller academic and social experience, give me SoHo, TBPAC, Channelside, St. Pete's waterfront, Clearwater Beach and Siesta Key, Boliche Boulevard, and even Ybor City (daytime only -- I'm not that delusional). I got a world-class, Research I education in a wonderful city. The "Drive Thru U" reputation of USF has been justifiably dead for over a decade. We're an outstanding school to attend as an undergraduate, and the social side has caught up with the campus culture anywhere.
I'll put our bars on college nights and our fraternity parties up against anything you'll see at UF. But the difference is at USF, you can do your internship and take classes at the same time, because there are real businesses here that need real help. You can head to class during the day, then a college night at a Rays or Lightning game in the evening. You can get elegantly wasted in the parking lot at Ray Jay for a home football game with your girl, then take her to Bern's the next night and have a five-star dinner to apologize for getting that sloppy. It's the best of both worlds. And as more and more graduating high school seniors realize this, the gap between USF and UF will continue to shrink. But because these things take time, the perception hasn't caught up to the reality.
Before I get flamed, you're absolutely right. I didn't have the grades or the athletic talent to attend UF out of high school. I went to USF, then did a few community college classes, and transferred back to USF before I earned my A.A. degree, and eventually my B.A. And just like every other A.A. recipient in the state of Florida at that time, I could have attended UF. I actually thought about it for about 10 seconds. But I knew I was in on the ground floor of a penny stock. I knew we would get there one day, and I'd rather be a part of building traditions than carrying them on (something I'm proud to say I got to do).
That's not a slam. UF does a wonderful job of carrying the past forward. But maybe the masochist in me would rather climb the mountain than have the helicopter drop me off on the summit. It just means that much more when you get there.
It might not be this week, or this year, or even this decade. But we will get there. And if the glory in the fight and struggle doesn't make sense to you, then maybe USF isn't your school. The size of the gap we've already closed is enormous, and done at relative lightning speed. Our builders went to Auburn, and that roar still rings in our ears. The passionate went to FSU, and showed that the future is now. If you're a builder, join us. If you have a passion for working to create greatness where none previously existed, get on our team. If you dream big, think big, and are willing to stick it out when times are tough because you know that the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter than the flashlight that will ever be handed to you, become a Bull.
Don't get in the helicopter. Climb the mountain.