Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Is this the right answer? Is it the right question?

Florida Blog Orange and Blue Hue approaches an interesting subject - Why isn't Georgia Better? (spotted via CFR).

First off, go read the post. It's not a flame, and it's actually quite favorable and reasonable.

Next, indulge me in picking a few nits...

First, I have some problems with the thesis "why don't they win more?" (at least in terms of football). Specifically, what does that mean?

  • Does it mean "more" than Georgia "should" be winning? If so, how does one quantify how a team "should" be winning? Is it that "underrated/overrated" thing, because over the last 20 years Georgia is the 8th most underrated team (meaning they ended up winning more than expected, see here, and guess who's ranked way down at number 72?).
  • Does it mean "more than other programs"? If so, we must address scope.
  • Does it mean "more throughout the history of the program"? If so, can it really be argued that Georgia didn't win a lot? Georgia is the third winningest program in the SEC after Alabama and Tennessee. Georgia's 11th all time in wins. 13th all time in winning percentage. Georgia has won more SEC titles than any other program, save Alabama and Tennessee. Georgia has won twice as many titles as Florida. Among SEC teams, only Alabama and Tennessee have won more national titles than Georgia.
  • Does it mean "more in recent history"? How should "recent history" be defined. Is it over the last 5 years, during which Georgia has the best record in the SEC (52-13, one win better than LSU) and more titles than any other program? Is it over the last decade?

Though Keltic Gator doesn't say it, I've had this argument about scope with too many of my Gator friends before. Do we want to gauge the merits of each program based upon the totality of history (during which Georgia is quite good, and Florida was quite bad), or do we want to limit it to a shorter period. When I've restricted it to the past 5 years (during which Georgia has been damn good and up to this year during which Florida has been mediocre), Florida fans get upset. Too often Florida fans have wanted to limit all discussions of how good a particular program is to "the specific years where Steve Spurrier was coach at Florida". Naturally, I disagree with these fans. I say either look at the full history, or limit things to a particular period during which there was some commonality of players and where specific reasons for success or failure can be spotted (like a given five year period). If we look at 5 year periods (and it doesn't have to be the most recent period, you can take any 5 year period), we can give some pretty good reasons for why a particular team is good or not.

So to respond to the main thesis, I'd argue that, in the abstract, Georgia does win a lot. Over the long term, and over the short term. As to whether Georgia wins more than it "should", that's a question I believe one can't answer, exactly. For example, I think with all the talent Georgia had on its team in 2000, 8-4 was a poor result. But at the same time, the 2005 SEC Championship team I believe overachieved to win that title. Some years teams don't win as much as they probably should have, other years teams might win more. But whenever one addresses the question of "should've won more", I always think about Bill Parcells' line about records - they're usually a pretty good description as to how good you really are. And if that's the case, then I think Georgia has earned their spot as a premier SEC program - over several decades and in recent years.

On to Keltic Gator's other points...

On athletic department budgets: I think Keltic Gator raises a good point about UGA's athletic department being so profitable. However, profits of the massive size we've seen for Georgia in recent years are in some ways just that, recent. The state of Georgia is not the same state it was 20 years ago. Population and industry growth have made Georgia significantly wealthier than it once was, and the University and the Athletic Department have clearly been some of the beneficiaries. As recent as a decade ago, season tickets were readily available to non-donating persons. That is no longer the case. In the last 5 years, demand for tickets has skyrocketed. Second, the windfall the department has received from leasing skysuites at Sanford Stadium is something of recent days (the expansions are only now getting finished). The bloated budget and profit margins are not something Georgia had the luxury of even 10-15 years ago. Georgia's budgets have risen very well over the last few years, but for a good long time Georgia trailed Tennessee, Ohio State, Michigan, Texas and plenty of other programs in size of budget. Further, I think there's an argument that merely having large budgets does not always equal on-field success, but at the same time, I think it's interesting how Georgia's on-field fortunes have improved over the last 5-6 years, the budget has grown exponentially. I'm not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg, or which came first.

Now, there's a second issue regarding athletic budgets at Georgia - how profits are spent. This is a touchy subject, and one that I know I'm not in a position to have all the right answers on. Georgia has a very large budget (though definitely below Ohio State, Texas and Florida levels). Georgia has a budget that is more profitable than anyone else. The natural response is, "well, why aren't they rerouting those profits back into the program?" Indeed - I think it's pretty clear that one of the reasons why Georgia is more profitable than the above listed programs is that Georgia hasn't been spending like those other programs. Though it's planned for the future, Georgia has no indoor football practice facility. Georgia is currently making headway on a massive basketball facility, one that the profits from the past few years' budgets will clearly be spent on. In a way, the profits of the past couple of years may be somewhat misleading - Georgia may be saving for new projects, or for making sure Mark Richt remains the coach forever.

Another issue regarding budgets is the other sports within the athletic department. An astute commenter noted that Georgia took away from Florida the all-sports trophy last year (and in past years Georgia has finished ahead of Florida and the rest of the SEC in the Director's Cup). Georgia has always placed an emphasis - organizationally and budgetarily - on sports other than football and men's basketball. And that costs a lot of money, as few other sports (save women's gymnastics) are self sufficient. Another factor is Title IX. Georgia has a student body which is 57% made up of women. Thus, to remain compliant with Title IX, 57% of the scholarships offered must be awarded to women. With 85 scholarships awarded for men in football, that means Georgia has to find not just 85 scholarships in other sports for women, but actually more than that - in order to match the student body makeup. That means more sports for women, often which are for sports that, regardless of the merit, simply cannot support themselves financially - such as recent Georgia additions equestrian and lacrosse. For a state school of its size, Georgia is not exactly normal in its gender makeup - mainly because Georgia Tech is so heavily male - if both schools were merged it'd be a lot closer to 50-50. Not every large comparable university has as high a percentage of women as Georgia. For example, Tennessee is under 51% women. So there are perhaps external forces that prevent Georgia from merely spending the large budget back on football. Of course, that too relies on the supposition that more money means more wins.

Let's go back to picking at nits...

Keltic Gator wrote:

I like Marc [sic] Richt. I think he’s a fine coach and one of the best football
minds in the SEC. His teams never seem to overly impress me though.
There is always talent on the field but they don’t seem to have the type of
playmakers you find at Florida, LSU, Texas, Ohio State, USC, etc.

(his emphasis). Here's the question: why does Georgia not impress him much? Since Richt became coach at Georgia, the Dawgs are 60-17. That's a 5 and a half game lead on second place in the SEC East (Florida, 54-21). LSU inched ahead of Georgia this season, as they're 61-16 over the same period. I know I need to keep pounding it into my head - winning alone isn't impressive and that's what makes college football so great - the fact that you need to mix in a couple of triple axels and have incredibly appropriate music and an absolutely breathtaking wardrobe... oh wait, I keep mixing figure skating up with football. Silly me.

Also, "playmakers"? Another word I have no idea what actually means. Because it obviously doesn't mean guys who make plays on defense. Guys like David Pollack, Champ Bailey, Thomas Davis, Greg Blue, Tra Battle, Tony Taylor, Sean Jones, Paul Oliver, Boss Bailey, Kendrell Bell, Richard Seymour, Marcus Stroud, Quentin Moses, Jermaine Phillips, Demario Minter, Kedric Golston, Charles Grant... And just so we don't leave out the offense, there actually are a few guys that can "make plays" on Georgia's rosters of recent. Maybe the NCAA's all-time winningest QB? Maybe the most recent Super Bowl MVP? 4 NFL running backs? One of the NFL leaders in TD receptions?

The point Keltic Gator is making, though I'm sort of mocking it, has some merit though. Well, sort of. Keltic Gator doesn't know Georgia's playmakers - or at least he doesn't immediately bring them to mind like players at other schools. The thing is that Georgia has had those kinds of players, they just haven't necessarily gotten the coverage other teams have had. As he writes in the next few sentences:

And is it me or does Bulldog football seem to be buried on the back pages of the
national papers and for late at night on the sports networks? Georgia
seems like they are the best team to not receive much national notoriety.
They are extremely regionalized and often overshadowed by fellow SEC teams like
Florida, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn and Alabama even when those teams aren’t as

Again, his emphasis. His point is that Georgia doesn't grab the headlines. And that's true, unfortunately. Please venture through my archives to see all the numerous places where I've tried to get across the point that college football's reliance on the mass media and publicity to drive storylines and select champions is an incredible shame. I'm not one to complain that Georgia isn't getting a fair shake from the media. I think it's terrible that the media has any influence at all. Also, I think Georgia gets at least as much coverage as Auburn. I have little idea why certain teams get more favorable coverage than others. It's just an unfortunate fact of college football.

Another nitpick - scheduling:

Is it scheduling? I realize that Georgia hasn’t played a game outside of
the south since the 1965 but other big name schools seem to get away with being

There's that 1965 number again. September 20, 2008 (at Tempe, AZ) cannot get here soon enough so we can stop hearing that number. And though I don't think Keltic Gator is taking a shot at UGA's merit of scheduling, but can we at least note Florida's complicity in the fact that Georgia hasn't played many OOC road games? It's simple math - for many years when we had an 11 game season, every school would want 6 home games. Because Georgia plays an OOC game home and home against Georgia Tech and a neutral site game against Florida, Georgia had to schedule two more OOC home games to get to 6 (because in even years they'd only play 3 home SEC games, in odd years they'd play only 2 OOC home games). Before the SEC played a full 8 game season, Georgia played an annual home/home series with Clemson. Basically, for the bulk of those years since 1965, Georgia might not have played a terrible team from another part of the country on the road, but they were playing decent to very good local teams on the road. Yes, that might've added to a "regional" aspect of Georgia, but one of the main reasons for that was the game in Jacksonville. Let's compare Georgia to Florida - who has the same scheduling limitations as Georgia (the neutral site game and an in-state rival home/home). Florida has played exactly one game outside the South in the last 20 years - a road game at Syracuse in 1991. So why is it that Florida isn't considered regional like Georgia? My guess is that it isn't Florida's doing, but rather FSU's, and Georgia Tech's. Follow me: The Florida-FSU games throughout the 1990s and early 2000s were some great matchups - and FSU was a top 5 team for pretty much the whole time. Meanwhile, Georgia won 7 straight against a Georgia Tech team that since 1990 has made very little waves (and Georgia wasn't exactly lighting it up in the mid-90s either). A little more... Georgia had some epic battles against non-conference opponents in the early 1980s. Arguably, the early 1980s games between Georgia and Clemson (and in some ways, Georgia and Georgia Tech) were as important nationally as almost any of the Florida-FSU games. But in the early 1980s, there was only one game each week on TV. Thankfully, the Universities of Oklahoma and Georgia sued the NCAA and forced them to stop monopolizing television viewings. Had ESPN, CBS, ABC, and 5 other networks been showing games in the early 1980s, I'm certain Georgia would have had much more hype than they got. Florida's football program came of age during the TV era - and during an era when their signature OOC game featured great national attention.

Got no problems with his next paragraph.

But then it comes as a rush...

Looking at the records, UGA has 2 SEC Championships under Richt (2002 and 2005) their first since 1982. A 20 year shutout? Now how does that
happen? I look at other schools and the closest comparison would be
Florida - schools of similar size and location that are even in the same

How does that happen? Indeed. 20 years is a long time to go between SEC titles. It's the longest such dry spell for Georgia. However, it's not quite as long as the 58 YEAR DROUGHT Florida had between the day it joined the SEC and when it hoisted it's first title. That's a dry spell almost three times as long as Georgia's longest time without a title. How does that happen?

But other schools like OU and Texas have been able to rebuild traditional
programs from mediocrity back to national prominence in all the major
sports. Even the athletic directors of WVU and Louisville have lured good
coaches in to take their programs to new heights in both football and
basketball. Ohio State has taken its football and basketball programs to
new heights in the past 5-6 years and is a school with a large resemblance to
the one in Athens in terms of support and state allegiance.

Oklahoma didn't win a conference title between 1987 and 2000 - 13 years. And I bet you didn't realize this, but Texas won the first Big XII title (on an awesome 4th down call), but didn't win another one for a decade - until last year's title. Ohio State hadn't won an outright title in the Big 10 between 1984 and 2002. Until last year, it had been 12 years for West Virginia to win an outright title in the smaller Big East. Those are some pretty big gaps. Even the biggest, baddest best run programs go through title droughts. USC hadn't won a Pac-10 title outright between 1989 and 2002. Extended periods of time between titles happen. Sometimes it's due to bad luck. Sometimes coaching turnover makes a huge difference. Keltic Gator says these things, too.

The point I'm trying to make is that Georgia's success on the field has been pretty good over the long-haul, and pretty good in very recent memory. How they're perceived is a different matter entirely. If Keltic Gator (or CFR) think Georgia hasn't been as good as they should've been, well, I don't know how to respond. If the statement that "...national notoriety seems to have eluded the Bulldogs since the age of Hershell [unforgivable sic] Walker" is true, I'm not sure what Georgia could've been doing to get it back over the last couple of years. Most wins in the SEC? SEC titles? Top 3 finish? Tons of NFL draft picks? Maybe the issue isn't Georgia not doing what it needs to do, but rather, as Keltic Gator suggests, that Georgia isn't getting covered like other teams. Maybe. I don't like the "media bias" complaint though. I prefer to complain that the media has a role at all.

Now, on the other point raised by Keltic Gator - on Georgia's basketball team - I think he's on firmer ground, sort of. Georgia has the worst basketball tradition in all of the SEC. There is very little tradition there. If only the University had allowed African-American players and John Wooden had taken the Georgia job when offered... But still, no tradition is no excuse. Georgia could've placed more of an emphasis on it long ago. I think the basketball program is a clearer indication of the discussions above regarding budgets. Like I said, large budgets at Georgia are relatively a new feature. For decades, the men's basketball program was probably underfunded. And Title IX's influence can be seen pretty clearly in the way the Lady Dogs' team has been funded and backed by the athletic department over the years. In recent years, the increased budgets has led to added funding for the men's team, but there can be no question as to the negative effect of (a) Tubby Smith leaving for Kentucky, compounded by (b) the utterly terrible hiring of Ron Jirsa, and exponentially compounded by (c) the hiring and failure to micromanage Jim Harrick. Those three events caused a decade's worth of damage, and no amount of money thrown at the problem could have fixed it without time.

As to football and basketball, I think Georgia is on the right track. But the University is also a cautionary tale. Assuming for the sake of argument that the thesis "Georgia should win and should have won more than they do/have" is correct, the reasons can be directly attributed to coaching. The timeframe that it appears that Keltic Gator is addressing features the downtrun for Georgia football at the twilight of Vince Dooley's career. Georgia hired Ray Goff as a successor and probably held on to him a few years too long. Then, Georgia had an awkward replacement search (the Glen Mason debacle), and ended up hiring Jim Donnan. There can be no doubt that Jim Donnan improved the program and brought significant talent to Georgia. There can also be no doubt that his game-coaching left something wanting. Donnan won consistently at Marshall by having more talent than the other team, cloaking his strategy shortcomings. At Georgia, his capable recruiting brought Georgia to a level playing field, upon which Donnan just couldn't compete against better coaches. Why did Georgia have a downward slide in the 1990s? Their close rivals hired the right guys (Spurrier, Fulmer, Bobby Ross), while Georgia did not. And fixing the problems of a bad hire can often take a long time, depending on how bad things got. For basketball, as previously mentioned, two bad hires caused ridiculous damage to the program. Coaching made a huge difference.

Let's close with Keltic Gator's conclusion:

The bottom line is that in any ten or twenty year period Georgia should be in
the top three in both sports when judged from a resource standpoint. Yet
for some reason they aren’t and I’m not sure why. A school that should be
the home for championships is instead often the home of the phrase “wait until
next year”. It’s one of those enigmas in sports where a school that seems
to have all the individual pieces can’t seem to find a way to put them
together. To me the Bulldog legacy will always be one of quandary and

Going forward, I think it's reasonable to say that Georgia should be successful on the field in both sports. But as for past history, I cannot agree with his assertion. Some schools put all their eggs in one basket - and for a long time Georgia did this in football. The phenomenon of the huge budget program succeeding on the field and the court at the same time is a recent thing (Ohio State, Texas, Florida). In past years, there just wasn't enough money to spread around to do that, and so you had top basketball programs where football was an afterthought (UNC, Kansas, Indiana), and top football programs where basketball was an afterthought. It's pretty hard to find schools that had sustained success in both sports over time. And Georgia's budget hasn't been in the stratosphere for too long, either.

And as for "wait 'till next year U"... at least we've never waited 58 years. Beat Ohio State in January and you catch us in MNCs. Win the next 5 SEC titles and you catch us.

In football at least, Georgia has won... a hell of a lot in fact. If Georgia has a reputation of not living up to expectations, it's undeserved. If size of budget is directly related to on-field success, the future is bright for Georgia, and the past isn't all that embarassing.

Anyway, read Keltic Gator's post. It's definitely worth a read, and don't let my nitpicking responses here make you think he doesn't raise some good points.