Sports

Opinion: College Football Should Follow Basketball’s Lead

You win, you’re in.

That’s how college basketball views conference championships, and personally, I think college football should be the same way. Watching the SEC Tournament earlier today brought my mind back to early December, when the country debated whether Alabama or Ohio State should be in the College Football Playoff. Moments before the top four teams were announced, I was on Twitter, reading arguments for why each team should be in. As I scrolled through my feed, one Tweet in particular caught my eye:

The playoff should be expanded. The Power Five conference champions should be given automatic bids, then the committee picks the next three best teams.

Let’s be real here: The College Football Playoff may be a step up from the BCS system, but it has its flaws. Nearly every year, it seems like a team which should be in gets left out. In its inaugural year, everyone thought TCU should be in. In 2016, many believed Penn State should have been in the top four in lieu of Ohio State. The Buckeyes were again the topic of debate this past December, when several questioned whether they or the Alabama Crimson Tide should be given the chance to compete for a national title. The closest to a consensus was 2015. Why? All four playoff teams were conference champions.

Nothing will be perfect. There will always be someone on the outside looking in, who believes they should be in instead. But what I don’t like about the current system is it’s essentially saying conference championships don’t matter. And they should.

Winning your conference isn’t easy. To do that, you have to go through the gauntlet, winning at home, on the road, and against rivals. To take home a conference title is an accomplishment, and I think the Committee should treat it as such. A team should be rewarded for winning their conference, not left out as they have been the last few years.

And while we’re talking about conferences, the other issue with the current system is that whole conferences have been left out on multiple occasions. The Big 12 didn’t get in in year one, and both the PAC 12 and the Big Ten watched from their living room this year. SEC fans often say they’re the best conference in college football, but they can’t realistically say that when they didn’t face the Big Ten or the PAC 12. I’m not saying all conferences are equal, but I think everyone should at least be given a shot. Then we’ll know for sure who the best conference is.

Some think the season is too long as it is and expanding the playoff would only make it longer, but what’s wrong with that? College football fans would love it, plus schools would make more money. And before you start biting my head off, yes, I understand they’re just college students. Why do we have an entire month between the end of the regular season and the playoffs? Space out the games in such a way that it’s manageable for the boys and that they have time to rest/heal from injury.

The added risk for injury would be a con to expanding the playoff, and the only defense I have for that is injury is part of the game of football. When you step on a a football field, you know there’s a chance you can get hurt, and it’s a risk you take. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t play. It’s common to see players sit out of bowl games now.

Many think the Committee got it right this year because Alabama won the natty. But can you definitively say Ohio State wouldn’t have beaten Clemson and Georgia? I can’t. To me, expanding the playoff to eight teams with conference champions receiving an automatic bid would minimize debate and only make it more likely that the true champion is crowned. It’s the closest to a perfect scenario that I can come up with. If you’ve got any better ideas, I’m all ears.

And just in case you haven’t figured it out, I think Ohio State should’ve been in.

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Sports

Alabama to Hire Hugh Freeze?

On Tuesday, NBC’s College Football Talk reported that former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze visited Alabama’s football facilities, and today said that head coach Nick Saban is pushing to hire him to replace Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator. Understandably, there is some reluctance to bring Freeze back into the SEC- but is it really such a bad idea? I don’t think so. Before you call me crazy, hear me out.

Prior to taking over Ole Miss’s program in 2012, he was head coach at Lambuth for two seasons, where he went 8-4 and 12-1. He spent the 2011 season at Arkansas State, leading them to the GoDaddy.com Bowl before succeeding Houston Nutt as leader of the Rebels.

Freeze’s impact was immediate, as the Rebels went from winning just two games in 2011 to going 7-6 in 2012 and bringing home a bowl trophy. Ole Miss continued to rise, ranking in the top five in both 2014 and 2015. The program sent Robert Nkemdiche, Leremy Tunsil, and Evan Engram to the NFL, and Juco transfer Chad Kelly quickly became an SEC star under Freeze’s direction.*

Then came the NCAA investigation and allegations that Freeze had made some… unprofessional phone calls from his work phone. 2017 saw those allegations become sanctions, and in July, Freeze was officially fired as head coach of Ole Miss.

I think Freeze to Bama would be a good hire because when you look beyond the scandal, you see one thing: success. He knows how to win games (anyone else remember his victory over the Tide in 2015?) and looking at the players he sent to the NFL, it’s obvious that he knows how to develop talent.

As for what happened under his direction of Ole Miss’s program- it’s unacceptable. But I think we also have to remember that Ole Miss was Freeze’s first major head coaching job, and let’s be real: leading a college football program isn’t easy. There’s recruiting, game preparation, traveling, being away from your family, mentoring young men, trying to keep boosters happy…. it’s a lot. And when you do all of that and have the type of success Hugh Freeze had, is it so far fetched to say everything simply went to his head? Maybe it all just became too much, he saw himself as invincible, and thought he could overstep his boundaries and get away with it.

What I’m saying is this: Hugh Freeze is a human being who made a mistake. Granted, it was major and the whole world found out about it, but that’s all it was- a mistake. He deserves a second chance, and who better to give it to him than Nick Saban, who has mentored Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian? To me, the hire is a win-win situation: Freeze gets another shot, and Alabama gets a coach who can continue to lead their program to success.

Should Alabama hire Hugh Freeze? Let me know in the comments below!

*Statistics and facts taken from Ole Miss.com and

Florida Gators, Sports

More Than Just A Game

This morning, prior to Oklahoma’s Rose Bowl matchup with the Georgia Bulldogs, ESPN’s College Game Day aired a segment on Oklahoma QB’s Baker Mayfield’s relationship with Mackenzie Asher, an eleven year old battling cancer. As I watched the way he interacted with her and heard the love in his voice as he talked about her, I was reminded of what it is that makes sports so special: the way they allow people to connect with others and make a difference in the lives of so many. Tragically, Mackenzie passed away recently, and when he heard the news, Mayfield reached out to her family and told them he would be at her funeral. I love what he said there: “I’ve been able to meet a lot of special people, but I’ve never fallen for someone as fast as I fell for her…. we’re going to dedicate the rest of our season to Mackenzie.” The segment made me view him differently, and it made me fall in love with sports all over again.

I couldn’t help but think of times in my own life when sports have encouraged me and helped create relationships in my life that I’m beyond grateful for. While I was in the hospital, the University of Florida’s volleyball team was playing in the NCAA tournament. I watched every game on a laptop, and for the duration of the match, I forgot where I was. At a time when nothing felt normal, cheering on our volleyball team made me feel like myself. Because while I may not be watching where I normally did, my love for our team hadn’t changed. They were a source of encouragement and strength, because as I went through rehab, I kept thinking about how hard they had worked to get where they were. They were my motivation. But more than that, I’ve met a few of our players and coaches, and they’re all incredibly kind and amazing people. If I was ever having a rough day, I would think back to the time I spent with them, and I would have the strength and encouragement to keep going.

Florida’s volleyball team exemplifies what’s so amazing and special about sports: they give people a platform to leave a mark in the lives of others that can never be erased.

Sports

It’s About So Much More than Football

“What’s Urban Meyer really like?”a friend asked me last night.

As I tried to come up with an answer that adequately describes the Ohio State coach, a barrage of adjectives flooded my mind: Kind. Compassionate. Caring. The list goes on and on.

My perspective on Coach Meyer is unique, because I’ve had the blessing of meeting him and his wife. People ask me all the time how I root for Ohio State, and the answer is simple: Because Coach and Ms. Shelley are amazing.

I first met Coach Meyer two and a half years ago, at the Tim Tebow Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic. I’d gone as a surprise birthday present, and that day is one I’ll never forget. Over the course of six hours, I met so many people that I’d either listened to on the radio or watched on TV for years. They were all so nice, and being able to hug Timmy and tell him how much he inspires me meant more to me than I could ever explain.

Coach Meyer is someone else who gives me inspiration and encouragement. He was the first coach I ever watched lead the Florida Gators, and I can’t count how many times my father would remind me of the way he pushes his team as I went through physical therapy and the other obstacles cerebral palsy brings. “He pushes them to the max,” Dad would tell me. “That’s why he’s successful. You have to push yourself that way, too.” I’d always had a feeling that he was a great man in addition to being a great coach, and I found out at the golf tournament that day that I’d been right.

He was the last golfer to come to our hole, and I remember nervous adrenaline pumping through my veins as he made his way toward me. Before I could figure out what to say, Coach Meyer told me, “I’m going to give you a huge hug” and then did exactly that. The kind way he spoke to me made my nerves disappear. I noticed right away that more than anything else, he’s a father. He made me feel comfortable and he made me feel normal at a time when I often felt like my disability defined me.

A year later, six months after Timmy and his foundation granted my W15H, I gave a speech at their Celebrity Gala. My dad stepped out of the room for a moment not long after I spoke, and when he came back, he was wearing a bright smile.

“What?” I asked.

“I just talked to Urban Meyer,” Dad answered. “He said he remembers you and he’s going to come talk to you.” I couldn’t believe he remembered me in the first place.

Sure enough, I looked up not long after that to see Coach Meyer and Ms. Shelley making their way towards me. They both wrapped me in huge hugs before pulling up chairs and talking with us for at least fifteen minutes-if not longer. Ms. Shelley talked to me with the same warmth and kindness that her husband did, and I was floored when she said that my speech had made her cry. They made my night, and since then I’ve cheered for the Buckeyes the same way I cheer for Florida.

Me the night of the 2016 Tim Tebow Foundation Celebrity Gala

The answer to the above question applies to not only Coach Meyer, but to Ms. Shelley as well. They’re both amazing, incredibly kind, wonderful people, and I’m so grateful to have been able to meet them both. That night is something I think about whenever I need encouragement, and Coach Meyer is so much more than just a football coach. He always brightens my day, and I’m so blessed to be one of the thousands of lives he and Ms. Shelley have touched.

Sports

Here’s Why I Think Tim Tebow Will Make It in the Majors

Yesterday, ESPN posted this fantastic article about MLB players who are rooting for Tim Tebow as he continues his journey to Citi Field. I loved seeing so much support from the league’s All-Stars, especially after hearing so many say they don’t think he’ll be able to make it. I think he’ll make it, and here’s why.

He has raw power behind the plate, for one thing. It seems like every week you see another video of him hitting a home run, and I think part of that comes from his strength. No, he’s not built like a baseball player, but it’s paying off.

And while we’re talking about batting, let’s mention the fact that he’s also becoming more consistent behind the plate. Since being promoted to Port Saint Lucie, his batting average has improved to .318 and he currently has a .972 on base percentage. He’s on a nine game hitting streak, and he’s moved from seventh in the batting line-up to sixth.

He’s also made great a few plays in the field since moving to PSL. I think everyone saw the video of him robbing Fort Meyers first baseman Zandal Weil of a home run. He’s improving all-around, which could lead to another promotion sooner than we think.

He’s also making a difference off the field. He’s a leader in the clubhouse, but more than that, he impacts the community he’s in. Last summer, he stopped and prayed with a man having a heart attack, and this summer, he’s spent time with numerous kids from his foundation who have come to his games. Tim Tebow impacts and inspires others wherever he is, and I think that’s a trait of success as well.

Of course he has to room to improve in certain areas. Don’t we all? But if there’s one thing I know about Tim Tebow, it’s that he will put in the work and the time to get better and make his dream of being a major league player a reality. I won’t be surprised to see him playing at Citi Field, and I’m behind him all the way.

Sports

Team USA Fights in Loss to Japan

After a stellar 7-0 start in the World Cup of Softball, Team USA fell to the defending World Cup champions, losing the game 2-1. But I think that when softball fans look back on this game and this tournament, I think what will be remembered is the spirit and heart the team showed throughout the game.
Even after Japan scored their first run, the ladies were resilient, continuing to give their all and play to the best of their ability. And when Aubree Munro hit an RBI single, they played with even more fire, something that was evidenced by Kelsey Stuart’s incredible double play.

It reminded me of why I love the game of softball. Softball is so much more than runs scored or outs recorded; it’s about battling through adversity and never giving up, no matter what’s going on. Watching the way those women played and fought today inspired and encouraged me to keep stretching, keep going to physical therapy, and keep fighting to overcome my cerebral palsy and become independent. Because as Team USA showed today, if you work hard and put your heart into what you do, you’re a winner no matter what.

Also, how awesome was it to see five Gators on the field today? It’s always great to be a Florida Gator!

Florida Gators, Sports

The Year in Florida Sports (So Far)

Moments ago, Florida’s baseball team advanced to the championship series of the College World Series with a win over TCU. I thought I’d take the moment to not only highlight the boys’ accomplishment, but the accomplishments of Florida sports so far this year. So far in 2017, Florida has:

  • Defeated Iowa in the Outback Bowl 30-3
  • Advanced to the Elite Eight in basketball
  • Captured our third straight regular season SEC title in softball
  • Been crowned SEC Champs in baseball
  • Won the national title in women’s tennis
  • Won the national championship in men’s track and field
  • Advanced to the championship series in the Women’s College World Series
  • Advanced to the championship series in the College World Series

In addition, here are a few staggering statistics, via Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin:

  • UF has won 38 national championships
  • We have won a national championship in each of the previous nine academic years
  • This year, 13 Gator sports teams finished ranked in the top ten in the country, with ten teams finishing ranked in the top five

As the saying goes, it’s always great to be a Florida Gator.

What has been your favorite moment in sports so far this year? No, it doesn’t have to be Florida related. 🙂