Spring Training and the Braves

 

 

Braves_spring_training2008

Spring training for baseball teams preparing for the upcoming season has existed since the 1890s when the Chicago White Stockings (now the Chicago Cubs) began the preseason ritual in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1896. Soon the Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and Brooklyn Dodgers began calling Hot Springs their spring training home.  The Boston Beaneaters (became the Boston Braves in 1912) joined the spring training  extravaganza in Norfolk, Virginia in 1901.

Since Norfolk, the franchise has trained at numerous sites:  Thomasville, Georgia (1902-1904, 1907); Charleston, South Carolina (1905); Jacksonville, Florida; (1906) Augusta, Georgia (1908-1912); Athens, Georgia (1913); Macon, Georgia (1914-1915); Miami, Florida (1916-1918); Columbus, Georgia (1919-1920); Galveston, Texas (1921); St. Petersburg, Florida (1922-1937); Bradenton, Florida (1938-1940, 1948-1962); San Antonio, Texas (1941); Sanford, Florida (1942); Wallingford, Connecticut (1943-1944); Washington, D.C. (1945); Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (1946-1947); West Palm Beach, Florida (1963-1997), and Orlando, Florida (1998-Present).

The Braves are set to move to a new home beginning in the spring of 2019 in Sarasota County, Florida.   This $75 million to $85 million complex will have a stadium seating capacity of about 9,000 and six full and two half practice fields.  Braves officials have been considering a new spring training site for the last couple of years because other major league teams have moved farther away, thereby increasing travel time for spring training games. The Houston Astros, which were located in nearby Kissimmee, and the Washington Nationals, which were located about 60 miles away in Viera, moved to a new facility in Palm Beach County that they will share beginning this spring.  The closest opponent now is the Detroit Tigers, an hour away in Lakeland. So when not playing the Tigers, the Braves have to bus at least two hours to play another team. The Braves do not want to substitute teaching and training time for travel time.  For another couple of spring training seasons, the Braves will remain in Lake Buena Vista as part of the Disney family.  The Braves and Disney partnership came together in a circuitous manner.

With the lease in West Palm Beach to expire in 1997,the Braves began negotiations with Palm Beach County officials in 1993 for a new stadium, but problems arose as to where and how to build the new stadium, according to a February 27, 1996 article in the Sun-Sentinel of Broward County, Florida.   The new $25 million stadium was to seat around 7,500 and be shared with their stadium partner at the time, the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals).

The Walt Disney Company approached the Braves in 1995 about becoming the main tenant in a new sports complex, planned for opening in 1997, after the Tampa Bay Devil Rays declined the multi-billion dollar company’s offer, according to a February 28, 1996 Orlando Sentinel article. Initially, the Braves declined the offer because of on-going negotiations with Palm Beach County officials. The Palm Beach County deal began to unravel early in 1996, largely because of a private developer’s insistence on pocketing most or all of the parking fees, according to the Orlando Sentinel article. At that point, the Braves contacted Disney officials and negotiated a deal within a week. Braves President Stan Kasten summed up the negotiations, “We got done here (at Disney) in a week what we couldn’t do in three years down there.” The Braves signed a 20-year lease to play in 9,500-seat Cracker Jack Stadium (now Champion Stadium) in the Disney Wide World of Sports complex (now the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex) and beat the Cincinnati Reds 9-7 in their first game in their new spring training home, on March 28, 1997.

The Braves and Disney signed a one year extension to the lease that will keep Atlanta in Champion Stadium through the 2018 spring training season. At the time of this writing, Mickey and Minnie Mouse remain undecided on whether to follow the Braves to Sarasota County.  However, rumor has it that Donald Duck, Pluto, and Goofy are all in.

SEC Coach Comparisons

120px-SEC_new_logo

How do the current SEC coaches match up with some of the prior coaches at their respective schools?  Let’s start the comparisons with Nick Saban, Bret Bielema, Gus Malzahn, Jim McElwain and Kirby Smart.  We’ll examine the rest in the near future.

 

  1. Nick Saban of Alabama

Saban begins his 10th season in Tuscaloosa.  His official record at Alabama is 100-18, a .847 win percentage His teams have won six SEC titles and four national championships.  Here are the statistics from two of the more famous Alabama coaches after their ninth seasons in Tuscaloosa:

Frank Thomas—From 1931-1939 Thomas had a record of 69-9-4, an .840 win percentage.  During this time he won four SEC titles and two national championships.

Paul “Bear’ Bryant—From 1958-1966 Bryant compiled a record of 80-12-6, an .820 win percentage.  Bryant, during this time, won four SEC titles and three national championships.

No other Crimson Tide coaches managed to stay in Tuscaloosa for at least nine seasons.  Arguably, Saban is the most successful football coach in Alabama history.  Unless something unforeseeable takes place, Saban will remain at Alabama as long as he wants.

 

  1. Bret Bielema of Arkansas

Bielema is entering his fourth season as coach of the Razorbacks.  His record after three seasons in Fayetteville is 10-15, a .400 win percentage.  He has won zero SEC titles and zero national championships.

Arkansas has had 13 coaches who lasted at least three years.  Of those 13, Bielema’s win percentage is better than just two.  His win percentage does not come close to Arkansas legends Hugo Bezdek, Frank Broyles, Lou Holtz, Ken Hatfield and Houston Nutt.  That does not bode well.  If Bielema doesn’t win more games over the next couple of seasons, you may see a different coach in 2018 at Arkansas.

 

  1. Gus Malzahn of Auburn

Malzahn enters his fourth season on the Plains with a 27-17 record, a win percentage of .610.  He has won one SEC title and lost to Florida State in the BCS national championship game after his first season in 2013.  Since then, Auburn has been very mediocre.

Thirteen Auburn coaches lasted at least three seasons.  Of those 13, Malzahn has a better win percentage than nine.  This includes Hall of Fame coaches Mike Donahue and Shug Jordan.  A better comparison may be Gene Chizik, the man Malzahn succeeded.  Chizek lasted four years.  With Heisman-winning quarterback Cam Newton, Chizik won the national championship in his second season, 2010.  Two years later, Auburn fired Chizik and hired Malzahn.  If Auburn struggles again this season, Malzahn will probably be looking for work elsewhere.

 

  1. Jim McElwain of Florida

McElwain enters his second season at Florida after a 10-3 first year and second place finish in the conference.  Not a bad start.   His win percentage is .770.

The University of Florida has had 24 coaches before McElwain, but let’s compare him with three Hall of Fame coaches, two future Hall of Fame coaches and two coaches who replaced those two future Hall of Fame coaches.

Hall of Famer Charlie Bachman coached Florida from 1928-1932.  He was 8-1 his first year and finished with an overall record of 27-18-3. He won no titles of any kind.

Hall of Famer Ray Graves coached Florida from 1960-69 and tallied a 9-2 record his first year.  He went on to compile a 70-31-4 overall record with no titles.

Hall of Famer Doug Dickey coached the Gators from 1971-78.  He went 7-4 his first year and amassed an overall record of 58-43-2, with no titles.

Future Hall of Famer Steve Spurrier coached Florida from 1990-2001.  He accumulated a record of 9-2 his first year.  His overall record at Florida was 122-27-1, with six SEC titles and one national championship.

Ron Zook took over the Florida reigns from 2002-2004. Zook finished 8-5 his first year, 23-14 overall, with no titles. He could not match Spurrier’s success.

Future Hall of Famer Urban Meyer took over in 2005 and went 9-3 his first year.  He coached through the 2010 season amassing a record of 65-15, with two SEC titles and two national championships.

Will Muschamp replaced Meyers and went 7-6 his first season in 2011.  After four years and an overall record of 28-21, with no titles, Florida terminated him.

Florida’s most successful coaches have had very good first seasons, something that McElwain achieved in his first campaign.  This bodes well for him, although it is too early to make a prediction of success along the lines of Spurrier and Meyer.

 

  1. Kirby Smart of Georgia

Smart starts his first year at Georgia after spending 11 years as an assistant coach under Nick Saban, the last eight as defensive coordinator.  Smart has the pedigree to be very successful.  Time will tell. Below are first year comparisons to prior Georgia coaches who had success at the school.

Harry Mehre coached the Bulldogs from 1928-1937.  His record was only 4-5 his first year, but he ended his Georgia career with a record of 59-34-6, a win percentage of .600.  He won no titles at Georgia.

Wally Butts had the helm at Georgia from 1939-1960.  In his first year, Butts finished with a losing record of 5-6. However, he ended his UGA career at 140-86-9, a win percentage of .600.  Butts won four SEC titles and one national championship while coaching the Bulldogs.

Vince Dooley is the winningest coach at UGA.  He coached the Bulldogs from 1964-1988. Dooley finished his first year with a 7-3-1 record and compiled an overall tally of 201-77-10, a win percentage of .700.  Dooley’s teams won six SEC titles and one national championship.

Jim Donnan coached at UGA from 1996-2000.  He finished 5-6 his first season but amassed an overall record of 40-19, a win percentage of .680.  Donnan won no titles while at UGA.

Mark Richt coached at Georgia from 2001-2015 and finished with a record of 8-4 after his first season.  His overall record at UGA was 145-51, a.740 win percentage.  Richt won two SEC titles but no national championships.

Again, only time will tell as to the overall success of Kirby Smart.  Even if for someone reason UGA struggles in 2016, the past has shown that Smart could still have a very successful career at Georgia.  However, Smart will always be compared with Richt.  While Richt has a terrific win percentage, he could not bring the Georgia fans a national title.   Will Smart?

 

Next time we’ll take a look at Mark Stoops of Kentucky, LSU’s Les Miles, Hugh Freeze of Ole Miss, Dan Mullen of Mississippi State and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp.

 

 

 

College Football 247Sports Composite Recruiting Rankings for 2012-2016

Nick_Saban_09_Practice

College football recruiting determines the success or failure of any program.  Successful schools recruit very well and a number of recruiting sources analyze just how well these schools recruit over the course of a specific period.  The recruiting site 247Sports compiles a composite list of school rankings that include the lists from Scout, Rivals, ESPN.com, and its own. These services compile team rankings based on the number of athletes a school signs who are ranked using a star system; for example, the highest ranking is a five-star, then four-star, three- star and two-star.   Simplistically, the more high star athletes a school signs the higher that school will be ranked. Conversely, a school signing athletes who are ranked as three stars and two stars will receive a lower ranking. However, the Composite Rating system is much more complicated than that. A degree from MIT may help someone understand the system.

According to the 247Sports.com website:

The 247Sports Composite Rating is a proprietary algorithm that compiles prospect “rankings” and “ratings” listed in the public domain by the major media recruiting services. It converts average industry ranks and ratings into a linear composite index capping at 1.0000, which indicates a consensus No. 1 prospect across all services.

The 247Sports Composite Rating is the industry’s most comprehensive and unbiased prospect ranking and is also used to generate 247Sports Team Recruiting Rankings.

All major media services share an equal percentage in the 247Sports Composite Rating.

The composite index equally weights this percentage among the services that participate in a ranking for that specific prospect.

 

Interpret this as you will but the 247Sports Composite list is widely regarded by media and college football personnel as the gospel when it comes to college football team recruiting rankings.

The Top 25 list for 2016 follows:

  1. Alabama
  2. Florida State
  3. LSU
  4. Ohio State
  5. Michigan
  6. Mississippi
  7. Georgia
  8. Southern California
  9. Auburn
  10. Clemson
  11. Texas
  12. UCLA
  13. Florida
  14. Tennessee
  15. Notre Dame
  16. Stanford
  17. Baylor
  18. Texas A&M
  19. Penn State
  20. Oklahoma
  21. Miami
  22. Michigan State
  23. TCU
  24. Nebraska
  25. Arkansas

The 247Sports Composite List from 2012-2015 follows:

  1. Alabama
  2. Ohio State
  3. Florida State
  4. LSU
  5. Southern California
  6. Florida—Tie with Georgia
  7. Georgia
  8. Auburn
  9. Texas A&M
  10. Notre Dame—Tie with Texas
  11. Texas
  12. UCLA
  13. Tennessee
  14. Clemson
  15. Oklahoma
  16. Miami
  17. Michigan
  18. Oregon
  19. South Carolina
  20. Mississippi
  21. Stanford
  22. Virginia Tech
  23. Mississippi State—Tie with Arkansas
  24. Arkansas
  25. Washington

When you analyze this year’s rankings with the composite from the last four years, you see the same teams, albeit in different order. Oregon and South Carolina slipped this year while Mississippi, Michigan and Baylor seem to be moving up. The Southeastern Conference had nine out of the Top 25 in 2016 and 11 out of the Top 25 the prior four years. Clearly, a school must make a commitment to a winning program in order to recruit the best athletes.  This means top-notch facilities; high paid head coaches and assistants; large recruiting budgets; financial assistance from alumni, fans,and donors;  leniency from the school’s admissions group from time to time; and classes that allow athletes to be successful both on and off the field.  The vast majority of schools cannot or will not make such a commitment, so look for the same 15 or so schools to be competing for spots in the College Football Playoff system over the next few years.

 

 

 

The Origins of the Southeastern Conference

1921VandyFootballteam

Utter the words “Southeastern Conference” during football season and your listeners will envision national championships, top ten rankings, and lucrative television contracts. Today the term is synonymous with the madness that is college football in the South. But in truth, the phrase was not always so meaningful.  The Southeastern Conference (SEC) was not always known by this name.

As college football took hold at schools across the country, southern school officials began to realize that an affiliation with similar institutions would make sense from an economic and geographic perspective. Southern football’s first game took place in 1881 as Kentucky State (now known as the University of Kentucky) beat Kentucky University (now known as Transylvania University) 7.5 to 1.  By 1892, the birth of southern football began in earnest.  Teams from Alabama, A & M College of Alabama (Auburn), Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt were playing.  LSU began its proud football history in 1893, Arkansas and Texas A & M in 1894, Mississippi A & M (Mississippi State) in 1895, and Florida in 1906.

Dr. William Dudley, a chemistry professor at Vanderbilt, answered the call for an affiliation of southern schools.  Representatives from seven schools—Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Sewanee, and Vanderbilt—met Dudley on December 22, 1894 at the Kimball House in Atlanta to form the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA), the grandfather of the SEC.  The SIAA was formed, according to Dr. Dudley, to provide faculty regulation and control of all college athletics.  A year later, 12 more schools were added, including Clemson, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Texas, and Tulane.

The SIAA held together through the 1920 season.  At the annual conference on December 10, 1920, a disagreement among the schools took place.  The smaller SIAA schools, through their collective vote, passed a rule allowing freshmen players to compete immediately with the varsity and voted down a proposition to abolish a rule that allowed athletes to play summer baseball for money.  Additionally, the SIAA had reached 30 members making it very difficult for the schools to play one another and crown a true champion.  Led by University of Georgia English professor Dr. S.V. Sanford, 18 schools left to form the Southern Intercollegiate Conference (Southern Conference) on February 25, 1921 in Atlanta.  At that point, the SIAA became a conference for small colleges and eventually disbanded in 1942.

The Southern Conference grew to 23 schools by 1932.  Again, the league was too big.  Dr. Sanford convinced the 13 schools west and south of the Appalachian Mountains—Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, LSU,  Mississippi, Mississippi State, Sewanee, Tennessee, Tulane, Vanderbilt–to reorganize as the Southeastern Conference.  Play began in 1933.  By December 1953, eight other schools—Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Virginia, Wake Forest—had left the Southern Conference to form the Atlantic Coast Conference.  The Southern Conference survives to this day.

Sewanee resigned from the SEC in 1940, Georgia Tech in 1964, and Tulane in 1965.  Arkansas and South Carolina joined the SEC in 1990, and Missouri and Texas A & M joined in 2012.

From its SIAA infancy in 1894 to its full maturation in 2012, the SEC has been a force in college football.  The league boasts eight out of the last ten national champions, landed the largest television contracts (CBS and ESPN) in the history of college football in 2008, and launched its own network in 2014.  The South has indeed risen again.

 

Sources:  Newman, Zipp, The Impact of Southern Football, (MB Publishing: Montgomery, 1969).

“The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association,” www.wikipedia.org.

“The Southern Conference,” www.wikipedia.org.

“The Southeastern Conference,” www.wikipedia.org.

SEC Basketball Milestones

 

120px-SEC_new_logo

The Southeastern Conference (SEC) has long been known as a football conference, but it also plays a high quality brand of basketball. Everyone with a modicum of college basketball knowledge understands that Kentucky will have a team year in and year out that will challenge for the national championship. However, the SEC has a history of other programs competing in the upper echelons of the sport.

Below is a breakdown of the current conference teams in terms of overall win-loss records (through the 2014-15 season) and place within the Top 50 nationally; the number of national championships as determined by winning the NCAA Tournament, which began in 1939; the number of Final Four appearances and the number of SEC titles (From 1933-34 and 1936-1950 the SEC champion was determined by the winner of the SEC Tournament. In 1935 and 1951 to the present the SEC champion has been the regular season victor as determined by conference win percentage, so consequently many seasons have resulted in a tie for first place. It is unclear why no tournament was held in 1935.)

  1. Overall Won-Loss Record and National Ranking (vacated and/or forfeited games do not count):
    1. Kentucky 2178-673 (1)
    2. Arkansas 1605-901 (33)
    3. Alabama 1600-984 (34)
    4. Missouri 1585-1089 (37)
    5. Tennessee 1568-985 (41)
    6. Vanderbilt 1547-1093 (49)

No other SEC school placed in the Top 50 nationally.

  1. National Championships:
    1. Kentucky 8
    2. Florida 2
    3. Arkansas 1
  1. Final Four Appearances:
    1. Kentucky 17
    2. Arkansas   6
    3. Florida 5
    4. LSU  4
    5. Georgia 1
    6. Miss. State 1
  1. SEC Titles:
    1. Kentucky 46
    2. LSU 10
    3. Tennessee 9
    4. Alabama 7
    5. Florida 7
    6. Miss. State 6
    7. Vanderbilt 3
    8. Arkansas 2
    9. Auburn 2
    10. Georgia 1
    11. South Carolina 1

The SEC can play basketball as well as football. Clearly, Kentucky is the conference powerhouse but other programs have shined on the national scene over the years. Six programs are ranked in the national Top 50 of all-time win leaders, including the number one team, Kentucky. The recent additions of Texas A & M and Missouri (NCAA probation notwithstanding) will only add to the conference’s reputation in basketball. So while you’re waiting for spring practice to start, pay attention to SEC basketball. You’ll be pleasantly surprised!