Can the Florida Four Be Revived? No, Probably Not.

February 25, 2010

Scott Carter of the Tribune wrote about the upcoming baseball Florida Four at Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday. USF will play Miami, followed by Florida and Florida State. It should draw a huge crowd by college baseball standards and it gives everyone some good non-conference competition. So Scott was wondering, why can’t it happen in basketball?

Back in the day, it actually did happen. Since Miami didn’t have a basketball program then, the Florida Four were the Gators, Seminoles, Bulls, and the Dolphins of Jacksonville. There were two Florida Four tournaments, in 1981 and 1982, and USF won them both. (For a long time, up until the air-inflated roof was replaced during my student years, USF had banners hung in the Sun Dome commemorating these two wins. Pretty lame in retrospect, but hey, we don’t have much to work with here.) There’s a great article in the Sports Illustrated vault about the first tournament being a symbol of college basketball’s rise to prominence in the state.

Ultimately, though, the athletic directors – including some guy named Paul Griffin who was Jacksonville’s AD – agreed to stop the series because of a host of factors. They couldn’t sell enough tickets to make everyone happy, students had to pay full price for tickets so they didn’t show up, and the teams were already scheduling each other outside of the tournament. Plus USF and Jacksonville were already in the same conference, which meant Florida and FSU could never play each other in the semifinal round.

You could overcome the money problem. Put it on Sun Sports or something and you’d be fine. There are a lot more people in the state and alumni of the four schools than there were 30 years ago, so tickets would be sold. And the students not getting free tickets when they were holding the Florida Four on campuses, that was just stupid. But the real problem is FSU and Miami being in the same conference. On top of that, they’re mirror opponents in the ACC, so they play each other twice a year. I’m sure they’d want to avoid playing a third time at all costs, so there goes a tournament. If you worked around it and just did a one-night doubleheader, not only could FSU and Miami not play, but that would also mean USF and Florida could never play each other, which would turn off a ton of our fans. (Ultimately I think this will kill the baseball Florida Four, or limit it to an occasional thing.)

The only way this could possibly happen is doing a round-robin. Have everyone play everyone else, and then the winner of the Miami-FSU season series gets one win towards the Florida Four. But that might be a longshot too. I think the other three schools would be willing, but Florida would probably nix it. The Gators have a national profile and I can see them wanting to get into big-time TV games when they want a non-conference challenge. That doesn’t leave them a whole lot of time to add Miami and USF to their schedule. Maybe they’d do one, but probably not both.

It kind of sucks. Only the Gators have any basketball rivals, and they’re all in the SEC. USF, Miami, and FSU would have a lot to gain from getting the Florida Four cranked up again as a round-robin. But it doesn’t benefit UF, and they hold most of the cards. I just can’t see it happening. Sorry, Scott.

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