New era in Tampa Bay begins: It’s called rebuilding.

February 28, 2009
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Like a wave crashing on the beach at high tide, the new crew with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem hell-bent on washing away all signs of the Jon Gruden era.

Ok, I get that. But it’s time to stop fooling Bucs fans.

What the team is saying so far is this: We won’t win right away, we don’t expect to win right away, and you better get used to it. Oh, and by the way, we aren’t reducing ticket prices.

There’s no question that the team had a lot of aging veterans, particularly on the defensive side. But the decision to jettison Derrick Brooks smacks of “sending a message” and not making the team better. It’s not like the Bucs need the money – they are more than $60 million under the salary cap.

And anyone who thinks that Luke McCown or Brian Griese are an improvement over Jeff Garcia is either hopelessly optimistic or in the words of Hunter Thompson think George III is hiding in the jungles of South America.

It seems, however, that if a player is over the age of 30 that the Bucs new regime thinks they need to go. I’m willing to concede that some changes were inevitable. But we now have a team that may need a running back, definitely needs a quarterback, and someone to draw coverage away from Antonio Bryant. And making a trade for Kellen Winslow doesn’t count. Yes, he’s shown a lot of promise, but he’s also been shown to be a tremendous distraction off the field.

It’s unfair to say that the Bucs will be worse under Raheem Morris. But the off season moves so far make it look like the Bucs are a team in tremendous transition. They are rebuilding the franchise one piece at a time.

MoJo for hire: Jags on verge of expensive mistake

February 23, 2009
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

There’s no doubt that Fred Taylor, a potential Hall of Fame candidate, had come to the end of his usefulness in Jacksonville. The Gator great got hurt at the tail end of the 2008 season and it’s clear that the Jaguars brass were worried about the long-time viability of the 33-year-old back who now ranks 16th all time in rushing.

But the Jaguars are on the verge of making a monumental mistake as they begin the post Taylor era. Because as explosive as he seems at times, Maurice Jones-Drew is not the kind of back who the Jaguars should make their every down back, or on the very least, the kind of back you give in excess of $20 million for in a long-term deal.

It’s not that MoJo doesn’t have flashes of greatness – but his success may have been due to the fact that he was a chance of pace back from Taylor who could catch defenses off guard. His great per-yard average may have been due to the fact that wasn’t pounding the rock 20-25 times a game. For example, as his number of rushes went up this season, his rushing average fell.

His yard per carry average in 2008 was the lowest in his three years in the NFL. And even more telling MoJo averaged just 2 yards per carry this past season when he rushed more than 20 times a game. That’s not inspiring because you want a back who picks up momentum late in the game.

MoJo’s biggest asset has been his versatility and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. But once again he was able to put such great numbers because he came in on third down after Taylor had taken the shots and done the work on first and second down.

Ok, I’m sure some will say he’s a tremendous weapon and the Jaguars have to make sure they don’t overuse him. But if that’s the case then why pay him the same amount of money as Steven Jackson or other first-tier running backs.

MoJo is just 23 and will likely be a heck of player for years to come. But he’s not the kind of running back you build a franchise around. You would think that the NFL team that made costly mistakes on no-show wideouts such as Jerry Porter would think twice before making another expensive error.

Big stakes at the Daytona 500

February 15, 2009
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

In the crazy world of NASCAR, the biggest moment in this racing calendar is not at the end of the season, but at the start.

But Sunday’s Daytona 500 means so much more than just the herald of another exciting season.

It will kick start an effort to keep alive a fantastic sport amid a great deal of change. In an excellent story that ran this weekend, the N.Y. Times highlights the changes that happened to NASCAR – everything from the fact that Dale Earnhardt Inc. will no longer compete to major changes to teams fielded by legend Richard Petty. The story notes the track had to reduce prices in order to sell thousands of tickets to this year’s event.

Ken Willis, a columnist for the Daytona Beach News Journal, weighs in, noting how NASCAR was founded at a time of recession but that it has managed to survive. The paper also reports that while grandstand tickets are gone, pricier infield tickets were still available.

To highlight the concern about the sport, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will be the grand marshal at this year’s race and his press release touting the fact Crist went out of his way to say “we must remember sports traditions like NASCAR are a major part of the state economy.” Crist’s office estimates that Daytona International Speedway alone generates $155.4 million in sales tax revenue for Florida.

What this means of course, is when he says “Gentleman start your engines” he won’t be talking about just one race.

Is this the moment that FSU hoops fan have been waiting for?

February 10, 2009
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Just think how much has happened in the last 11 years of NCAA basketball.

Two championships by the University of Florida Gators. Roy Williams finally winning a championship as a coach, but only after he returned to North Carolina. The Maryland Terrapins finally took home a trophy. The University of Connecticut won the title after being ranked No. 1 in the pre-season, usually a kiss of death.

And then there was Florida State, coming oh so close, but somehow faltering each spring during the death march of the ACC schedule and ending up on the outside looking in. Now after a decade wandering in the wilderness, the Seminoles appear finally on the verge of making it to the Big Dance.

It’s been a long slog, but after seven years in the job, Coach Leonard Hamilton has put together a team that seems ready once and for all to return the Seminoles to glory. After all, it was FSU that battled legendary UCLA for a championship. It was FSU – propelled by by future NBA players Charlie Ward, Sam Cassell and Bob Sura – that was supposed to leap into basketball greatness following its move to the Atlantic Coast Conference back in 1991. Instead since the magical 1993 season where Ward led the team to an Elite 8 appearance, the Seminoles have made it just once to the NCAA tournament.

On Tuesday night, FSU squares off against the Virginia Cavaliers at home following an amazing comeback at Clemson on Saturday. The team enters the game ranked in the AP poll for the first time since 1998. With 18 wins overall and a 5-3 ACC record, the Seminoles are once again tantalizingly close to that dream when the school first decided to battle against Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest on a regular season.

Hamilton knows that he’s got to keep the pressure on his team: “This is not where we want to be at the the end of the season so we realize we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” he said on Monday.

He’s spot on. It will take at least 20 wins – and a .500 record in the ACC – to make it the tournament. And it’s not like the schedule gets any easier down the stretch in the final three and a half weeks of the regular season: There’s games against Miami, Wake Forest and Duke and a rematch with Clemson. That’s why it’s vitally important for FSU to thrash the 7-11 Cavaliers. With this win, the Seminoles would be 6-3 in the ACC for the first time since – yeah, you got it – the 1992-93 season.

This could be the moment that FSU hoops fans have been waiting for a long time, an end to a lot of pent-up frustration. A season that starts with a win over Florida and ends with a bout of March Madness may just make up for a decade’s worth of disappointment.

FSU AD predicts NCAA will hand down its verdict later this month

February 3, 2009

Florida State University Athletic Director Randy Spetman said Tuesday that is looks like that the NCAA will finally hand down its verdict in the academic fraud scandal sometime after national signing day on Feb. 4.

“We think it’s any day, I guess I now believe it will be next week,” Spetman said following a meeting at the Governor’s Mansion with Gov. Charlie Crist.

Spetman conceded that FSU officials are ready to deal with the fallout from the incident. Nearly a year ago FSU turned in a report acknowledging that student athletes were provided improper assistance for an online course. FSU went before the NCAA last October.The university has already imposed sanctions on itself by voluntarily decreasing the number of scholarships it offers in sports.

“It wears on us, we’re ready to get on with it,” Spetman said. “We think the university has been totally transparent, we’re ready to move forward and go on.”

Spetman was part of a group of Florida sports officials who met to discuss the state’s sports industry with Crist, himself an avid Seminole and former high school quarterback.

Spetman’s suggestion to Crist was interesting: He urged the governor to keep the tuition costs for students as low as possible, noting that any increase in tuition is money that the FSU athletic department bears when it offers scholarships to students. The reason it’s an interesting statement is that FSU President T.K. Wetherell is among those backing an effort to give universities more leeway to raise tuition at a time that state lawmakers are slashing higher education budgets.

Several of the representatives of Florida’s $36 billion sports industry acknowledged that the souring economy has affected their operations somewhat, although some, such as Jeff Steranka, CEO of PGA of America, said business was “stable” at the current time. But many of those present did give their thoughts on how to keep Florida’s sports industry vibrant, including asking that the governor support ongoing financial incentives for the industry. Professional franchises in Florida, for example, receive sales tax rebates from the state.

Other suggestions:

Kathy Milthorpe of International Speedway Corp., the entity that runs NASCAR, told Crist to keep taxes low.

–Several representatives urged that the state continue its support of the Florida Sports Foundation which hands out millions in grants to help bring various sporting events to town.

Mark Jackson, president of the Grapefruit League, put in a brief pitch for the Lake Myrtle Sports Complex in Auburndale.