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It’s Florida-Ohio State ... again

By Eddie Pells
Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA — It’s no accident that they are meeting again for a championship. Calling it pure coincidence might not be totally right, either.

Florida and Ohio State are dominating marquee college sports like no two programs ever have. Their meeting Monday for the basketball title comes three months after they played for the football championship. Regardless of the outcome, the Gators already go down as the first program to hold the men’s basketball and football titles at the same time.

The programs are products of two mega-sized athletic departments awash in money, fan support, strong decision makers at the top and good coaches interspersed throughout their respective campuses.

“When you have resources, that usually means you have the wherewithal to have good facilities,” said Chuck Neinas, the well-respected leader of a search firm that finds football coaches and athletic directors for big-time programs. “You build a tradition of success that attracts talent, and that allows you to pay for good coaches.”

Though the schools operate in different sections of the country, these power programs have more things in common than not. Most notably, these are — or at least once were — schools where football was king.

Nothing against the basketball programs, but success in football drives success in everything else at most universities. It’s the sheer fact of numbers. With the exceptions of a few elite basketball programs, there’s simply more money to be made by filling 105,000 seats in the Horseshoe, or 90,000 at the Swamp, than by filling a basketball arena one-fifth their size.

“The correlation between 105,000 people on a Saturday afternoon in the Shoe definitely helps all programs,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “I think it’s helped us through the recruiting process. The notoriety of the football program is something we try to work hand-in-hand with.”

Thanks in large part to revenue from the football program, Ohio State led the NCAA in revenue last year, bringing in nearly $105 million. Florida brought in $78 million. Both programs made enough money that they were able to donate to their schools instead of having the school supplement them.

The days of basketball coaches defending their programs’ status on these campuses are long gone. Instead, they bask in the football teams, taking recruits to games and bringing those coaches in for motivational speeches to their teams.

“It’s everything at Florida that’s good,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “Certainly the football program is terrific. As I said earlier, I think where there’s problems on campuses with coaches is when all the focus is totally just on one sport.”

And Matta: “My goal is not to make Ohio State a basketball school. I think my goal is to make it the best basketball program that we possibly can.”

In the football title game in January, Florida won 41-14 to earn the school’s second national championship. Now, basketball gets its chance to pull back into a tie.

The tally at Ohio State is football four, basketball one.

For all the money and success these programs have generated, the trips to the title games aren’t big money makers all by themselves. In fact, most money earned from a Final Four or Bowl Championship Series trip is divided evenly among all the teams in the participant’s conference. In some cases, these trips are actually money losers for the schools, after all the expenses are paid.

But when Monday’s game is over, it will be hard to call either of these schools losers.

“I think it’s a coincidence they’ve met in the national championships in both sports,” said David Housel, the former Auburn athletic director. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they’re in the mix every year. It’s a compliment to the fan bases, the alumni, the leadership. It’s two programs on very solid footing.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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