Third. Fourth. Second. Those have been Oregon’s rankings in the final AP college football polls the last three seasons. Three consecutive years of top four finishes are impressive for any school – Oregon is only school with a current streak that length – but what would it take to finish in the top four for fifteen consecutive years? That is the number of seasons necessary for a team to break the mark set by the Florida State Seminoles, who from 1987-2000 finished every season in the top four of the AP Poll.
To find out why, I ventured to Tallahassee, FL, to try and find the answer, and while the final answer remains elusive, here are two of the lessons I learned along the way:
1) It is so easy to commit a NCAA violation; you might not even know you’re committing one.
Getting to Florida from Oregon is a long flight, and long flights typically require early morning starts to one’s trip. My flight was no exception, with the 7:00 AM departure time leaving me more than a little incoherent.
After checking in, I found myself in the TSA screening line directly behind a high school-aged kid wearing some Oregon gear who was traveling with his parents. I find more often than not I will chat up a fellow Duck in those circumstances, and if they’re high school-aged and still deciding on schools, it is opportunity to discuss my experiences in Eugene to help them better make a decision on the best college for them.
The early start to the day had robbed me of all gregariousness; I wasn’t talking to anybody, instead concentrating all my energy on the necessary motor skills to navigate such a process at such an early hour. I never spoke to the kid, although I hoped his Oregon attire meant he was seriously considering going there.
Turns out he was, because the person in front of me was Tanner Carew, who had committed the night before to the University of Oregon. Upon learning this, I realized how fortunate I was to be beset by fatigue and a lack of interest in starting conversation with total strangers.
As a season ticket holder for the University of Oregon, the NCAA classifies me as a “booster”. More specifically, I can never be anything but a booster, because according to NCAA rules, once an individual has been identified as an institutional “representative of athletics interest” the individual retains that title for life. (Information found here in the NCAA Donor Guide.)
Additionally, “A booster may not have any (my emphasis) contact with a prospective student-athlete. Contact includes phone calls, letters, and faxes.” Also, “if unavoidable incidental contact occurs, only normal greetings may take place.”
So no contact was made, since I never started a conversation with him. Drowsiness prevented a NCAA violation.
Now you might say, “those circumstances seem perfectly innocuous? The NCAA wouldn’t care, right? You didn’t even know that he was a recruit.” In the practice of common sense, that would be true. Then we hear stories like the one University of Portland men’s basketball coach Eric Reveno tweeted last month, where he told of learning about a NCAA punishment for a student-athlete using university water to wash their car.
The lesson here? Fans and season ticket holders should never express any pride or willingness to talk to about their school to any high school student about their experiences that can help them be better informed about their educational decision on the off-hand chance that high schooler might be a prospective NCAA athlete. At least the NCAA has been an exemplary model of compliance behavior during the Mark Emmert era. Oh, wait…
2) A lot of people seem to want to leave Florida, and that likely means recruits as well
When meeting someone from Eugene, if asked what they think of the city, most of them will give you an answer that lands somewhere between a report and a sales pitch. They will describe the highlights of the city, and tell anyone who will listen why they love living there.
Eugene and Tallahassee may be home to colleges with elite football programs, but their residents don’t share a similar general fondness for their towns. The night I arrived, I went to the hotel lounge to grab dinner.
“So what’s there to do in this town?” I asked the bartender.
“Alcohol,” he replied.
I snickered, hoping that his response was one of a cynic who had been in the same place for too long. Instead, it seemed to be the purveying sentiment for many of the city’s residents.
Too hot, too humid, too slow, too boring – they would tell me. When I told one woman that I was from Oregon, she said, “you’re going to have to take me back with you, I bet they have real malls there.” While I don’t know what makes up a real mall – they had two malls in Tallahassee, but I did get the impression that many of the city’s residents felt trapped in a place where getting out is harder than one would think; after all, afternoon flights out of Tallahassee are often delayed by the frequent storms that roll through the city on a regular basis.
Those opinions by many locals made me think of a player like Oregon safety Brian Jackson, who while not from Tallahassee, did grow up in the southern United States, playing at a high school so famous it had its own TV show in a state whose college football teams have won the last four national championships. If ever there was a player who would be a prime candidate to stay close to home, it would be Jackson; whose uncle played for Auburn. Instead, Jackson ended up choosing Oregon, saying about his visit to Eugene, “I just didn’t want to leave.”
Such opinions about not wanting to leave were few and far between during my time in Tallahassee, leading me to believe that there are many players there and in surrounding areas who would be willing to leave the region than many fans out west had previously been led to believe. The SEC touts its reputation for having the nation’s best players, but as I discovered last week, that likely has far more to do with how those programs utilize their resources to keep players close to him rather than capitalizing on any geographical advantage.
During its streak of fourteen consecutive top four seasons, Florida State won two national titles. The second came in 1999, but the first came in 1993, the seventh season in that streak. Seminole fans had to feel the sting of six straight seasons of finishing in the top four without a title, wondering if they would ever reach the top. Oregon fans have wondered the same for the last three, but if they can model what happened once in Tallahassee, these last three years are only the beginning.