Column: A great week for Noles – and reason for excitement to finish May

What a week it was and what a lot we have to look forward to in the coming weeks:

  • May 11 Florida State’s Women’s Golf team won the NCAA Regional Championship, Beatrice Wallin claims individual title.
  • May 14 Florida State’s Women’s Softball team won the ACC Championship.
  • May 15 Florida State’s Men’s Track and field won the ACC Championship.
  • May 15 Florida State’s Baseball took two of three games from rival Miami.
  • May 18 Florida State’s Men’s golf finishes second in NCAA Regional, Brett Roberts claims individual title.

By any account, last week was remarkable in Florida State’s 2022 athletic calendar. 

Golf, softball, track and baseball all posted impressive clutch wins on a very competitive national stage. 

It was fun to follow and very encouraging given the growing disparity in the revenues available for schools not in the two conferences — the SEC and Big Ten — whose network television contracts enable them to distribute $20 million to $30 million more per year, per school than any other conference. 

Let’s start with golf

Even if you don’t play golf, you need to take in a collegiate golf tournament. Don’t be shy, just do it. 

There’s nothing more relaxing than a stroll on the course or to post up on the 18th green to watch these talented teams compete. The level of play is exceptional on a track that stretches 6,292 yards. Beatrice Wallin shot 6-under par for the tournament and Alice Hodge broke the course record with a 7-under-par 65 on the final round.

The No. 16 seeded FSU women used skills and rub-of-the-green knowledge to win the NCAA Regional by a whopping 17 strokes over No. 3 seed South Carolina and No. 10 seed UCLA at the Seminole Legacy Golf Club. The women, who shot a four-round 860, were the only team to finish under par in claiming back-to-back Regional titles (scorecard here).

And as you have come to love about collegiate sports, there’s always a human-interest story to tug at your heart. Wallin celebrated her win with her teammates and her parents, who flew from Sweden to watch her play collegiately for the first time. And she didn’t let them down. Wallin carded six birdies on her first nine holes.

Looking ahead with golf

The NCAA Division I Championship will be played May 20-25 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. You can follow along with live scoring here. The Golf Channel will broadcast the final three days of the tournament, which will include 24 teams and 12 individuals completing 54 holes of stroke play. 

According to the NCAA, “The top 15 teams, along with the top nine individuals not on an advancing team will compete for one additional day of stroke play to determine the top eight teams for match play competition and the 72-hole stroke play individual champion. The top eight teams then compete in match play for the team national championship to be decided May 25.”

Men’s Golf

The Florida State men’s golf team advanced to the NCAA Championship set for May 27-June 1 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., the same course the women play a week earlier. The 22nd seeded Seminoles shot an 8-under-par, three-round total of 856, which was 12 strokes behind No. 3 seeded Vanderbilt and six shots better than No. 10 seeded Florida, which placed third.

The top five teams, plus the low individual not on one of those teams, through 54 holes of competition at each regional will advance to the 2022 NCAA DI Men’s Golf Championships. 

FSU’s Brett Roberts was the top individual at 7-under under for the three-day tournament. Roberts shot a 74-68-67 to win top honors and help the Seminoles to a No. 2 finish in the Regional and a berth to the national. Daniel Bradbury finished 8th at two under par. Cole Anderson was tied for 19th at three over. Frederik Kjettrup, who was 5-over, finished tied for 25th and Michael Sakane tied for 32nd

Both FSU men and women win individual medals

We need to point out that the top individual in both Regionals were Seminoles (Wallin and Roberts). As a point of reference, Wallin was seeded 35 and beat players seeded above her, including No. 8 seed Hannah Darling (South Carolina), No. 10 seed Emma Spitz (UCLA), No. 17 Amelia Williamson (FSU) and No. 18 Chiara Tamburini (Ole Miss). 

Roberts was unseeded going into the tournament but was better than 28 seeded players. Most notably, he was two shots better than Florida’s Fred Biondi, a No. 6 seed, five shots better than Vanderbilt’s top guns, No. 5 seed Cole Sherwood and No. 12 seed Gordon Sargent. 

That’s sweet.

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend

When you watch the Seminole softball team play, you find yourself admiring the way they play the game. On one crisply hit ball to second, Devyn Flaherty squared herself to the grounder, fielded it, turned her body toward first and made a perfect throw. It is what they do, leading the NCAA in fielding percentage at .983.

Former FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, who was a two-sport player (football and baseball) at Alabama, said he loves to watch FSU softball because they are so fundamentally sound.

Sherrill: Defensive Player of Year … again

I suspect Andrews was referring to third baseman Sydney Sherrill, who selected the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year for a third straight year. She handled the hot corner with a .977 fielding percentage in the regular season and a perfect performance in the ACC tournament. Sherrill is the cornerstone of the Seminoles’ defensive wall. 

A total of eight Seminoles earned All-ACC honors including first-team picks in Sherrill, outfielder Kaley Mudge, first baseman Mack Leonard and pitcher Kathryn Sandercock. Catcher Michaela Edenfield, second baseman Devyn Flaherty and catcher/utility player Kalei Harding were named to the All-ACC second team and pitcher Danielle Watson was named to the third team.

Edge of your seat excitement

And they are exciting to watch, too. At 52-5, the Seminoles are the only team in the tournament with more than 50 wins, but they haven’t done it going away. In 17 of those games, the Seminoles have won by two or fewer runs, frequently coming from behind to win in the latter innings. By contrast, No. 1 seed Oklahoma (49-2) – who defeated FSU in the championship game last year – has had 36 of its 49 wins called by the run rule, mostly by the fifth inning. The Seminoles outslugged Duke 8-6 in the semifinals, scoring three runs in the sixth inning, to reach the ACC Tournament championship game. Trailing Clemson 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth, FSU scored four runs to secure an 8-6 victory and the title over the Tigers. 

While FSU coach Lonni Alameda would probably prefer her girls would put teams away quicker, the nail-biters do have entertainment value and may help to prepare FSU for post-season drama. Two of the three ACC tournament wins were of that dig-it-out-of-the-dirt nature. Say what you want but it does keep Nole fans on the edge of their seats and television eyeballs glued to the tube. 

The nature of so many come-from-behind wins speaks to the strength of FSU’s schedule. The Seminoles played 21 games against NCAA CWS teams (19-2), with 14 wins over national seeds, including wins over No. 3 Virginia Tech, No. 5 UCLA, No. 6 Alabama, No. 7 Oklahoma State (twice), No. 10 Clemson (four times), No. 11 Tennessee, No. 12 Duke, No. 14 Florida (twice) and No. 16 UCF.

By contrast, No. 1 seed Oklahoma (49-2) played only 15 games against NCAA CWS teams (13-2), and only two of those teams are national seeds, No. 7 Oklahoma State (3-1) and No. 11 Tennessee (1-0). 

What’s ahead for softball

The Seminoles earned a No. 2 seed and will host an NCAA Regional in Tallahassee this weekend, for the eighth straight season.

Mississippi State and USF will open play on Friday at 6 p.m. (ESPNU) with the Seminoles playing Howard (31-22) on Friday at 8:30 p.m. (ESPN+). 

The winner of those contests will face each other on Saturday in the double-elimination tournament, which concludes on Sunday. The winner of this regional will face the winner of the Missouri Regional (hosted by 15-seeded Missouri) in the NCAA Super Regional. If the Seminoles should win this Regional, they will host the Super Regional on May 26-29.

Track and Field

The Florida State men’s track and field team won its second-straight ACC Outdoor Championship in Durham, N.C. FSU scored 149 points and won by 56 points.

That margin of victory is just plain stupid. It was the largest margin of victory since the ACC expanded 15 years ago.

The FSU women finished third with 99 points. 

“It takes everyone to accomplish something like this: Coaches, support staff, trainers, massage therapists and administration,” coach Bob Braman said after the meet. “We didn’t miss much. We had a great meet. I’m so proud of both our men and women of how they competed.”

FSU sweeps Most Valuable Performers

The Seminoles Jeremiah Davis (men’s field) and Edidiong Odiong (women’s track) scored the most points at the ACC Championship and were awarded the Most Valuable Performer awards.

Six individual champions were crowned along with the women’s 4X100 relay. Trey Cunningham (110m Hurdles), DaeQwan Butler (400m Dash), Edidiong Odiong (100m Dash; 200m Dash), Jo’Vaughn Martin (100m Dash), Ruby Stauber (800m Run) and James Rivera (400m Hurdles) each captured individual titles. 

The women’s 4x100m relay of Odiong, Savy’on Toombs, Ka’Tia Seymour and Ashley Seymour posted a meet record 43.16.

The men dominated the 100m dash, finishing first, third, fourth and fifth (Martin, Amir Willis, Don’dre Swint and Taylor Banks.

Four other Seminoles posted personal bests: Adriaan Wildschutt finished second in the 5000m run (13:28.03), Maudie Skyring in the 1500m (4:09.83), Sean Watkins in the 400m (45.74), Amani Heaven in the discus (54.41) and Milton Ingraham in the discus (58.47).

While FSU boast a tremendous track and field program, having won four national championships (women 1984, 1985 indoors and men 2006, 2008) with a 5th (2007) vacated by the NCAA, FSU fans have had a more difficult time tuning into their success in the manner they have with national championship programs like soccer (2014, 2018 and 2021) or softball (2018).

We have more from Braman in our story on the 35 qualifiers who will compete in the NCAA preliminaries here.

A pet peeve with an explainer

Old timers long for the days of “Dual Meets” where fans of track and field could gather at Mike Long Track to watch the Seminoles compete in multiple meets each year. I’m of the persuasion that if those dual meets still existed, Seminole fans might come to know Odiong and Cunningham as they now know Sherrill and Sandercock.

So I asked FSU’s longtime track coach Bob Braman what happened to the dual meets, which were all the rage when he was an all-SEC runner at the University of Florida. 

“They took scholarships from us,” he said. “If you only have 12.6 scholarships, how are you going to cover 19 events? Dual meets score three athletes so there’s no way you can cover 19 events with 12.6 scholarships. I don’t think people want to watch walk-ons compete.”

Track has suffered a steady loss of scholarships as the NCAA sought to cut costs and provide more opportunity for women.

“In the late 1970s, we had 25 scholarships. Then it was 21 and now it’s down to 12.6 for men and 18 for women, so we’ve transitioned away from dual meets,” Braman explained. 

“With so few scholarships to give, we look for pockets of opportunity,” he said of his recruiting philosophy. “We try to be good in sprints, relays and occasionally hurdles. We also try to be good in jumps. You are looking for a guy who can throw two of the discuss, shot or javelin. Our best sprinters can do sprints and relays and our best jumpers can do multiple jumps.”

Braman does not want to invest a lot of the NCAA limited scholarships on a student-athlete who competes in a stand-alone event. With 18 scholarships on the women’s side, the approach can be slightly different.

“There is no such thing as cross-country scholarships,” the former hairier said. “Some of your cross-country runners will run on the track team, too. Adriaan will run 5k and 10k but doubling in those distances is a lot different than doubling in sprints or jumps.”

Braman said he likes the dual meet concept for the obvious reasons and would like to bring more track events back to the Mike Long Track in years to come, though not necessarily as dual meets.

“We hope to resurface our track this year and host both the Seminole Relay and a Seminole Twilight meet,” Braman said. “Florida has an incredible facility but hosts only two meets a year.  (The demise of dual meets) was really about having enough scholarships to have a real competition.”

FSU takes series from Miami, drops one to UF

The 20th-ranked Seminoles (32-18, 15-12 ACC) took two of three from Miami, who was ranked sixth at the time, to keep alive hopes of hosting an NCAA Regional. After dropping a single game at Florida on Tuesday, the Seminoles now look to win a series at North Carolina to build on a case that includes a top-5 schedule and 10 series wins.

The Miami series didn’t go exactly as planned. FSU’s ace Parker Messick got hit hard in an 8-2 loss but the Seminoles hung in to take game two on Saturday (6-4) and game three on Sunday (6-4). 

“If somebody can find a rivalry better than that one I find it hard to believe,” FSU coach Mike Martin Jr. said. “It’s a special one. I’m proud of our guys. It’s not easy to do, to bounce back like they did after losing game 1.”

Florida State has been buoyed by an excellent starting pitching staff, which is typically good in weekend series but not so hot mid-week. The strength of the pitching staff has been Messick (2.94 ERA), who struck out 132 batters against 13 walks. He’s been fun to watch albeit not against UM. Bryce Hubbart (2.62 ERA) has had impressive outings as well, with 87 strikeouts against 16 walks. 

The Seminoles hitting hasn’t been consistent, with only three batters getting their noses just above the .300 mark. Jaime Ferrer leads for average at .309. There are more than 550 collegiate hitters ranked above the Seminole with the highest batting average, which isn’t good.

But the Seminoles have been pesky this year, which is equal parts endearing and frustrating. We’ll learn if FSU will host a Regional on May 30.

Dealing with conference network disparity

The week behind us was remarkable and encouraging at a time when many Seminole fans worry about the growing disparity in revenues between conferences – generated by network television contracts – and the affect it could have on a team’s ability to compete. 

Fueled by successful network television contracts, teams in the Southeastern Conference and the Big Ten have been fueling their budgets with significantly more revenue to fund programs and pay coaches. How big has the discrepancy been? According to Football Scoop, which cited conference 2020 tax filings, the distributions (Covid affected) were:

1. Big Ten: $54.3 million
2. SEC: $45.5 million
3. Big 12: approx. $38 million
4. Pac-12: $33.6 million
5. ACC: approx. $33 million

While the ACC enjoyed a bump of as much as $4 million with the addition of Comcast (half a year of startup revenue), it’s projected that ACC revenues could grow by $8 million (or $41 million total) in a full year with effective promotion of the network to 91 million households, which is at least as many as the SEC or Big Ten networks boast. 

Of course, the Big Ten will head back to the bargaining table at the end of this academic year to renegotiate their contract with the networks and they have reason to expect the bump to be significant. The SEC goes to the bargaining table in 2025 and, with Texas and Oklahoma joining the fold, they’ll push to leapfrog the Big Ten. 

Former ACC commissioner John Swafford went long with the ACC Network’s partners, so the ACC contract doesn’t come up for renewal until 2036.

When asked by the media about the discrepancy, ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips had a steely-eyed look as he shared his views. 

“I think for every commissioner, you are always looking at resource acquisition,” Phillips said. “You are looking at, ‘Are you closing the gap or leading the field?’ We had a big moment with the full distribution. We will see a nice bump coming up. We haven’t had a full year of the distribution so that will close the gap for this iteration, for this particular year. But it’s top of mind.”

Phillips went on to say the conference can do a better job with revenue within the conference office that will lead to more revenue for each school. 

“We will hire a chief revenue officer, who will be part of our new structure,” Phillips said. “The overall organization needs to have somebody each and every day thinking about revenue. We talked with ESPN at length about really, high-level opportunities from a sponsorship standpoint to help generate (revenue) and they are as motivated as we are because we are 50-50 partners. We are going to have to find every way to resource the conference, championships and locations of championship and everything else.”

What is everything else, you ask? Opening your eyes to new ideas, Phillips said, like going from two divisions to one division or moving the ACC Basketball Tournament to other cities, for example, if either of those makes sense for television revenue generation.

“We have to position the ACC to be in the best position in 2022,” Phillips said. “I’d also say, at the same time, that just because you have the most money doesn’t mean you win all the time either. That’s not an excuse not to try to close the revenue gap but I also know that we’ve done a really good job and our schools have taken the resources they have and are using them to have success.”  

While Phillips didn’t say it, I have the idea the well-respected commissioner will pull all the right levers to earn the respect of his television partners in the coming months, while finding a compelling quid pro quo to give the television partners reason to take an earlier look-in than 2036. 

Canary in a coal mine

Phillips has taken time to meet with coaches, administrators, players and the press and he’s taken the time to listen to their fears about pressure on athletic directors to allocate the revenue from the conference to football even if it means taking it away from these Olympic sports we enjoy. 

You can’t blame these coaches for feeling they are the proverbial canary in the coal mine as their sports will be the first to taste the poison gas should their AD flatten their budget to invest in football. 

The coming weeks will be telling. With continued excellence, FSU could finish in the Top 10 of the Learfield Directors Cup once again. How the Seminoles fare, or how any team fares against the SEC and Big Ten in championship play, will tell us all we need to know about the current direction of college athletics.