In college sports, there are some places with reputations for being football schools and others with reputations for being basketball schools.
Duke, North Carolina, Kansas? Basketball.
Alabama, Southern Cal, Texas? Football.
What about those schools excelling at both sports? They’ve always been out there, but maybe not quite as obvious as in recent times.
Since 2000, Florida has won two national titles in football and two in men’s basketball. The Gators also played in four other Bowl Championship series games and reached the Final Four another two times.
Over the same span, Ohio State won a national title and played for two others in football and went to a couple Final Fours. The Buckeyes played in six other BCS games and have been the Big Ten’s winningest program in both sports.
Wisconsin was in the Final Four along with Florida last March, went to the Rose Bowl three straight seasons from 2010-12 and since 1998-99 has finished in the Associated Press final Top 25s in both sports in the same academic year a nation-leading nine times.
ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas said more so-called football schools will be in position to become stronger in basketball with the riches the College Football Playoff era will bring and the rules autonomy granted by the NCAA to the five most powerful conferences. ESPN is paying about $470 million annually for television rights to the playoff, and most of the money will be split among the five biggest conferences. From there, the money is distributed to member schools that could spend the extra money on, among other things, basketball facilities, recruiting and salaries.
“You don’t have to be great at football, but you better play it or you’re not going to be in these gravy conferences that are making all the decisions,” he said.
No school has pulled off the football-basketball double better than Florida — never mind this year’s struggle on the gridiron. The Gators swept national titles in both sports in 2006-07.
“It’s got to be a total, buy-in effort. You’ve got to change the culture and then you’ve certainly got to win,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said.
Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan took the job in 1996, the same year Florida won the national title in football. He knew his place.
“In the South, OK, football is the passion. It’s never changing,” Donovan said. “I’ve done nothing since I’ve been at Florida but try to embrace that because I really believe in the fall there’s not a greater place to be than on our campus when there’s a football game going on.”
Foley wants all his sports to compete at the national level, and Donovan’s charge was to revive the basketball program.
Donovan was the right man at the right time. He played in the Final Four for Providence in 1987 and earned his coaching and recruiting chops as an assistant at Kentucky and head coach at Marshall. He brought an up-tempo offense and full-court, pressing defense to Gainesville and put an emphasis on recruiting the Sunshine State’s best high school players.
Donovan inherited a team that was in poor physical condition and had won just 12 games the season before his arrival. By his third year the Gators were in the Sweet 16 and by his fourth they were national runners-up.
Quick turnarounds are possible in basketball because the recruitment of two or three elite players, along with having a hot coach, can make a dramatic impact.
In the last 25 years 50 schools have had their football and men’s basketball teams ranked in the sports’ respective final AP Top 25s in the same academic year, according to STATS. Only nine of those schools have pulled off the feat five times or more.
“Everything we do in football, we do the same in basketball,” Foley said.
The same philosophy of providing the resources necessary to compete at the highest level holds true at Nebraska, a traditional football power that is now attempting to gain sustained relevance in men’s basketball.
The Cornhuskers haven’t won a conference title in basketball since 1950 and are 0-7 all-time in the NCAA tournament, with last season marking their first appearance since 1998.
Retired athletic director Tom Osborne, the school’s Hall of Fame football coach, shepherded a plan to raise the profile of a long-overlooked basketball program. Nebraska spent $18.7 million on a new basketball practice and training facility that opened in 2011, and the university and city of Lincoln entered a partnership to build the $179 million, 15,000-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena that opened in 2013.
Tim Miles took over as head coach in 2012 and was given a seven-year contract, the longest ever for a Nebraska coach in any sport. Last season the Huskers used a late push to finish fourth in the Big Ten.
Program revenue increased to an unprecedented $10 million, including donations, and season tickets sold out for the first time. Prospective recruits who wouldn’t have opened a letter from Nebraska, let alone visit, are seriously considering the Huskers now.
For all the progress, though, no one will soon confuse Nebraska for a basketball school, and that’s OK with Miles.
“Football revenue gives every other sport a chance,” he said.
So, are there really football schools and basketball schools? Of course. Reputations stem from culture and tradition. But that never precludes a school from being good at both sports.
Bilas used his alma mater of Duke as an example. If an open basketball scrimmage were scheduled at Duke simultaneously with a football game, Cameron Indoor Arena would be full and the football stadium would have more empty seats than usual.
Even though Duke’s football team is ranked in the Top 25 and leads its division in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the goings-on of Coach K. and his crew will be more closely scrutinized by most fans, Bilas said.
Then consider Texas, which has gone to the NCAA tournament 30 times and made it to two regional finals and one Final Four since 2003.
“It is like ignoring reality to say, ‘Geez, if you’ve got a really good basketball team, Texas will turn its back on football to watch basketball.’ That’s not going to happen,” Bilas said. “They’ll support it. They’ll love it. But if you give them a choice between football and basketball, they’ll choose football.”
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Florida, contributed to this report.
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