By JOANNE KORTH
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2000
GAINESVILLE -- Having a hard time getting fired up for ninth-ranked Florida's first two games? Don't feel badly. So isSteve Spurrier.
The Gators open the season Sept. 2 against Ball State, which has lost 17 straight. Sept. 9, it's Middle Tennessee State, which is in its second season as a Division I-A program.
"We should be playing Notre Dame or Penn State or somebody," Spurrier said. "But since there's not a playoff, we have to bring somebody in, give them a paycheck and send them home. I wish we didn't have to play those kinds of teams, but our schedule is tough enough with the SEC and FSU."
Florida takes flak every year for opening against inferior opponents, but the Gators make no apologies. Not only can they ill-afford an early season loss in the Bowl Championship Series rankings, they can't afford to go on the road. UF makes about $1-million per home game.
"We need to play six home games," said Spurrier, noting that Florida shares with Georgia revenue from their annual game in Jacksonville. "If we didn't bring in two schools that we don't have to go to their place, we'd only have five games. Financially, it's smart to bring in two smaller teams. That's the way we do it. I understand and agree with it, but I don't have to accept it."
Spurrier admitted there is little to be gained from playing overmatched opponents. As far as the Gators are concerned, the season technically starts Sept. 16 at Southeastern Conference rival Tennessee.
"You don't try to get too motivated for a team when you're heavily favored," Spurrier said. "These first two games we'll try to play everybody and play hard and play smart -- try to get in the habit of doing that."
HAPPY RETURNS: The men's basketball team returned Monday from a 12-day trip to Europe, where it went 3-1-1 in games against teams from France and Germany.
"My goal was to try to bring us closer together," coach Billy Donovan said. "We've had good chemistry the last couple years, but I wanted to make that better. We accomplished that. Any time you go into a foreign country where people don't speak English, the players have to rely on each other -- to order food, to get around and to communicate. I think that's good, and we had a real good time."
Junior guard Teddy Dupay, who had surgery at the end of last season to repair a rotator cuff tear in his left shoulder, led the Gators in scoring with a 21.6 average.
"Last year was tough for me," said Dupay, who played in pain. "I think it's a relief for me and for my teammates to see that I can produce again."
PICKED TO REPEAT: The soccer and volleyball teams were picked to repeat as SEC champions in voting by league coaches. The soccer team, ranked No. 10 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America preseason poll, won the SEC East with a 9-0 regular-season record and beat Mississippi 3-0 in the SEC tournament final to claim its fourth straight title. The volleyball team, ranked No. 9 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll, has won nine straight SEC championships and seven of the last eight SEC tournaments. It has not lost a regular-season SEC match in seven seasons.
FAST PITCHES: Karen Johns, who was hired in June to replace fired softball coachLarry Ray, signed her first two recruits: pitcher Amanda Moore of Tuscaloosa, Ala., and middle infielderJackie Marchetta, who played one season at Florida Southern and was selected as the Sunshine Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year.
Also, construction has begun on a $400,000 locker room facility at the Florida Softball Stadium. The 2,300 square-foot building, an addition to the existing clubhouse, will have a locker and shower area for 20 players, meeting and equipment rooms and a laundry facility.
- Contact Gators beat writer Joanne Korth at (800) 333-7505, ext. 7306, or by e-mail at Korth@sptimes.com.