After visting ESPN’s website on December 17, I was taken aback to see the UNF men’s basketball team featured on the website’s homepage.
Unfortunately, I quickly realized that the article, which centered around a 76-36 UNF loss to No. 25 Clemson, had little to do with any improvements UNF has made on the court. Rather than focusing on UNF’s attempt to keep up with Clemson Whelliston’s article had a much different objective: explaining the $80,000 paycheck UNF received to get crushed by Clemson. However, the author, Kyle Whelliston, did have a few words of praise to say about UNF’s effort.
“The anonymous visitors matched Clemson shot for shot, standing up bravely against the nationally ranked Tigers. When Clemson camped out on the perimeter, expecting the Ospreys to jack up 3s all night, scrappy 6-foot-7 sophomore Kyle Groothius snuck inside for a series of uncontested layups as the home crowd groaned. Twelve minutes into the game, the score was tied at 17,” said Whelliston.
Yet after coming out of the gates slow, the Tigers quickly ran away with what was meant to be a “guarantee game”.
“Clemson, for its part, got its 11th win, and the school pulled a profit — ticket sales and concessions always outstrip appearance fees. North Florida will receive a five-figure check in the mail. What the Ospreys’ players and coaches got out of the experience, though, was far more difficult to quantify,” said Whelliston.”
UNF and other small-conference schools have been participating in overmatched games since Coach Kilcullen was on the other side of the blowouts as a coach at Notre Dame. Although the money may seem like nothing to larger schools UNF and similar schools take a huge benefit away from these games.
“The big schools might take that kind of money for granted, but to us, it’s a new locker room, competitive salaries, all those things that are going to help us compete at this level for years to come,” said Presbyterian head coach Gregg Nibert.
While Presbyterian has profited from their losses in “guarantee” games by seeing an increase in overall wins, UNF has not. North Florida has yet to win a road game since making the leap from the Peach Belt Conference to the Atlantic Sun four years ago, losing its first 44 contests away from home as a D-I member.
“We try to look at this as an opportunity,” said Kilcullen, sitting sullenly in a row of paw-print folding chairs after the game. “It’s an opportunity to get better. We played well for 15 minutes, and I thought our defense did a good job during that stretch. But they took us out of everything we tried to do. I mean, that’s one of the best teams in the nation … it was men against boys out there.”
The Ospreys are determined to keep a positive mentality as they continue to make their transition to Division I.
“It’s easy to quit in a game like this,” Kilcullen said. “It’s easy to convince yourself that there’s nothing to play for. But we didn’t take a dive tonight; we never threw in the towel. I’m proud of my guys for playing hard; that’s all I can ask of them.”