U.S. Basketball Writers Association 2007 BEST WRITING CONTEST
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FIRST PLACE: COLUMN
Donovan should repay Florida for his indecision
Jay Bilas, espn.com

Billy Donovan made a pretty good case that he belongs in college and not in the NBA. The truth is, I can sum up with a single word the manner in which he handled his negotiations with the Orlando Magic, his acceptance of their head coaching job, his signing of a multimillion-dollar contract and his subsequent about-face to Gainesville.

Unprofessional.

Donovan's recent maneuver is one of the most unprofessional I can recall in college sports. He negotiated a contract with an NBA team, agreed to a dollar amount and the length of the contract, put pen to paper and signed it.

Then, according to reports, he really "thought about it" and understood that he made a mistake.

Please.

Adults that are really happy where they are and constantly say so do not negotiate a multimillion-dollar, multiyear contract, agree in principle to a deal and then execute the contract without thinking things through. Donovan created, by himself, a huge mess. His actions affected a large number of people and cost people a lot of money.

I like Donovan. I like him a lot, and I am not alone there. Donovan is a really good guy, and a really good coach. But I am not naive. Until now, Donovan played the media like a fiddle and there is nothing wrong with that. He was smart and savvy to handle things the way he, did.

Until now.

After Donovan and the Gators won the 2006 national championship, Donovan left a contract extension on his desk and would not sign it. He said that he didn't want to sign it because he felt it was wrong for him to cash in on the title when his players were sacrificing NBA dollars to come back for another year. Even though it would have been better for the Florida program had Donovan signed and sent a clear signal that he was in with both feet, Donovan chose to leave the contract unsigned. Coincidentally, Donovan had another great team, and another great season provided him a great deal of leverage for an even better contract. He didn't lie. It's just that nobody asked him why he would leave his university hanging when he could simply accept and sign the extension.

After Florida made it to the Final Four in Atlanta this season, Donovan allowed all of the talk about the opening at Kentucky. He never really came out and said that he was staying at Florida and would not be interested in Kentucky. He was leveraging his position, pure and simple, which is just smart business. Donovan didn't lie. It's just that nobody asked him why he just didn't end the discussion by saying that he was staying at Florida.

Following the season, after negotiating a contract extension (at a much higher dollar figure than the one that was presented to him the prior year), the speculation about Donovan shifted to the NBA. That was now the greener pasture for Donovan. It was an open secret that Donovan was intrigued by the NBA, and he said as much when asked about it. But he always maintained that he loved Florida and wanted to stay. He didn't lie, but nobody asked him why he would negotiate and agree to an extension and then negotiate with an NBA team.

Donovan said all of the right things but always left the door open. He never came out and said he was not leaving Florida, but always said that he was happy there and loved it.

But now we're going to hear a different line from Donovan and some tn the media. Don't buy the line that will inevitably come your way. You will be told that Donovan was rushed into a decision by Orlando's short timetable.

That is baloney.

If Orlando really wanted Donovan, the Magic would have waited a reasonable amount of time until Donovan had the time to make up his mind for sure. If Donovan couldn't make up his mind in a few days, he probably didn't really want the job. No coach needs a waiting period to pull the trigger on a job. All of these things are decided in a short time frame. As Hyman Roth said in "The Godfather: Part II," "This is the business we've chosen."

Decisions in basketball are made in short order, and every coach knows it. Coaches are required to decide quickly which jobs they will look at and accept. Orlando didn't rush Donovan or pressure him into anything. Donovan negotiated a deal, had his lawyer look it over, signed it, appeared at a press conference announcing it and then reneged on it.

He didn't lie. He just breached a contract. That's no big deal. He just had "second thoughts." He just loved Florida too much.

Again, please.

Orlando looks foolish to have relied on Donovan and his word and sold a lot of season tickets when he agreed to become coach. Now Orlando has to start over and lost valuable time with the NBA draft approaching. Sure, Orlando can sue Donovan for damages and there are damages. But they won't do so because it will take the focus away from where it should be, and that is moving forward. VCU coach Anthony Grant took a hit for considering leaving the Rams so publicly, then having to turn tail and announce that he never met with Florida. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley put a lot of needless miles on the university jet to replace Donovan and now has to do some damage control to deal with the fallout.

Donovan made a big mess out of this, and it was horribly unprofessional.

Here is what I think Donovan should do. First, he should reimburse Florida for the costs incurred in running all over the place to replace him. Then, he should sign an extension with Florida, but he should sign the one that was sitting on his desk in 2006, not the one that was negotiated after the Final Four this season. And finally, he should propose a buyout clause for his contract, and the buyout should be the total amount of the contract and not a penny less.

I believe Donovan loves Florida. But he should do something bold to demonstrate that he is no longer trying to play both sides of the fence. He should demonstrate exactly what side ofthe fence he is on, and that is the Florida side. Then we can all move on and feel good about it.

Second place: Jack Bogaczyk, Charleston Daily Mail
Third place: Tom Shatel, Omaha World-Herald