Florida State is smack-dab at the center of the current conference realignment rush. FSU is a member of the ACC, located close to the SEC, reported to be desired by the Big XII, and possibly desirous of a spot in the Big Ten.
In many ways, Tallahassee, Florida is located right on the fault line of college athletics’ shaky landscape.
Yesterday, FSU athletic director Randy Spetman talked rather openly about the future with ESPN’s “Nole Nation” website. Certainly he was more open than he or most other ADs have chosen to be in the past.
“It’s not done,” Spetman said regarding realignment. “I watch it every day, reading something about it every day, trying to get a sense and calling my counterparts and seeing where they’re really at.” He also said that FSU brass have “had conversations at the senior level about what we should consider.” He added: “There will be more of those conversations — they’ll continue. It’s an evolution every day.”
ACC commissioner John Swofford must love reading that. Ditto those ACC fans who continue to whistle past the graveyard and claim that all’s well within their favorite league.
Of the Seminoles’ current home, Nole Nation reports that Spetman “said he’s confident that the ACC is moving in the right direction, and the Noles staying remains the most appealing solution.”
While discussing the key factor in all of these realignment moves — revenue — Spetman mentioned one conference by name:
“Unless you bring in a revenue for them so that they don’t reduce their conference distribution to themselves, they aren’t going to bring you in. That’s what I don’t think people evaluate as much. It would be great to be in the SEC with our radius of schools and the way our fans travel and their fans travel, but if they bring Florida State into the SEC, I’m trying to see, how do we sell that we bring them enough additional revenue that we pay for ourselves and they make more money off of us? They have Florida just two hours away that has the TV market here.”
A little more than 20 years ago Florida State passed on an opportunity to join the SEC. Then-football coach Bobby Bowden has admitted that he felt his teams could do more winning in the ACC than in the rough-and-tumble SEC. The Seminoles did win early and they did win a lot in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But FSU’s fears in the late-80s and early-90s have haunted them for the past half-decade.
When Mike Slive and Jim Delany ushered in the era of megabuck television deals (Slive with his jawdropping pacts with CBS and ESPN and Delany with his innovative Big Ten Network), the ACC and Florida State began sailing on choppy seas. The Big Ten has the nation’s biggest alumni chapters and all of the Midwest’s massive media markets wrapped up. The SEC flat rules the college football world. Lucky for those leagues that television revenue is all about market size, cable households, and football.
The ACC is all about basketball. Regardless of the power schools it’s tried to bring in, the hardwood still tops the gridiron up and down the East Coast. For that reason the ACC has drawn the short end of the stick and fallen behind the other major conferences in terms of television revenue. As a result, Florida State has seen rival Florida zip by it in terms of cash. The Department of Education reports that UF’s athletic department brought in $120 million in 2011-12. FSU hauled in $81 million.
But what’s $39 million between hated rivals, right?
As we wrote here three years ago, we believe Florida State would be a Nebraska-like addition to the SEC. The Cornhuskers didn’t bring a wealth of cable households to the Big Ten when they joined, but they did bring a national brand. A “Nebraska versus anybody” football game will get higher ratings — and please more network partners — than any game featuring Maryland or Rutgers.
FSU could be that type of addition for the Southeastern Conference. Florida fans don’t want to hear it, but Florida State is still a massive brand. And no offense to Missouri, but do you believe most national viewers would be more inclined to watch Missouri-Georgia or Florida State-Georgia? Missouri-Auburn or Florida State-Auburn?
The point being that the SEC has already laid the groundwork for its SEC Network by adding Missouri, Texas A&M (another solid brand name with a huge alumni base) and the cable households of the Show-Me and Lone Star states. Unless the SEC can successfully nab power brands from the states of Virginia and/or North Carolina, Slive and crew should consider making a defensive move if they feel the world is moving toward 16-, 18-, or 20-school conferences.
But the SEC’s presidents most likely will not.
A Florida administration that once signed off on adding FSU in the early-90s now understands how television has changed the game. Expansion then wasn’t about TV revenue. Now it is. The Gators won’t want to help the Seminoles catch up in terms of dollars and cents.
Also, as we’ve stated here before, there are still some folks around the conference who haven’t forgotten that FSU picked the ACC over the SEC way back when. That decision didn’t sit well with SEC leaders then and some old-timers feel today that the Noles should be allowed to go down with the ACC’s ship. That or forced to try and make things work in a fly-over league like the Big XII or Big Ten where — as has been the case in the ACC — FSU will have very few natural rivals.
From Spetman’s statement, it appears that he and Florida State’s administration have more interest in the SEC than vice versa. If the two parties have already had conversations behind closed doors, why would Florida State’s AD bring up a potential FSU-SEC marriage to the press? A loud cry in the hopes of getting Swofford to pay more attention to the wants and needs in Tallahassee? Unlikely. After all, what more can Swofford do to improve ACC football and television revenue? Adding UConn and Cincinnati isn’t going to do the trick.
For now it looks as though FSU is keeping all its options open. The school seems to know that with Maryland out, the final countdown has begun for the Atlantic Coast Conference as we currently know it. And if the ACC is going down, the SEC would make the most sense as a potential landing spot.
Just don’t count on the Southeastern Conference to come to FSU’s rescue.