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Where Are Kennedy and Kruschev When We Need ‘Em? Is The SEC-Big 12 Pact Really “The Big One?”

It was about 72 hours ago that the world learned of the SEC’s surprising pact with the Big 12.  The champions of the two leagues — if they’re not invited into a new playoff — will meet in an unknown city on New Year’s night in a game run by unknown parties.  It could be an existing bowl like the Sugar.  Or it could be a stand-alone game run by the conferences in Jerry Jones’ Cowboy Stadium, for example.  Either way, the leagues will be keeping more profit from a “bowl” than ever before.

The SEC and Big 12 have also consolidated their power in an “oh, yeah” response to the Big Ten and Pac-12′s ongoing loyalty to the Rose Bowl.  The SEC and Big 12 have sent many more teams to the BCS Championship Game these last 14 years than the Big Ten and Pac-12 have.  ”We’ll see your Pasadena and raise you an Arlington, or New Orleans, or Atlanta,” the SEC and Big 12 seem to be saying.

The response was quick and wild over the weekend with many believing this move to be “The Big One” so long talked about.  For 25 years people have speculated that we would eventually come to the point where four superconferences — and only four — ruled the college football world.

But is this really the San Andreas Fault rattling and rolling?  Is this really Fred Sanford’s chance to join Elizabeth?  And what should Joe Average Football Fan be hoping for?

Monday morning thoughts…

We’ve been hearing for months that Florida State and Clemson fans were ready to bolt from the ACC.  Oddly, their fervor for departure didn’t really kick into hyperdrive until FSU trustee Andy Haggard responded loudly to some misinformation on the internet regarding the ACC’s new television deal with ESPN.  Now social media is blazing with talk of FSU, Clemson, Miami, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Louisville and Notre Dame possibly/probably jumping to the Big 12.

Some websites even claimed earlier this month that a deal was already done between FSU/Clemson and the Big 12.  The buyouts had already been figured out and it was only a matter of waiting for the new playoff plan to be announced.

That’s news to many people who are actually in the Big 12 it seems.  While some writers say “there is no doubt — none — that the Big 12 wants to get back to a minimum of 12 teams,” others say the league is split on expansion… with four schools for it, four schools on the proverbial fence, one school pushing hard for it (Oklahoma) and one school pushing hard against it (Texas).  Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis is in the go-either-way camp telling The Tulsa World:

 

“…we were very happy with where we are with 10 teams…

To be honest, I think everybody liked it.  It was a very good number for our league.

I think it was great that everyone played everyone else in football. I think two games against everyone in basketball was a good thing. I know our coaches liked it. Right now, I’d say we’re pretty happy at 10.”

 

Hargis is the head of the Big 12′s expansion committee, by the way.  While Hargis postures, new reports of FSU moving continue to spew forth.  Yesterday, Ingram Smith of ChuckOliver.net went all in:

 

“According to two people with the strongest ties possible to Florida State’s Athletic Department, FSU fully plans on exiting the Atlantic Coast Conference. Florida State will begin its transition to the Big 12 Conference beginning this June. One source went as far as to say, ‘at this point the move is inevitable.’

… Florida State leaving the ACC this summer will culminate a process that began with initial talks with an intermediary representing the Big 12 last November. Florida State did not officially reach out to the Big 12 until a week before the ACC’s most recent deal with ESPN was announced. Florida State has long been frustrated with the leadership of its current conference and in the Big 12 believes it has found a partner that is more focused, and in touch with the current economic climate of collegiate athletics.

Florida State will receive substantial financial help from the Big 12 in their exit fee from the ACC. Look for FSU to receive a similar deal that WVU received last year from the Big 12. FSU will be given anywhere from 10 – 14 million dollars towards the 20 million dollar exit fee. Much of this money will come from the exit fees the Big 12 received from Texas A&M and Missouri’s departure. It is very likely that FSU will additionally then be loaned somewhere in the area of 3 – 5 million dollars from the Big 12.  FSU’s AD department will be responsible for the remainder of the costs associated with the departure from the ACC.  FSU has boosters that have already pledged the money towards the remaining fees that are not covered by the Big 12.

Florida State will enter the Big 12 as a full member in their first year.”

 

That’s an awful lot of detail coming from the FSU side of things.  Smith also writes that “Clemson will almost certainly pair with Florida State as team 11 and 12 for the Big 12.”  In addition, “Georgia Tech is also talking with the Big 12.”

Smith then goes on to blow up the ACC entirely with the usual suspects — Virginia Tech and NC State — landing in the SEC and the Big Ten diving in for the remaining high-minded institutions like Duke, North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia.

Miami isn’t mentioned by Smith.  Maybe that’s because Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald wrote the following over the weekend:

 

“Though a Yahoo story suggested the Big 12 – which has more a lucrative TV deal than the Atlantic Coast Conference – might pursue FSU and UM, two UM Board of Trustee members said it hasn’t been discussed inside UM and they could not envision Miami being interested. One pointed out UM would need to pay more than $15 million in ACC exit fees even if it wanted to move. ”

 

Well, now, wait a second.  We were told that FSU and Clemson were leaving for the Big 12.  Then word came out that FSU was pushing for Miami rather than Clemson.  Then we were told Miami couldn’t pay its ACC exit fee even if it wanted to go.  And then we’re told the Big 12 will give FSU help with its fee.

If you notice that we’re writing the story in one direction, then zigging from our previous zag, you’re paying good attention.  The point is, no one seems to know what’s really happening.  And anyone who claims after the fact to have seen all this coming — if all this does eventually come to pass — would be akin to the guy who made this film saying he knew man would someday reach the moon via the Apollo space program.

For while one group says the Big 12 has already reached deals with certain schools, arguably the most powerful man in the Big 12 argues in the other direction.  Last week Texas AD DeLoss Dodds said Florida State was far both far from the Big 12 geographically… and far from joining it.  Last night he said the age of the superconference is a long ways off as well:

 

“I think that’s way, way out there.  The Big Ten likes where they are; they don’t want to change.  The Pac-12′s got all they can get.  I don’t see superconferences for a while.  I think it’d take a crisis for that to happen.”

 

Interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas has said his league hasn’t had any conversations with Florida State.  (Today he told KTXX-FM that an SEC colleague told him not to expand past 12 “because 14 becomes unruly.”)  He also said that he expects Notre Dame to remain independent.  Ah, but that where there’s another break within the Big 12 conference.

Orangebloods.com — the Rivals site that covers Texas and that is viewed by many as a Longhorn propaganda arm — writes that Texas has been “courting Notre Dame carefully since the summer of 2010.”  So at least one school inside the Big 12 must feel the Irish can be had.

Confused yet?

In the end, we tend to agree with the Orangeblood’s Chip Brown’s assessment of all this expansion talk:

 

“In short, anyone saying Notre Dame, Florida State or Clemson are done deals are talking to people with wishful thinking or relying on second or third-hand information from people with wishful thinking.”

 

Amen.  But, ironically, many of the folks doing the wishing should actually be wishing for a slow-down, not a speed-up to expansion.  Here’s why:

 

1.  The Big Ten and Pac-12 are stable as can be.  Due to geography, Larry Scott’s league is practically untouchable by any other raiding party.  The massive TV deal he negotiated for his conference insures that Pac-12 athletic departments will make more money than ever.  That, by the way, is already what’s going on in the Big Ten.  It’s believed that league’s schools will make $24.6 million each when checks are handed out at this year’s league meetings.  Why expand now if you’re the Pac-12 or Big Ten?

2.  The SEC is renegotiating its own television deals with CBS and ESPN and it’s expected Mike Slive’s league will be at or very near the top of the cash heap when the ink on those new contracts dries.  It’s been a backroom fistfight to hammer out the new 14-team SEC football and basketball schedules and that process has stretched all the way to the league’s spring meetings.  If you’re filthy rich and the move to 14 schools has caused some issues already, why rush to 16 (or 18 or 20 teams)?

3.  The Big 12 had lined up new television deals with ESPN and Fox that were — ironically — designed to help hold the league together.  Now they’ve given the Big 12 so much clout that it’s gone from devastation to destination in less than 12 months.  The Big 12 is the Michael Myers of conferences.  But if you’re uber-wealthy and you only have to split your booty among only 10 programs, why expand?  For a conference championship game?  Would the financial rewards of that one game be enough to cancel out the additional splitting of the conference revenue pie with two, four or six new schools?

 

At this point, the traditionalists better hope everyone decides to cool off for a bit.  The four leagues mentioned above are safe and secure.  They can afford to wait.

For Florida State, Miami, Clemson or anyone else hoping to leave the ACC for better television money, the better goal might be to improve your own football programs first.  John Swofford’s league controls just about every major television market up and down the East Coast.  The only reason his league can’t equal the other leagues in football TV money is the lack of performance by the three schools mentioned above.  If the Noles, Canes and Tigers had just strung together — say — six BCS titles in a row, the ACC would be rolling in mucho dinero.

And speaking of the ACC, their best options for survival appears to be:

 

1.  Somehow convince Notre Dame to join their league.

2.  Sign a multi-million dollar deal with the Orange Bowl and Notre Dame… right… this… instant.

 

Either way, Notre Dame appears to be the ACC’s best hope for a dance partner now that the Big Ten and Pac-12, SEC and Big 12 have paired up.

So what’s the takeaway?  Well, this might not be “The Big One” that everyone suspects.  Fans of tradition should pray the four most secure conferences realize that they have the time and money to be patient and make well-reasoned moves regarding expansion.  They should hope the ACC and Notre find a way to navigate through all this by finding a way to work together.

Things don’t have to be as wild and crazy as now they appear to be.

Think of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  If the hawks in the US military and the hardliners in the Soviet Union had had their way back in 1962, none of us might be around today to talk conference expansion.  Instead, the Kennedys were cool, determined to avoid a nuclear war, and Nikita Kruschev gave them a way out with what was believed to be a drunken letter he sent to the US President at the height of the crisis.

If cooler heads prevail now, we might just come out of this without having to go through Expansion War III.  Pray for cooler heads to prevail, folks.  Just don’t count on that happening.

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SEC And Big 12 Agree To New Bowl, But What Else Does It Mean? And For Whom?

So it’s Friday and I’m at the hospital giving blood.  (Men, as a prostate cancer survivor, let me encourage you to get your PSA checked.  That simple blood test saved my life.)  While sitting and waiting… and waiting… and waiting… the texts began to roll in:  ”New SEC deal with Big 12 to be announced shortly!”

Great.  A lunchtime Friday gift for the media guys hoping to get a jumpstart on the weekend.

After finally having the blood drawn, I zipped home to put together a quick summary for you.  Only I soon realized there is no quick summary for this story.  This story is just part of a much larger, still developing story: the complete and total reshaping of college football as we know it.

For all the details, you can turn to long-time SEC scribe and all-around good guy, Tony Barnhart of CBSSports.com.  But here’s the basic gist:

 

* The SEC and Big 12 announced today that beginning with the 2014 season (January of 2015, that is), the regular-season champs of those two leagues will meet  in a bowl game that is not a part of what’s expected to be a brand new four-team college football playoff.  Consider it the answer to the Big Ten-Pac-12′s Rose Bowl alliance.

* That’s if the SEC and Big 12 champs aren’t invited to the playoff, of course, and during the BCS era there have only been two occasions in 14 years when either the SEC champ or the Big 12 champ hasn’t made the national title game.  The last time both leagues were shut out was way back in January of 2003.

* If one or both league champions make the playoff field, then league runner-ups would get the nod.

* The site of the game will be determined by a bidding process.  The Sugar Bowl has been the home of the SEC champ since 1976.  The old Big 8 was traditionally tied to the Orange Bowl, but the Big 12 locked in a deal with the Fiesta Bowl.  For now, however, it looks like Jerry Jones and his Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas will be the top competition for the Sugar Bowl crew come auction time.

 

Now, for some very quick reactions, thoughts, questions, and observations (in no particular order):

 

1.  This looks to be good news for the Big 12 and bad news for the ACC.  At the moment there appear to be five major  football conferences — the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.  The Big 12 was wobbling just a few months ago after losing four major brand name schools in the span of a couple of summers.  Now the Big 12 appears locked and loaded for the future (if its schools can all continue to play nice together).  The ACC?  Uh, well, not so much.  After delivering yet another punch to the Big East by grabbing Pittsburgh and Syracuse last year, John Swofford’s league now appears to be the odd conference out if we ever find ourselves living in that four super-conference universe that’s so often been discussed.  How can the ACC guarantee its survival as a big-time football league now?  By raiding the Big East for Rutgers and UConn or South Florida?  There are now two power blocs when it comes to future votes on college football matters: Big Ten-Pac-12 and SEC-Big 12.  The ACC doesn’t have a dance partner.

2.  Florida State, you now have another reason to move.  President Eric Barron might not like it and it might not make the most sense to the faculty and staff at FSU, but the Big 12 now looks more secure than the ACC.  The perception of many will be that the SEC chose to partner with the Big 12 because it’s in better shape going forward.  We don’t deny that, but an SEC-ACC bowl could have also yielded rematches thanks to rivalries between Clemson-South Carolina, Florida-Florida State and Georgia-Georgia Tech.  Regardless, many FSU trustees and fans were pushing for a Big 12 move based on perception anyway.  Now the perception of Big 12 > ACC is even greater.

3.  Business rules.  Forget emotions.  Forget one conference grabbing teams from another conference.  Harsh words and threats of lawsuits just don’t matter when it comes to money.  The SEC and Big 12 weren’t the best of chums less than 12 months ago as Texas A&M and Missouri packed their bags and departed the latter league for the former.  Well, the hatchet has apparently been buried.  (You might say the tomahawk — in this case — has been buried in the ACC’s head.)  Dollars rule in college athletics.  Mike Slive and Swofford have had a good working relationship for a while.  But when it came time to toss a rope to one league or the other and help pull them into the boat with the three most stable conferences — SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 — it wasn’t Swofford’s ACC that got the call, it was Chuck Neinas’ Big 12.

4.  Earlier this week we wrote that FSU’s power play could force Swofford to reverse field and join the Pac-12 and Big Ten in pushing for a champs-only or a champs-mostly playoff format.  He did just that in part to exert some pressure on the Seminoles to stay in the ACC, an easier league to win than the Big 12.  But now it appears that the SEC and Big 12 were already planning ahead.  We don’t believe Slive learned of Swofford’s flip-flop and picked up the phone to Neinas and new Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby this week.  Barnhart says the two leagues have been discussing such a plan for years.  But the fact remains, Swofford abandoned the SEC’s push for a 1-2-3-4 playoff system and Slive appears to have had another partner already lined up on that front.

5.  This move seems to guarantee that by the 2014 season the BCS will be gone.  There’s still a lot of work to do before a playoff format is agreed upon and — let’s face it — that whole thing could still blow up in everyone’s faces.  But whether there’s a playoff or not, it looks as if we are definitely heading back to the days of conferences cutting their own bowl deals.  Come 2014 the bowl line-up could look a heckuva lot different for everyone.  (Earlier this week, Big Ten commish Jim Delany said he’d like to see the bowl eligibility standard raised to seven wins and he even suggested his league might go down that road on its own, by choice.)  In just two years, there could be fewer bowls and those bowls could have completely differently conference tie-ins.

6.  Delany also suggested this week that perhaps it’s time for the bowl games to pay less money to the teams they invite… with the caveat being that those games would no longer require schools to buy tickets by the bushel (which leads to most schools losing money on their bowl trips).  At Big12Sports.com today, Neinas mentioned in a video interview the possibility that the new Big 12-SEC game could be run simply by the leagues and not by a bowl at all.  So not only could bowls look different — in number and in tie-ins by 2014 — but they could start to go away altogether, replaced by games run by the conferences.  Or at least that seems to be an idea that more than one commissioner is tossing out for leverage purposes, if nothing else.

7.  As for the Big 12-SEC game, here’s hoping the good people in New Orleans can raise enough cash to outbid Jones and Arlington.  No offense to the Metroplex, but would you rather spend New Year’s in the French Quarter or in chilly mid-Texas?

8.  And before anyone tosses out St. Louis as the perfect fit for the new game, would you rather spend New Year’s in the French Quarter or in even chillier Missouri?

9.  Back to Florida State for a second, does this new power play now guarantee a Seminole move to the Big 12?  Or is there a reason FSU trustees have continually mentioned the SEC as a league they’d like to hear from?  If the SEC wanted to help stabilize the ACC it could have.  Instead, it partnered with the Big 12 and tightened the noose around the ACC’s neck.  If Slive isn’t worried about destabilizing the ACC, then perhaps he knows the age of the super-conference is here — like it or not — and he’s willing to grab FSU his own self.  That’s pure speculation, but what in the past three weeks has not been pure speculation?

10.  What was Slive’s ultimate goal here?  To help stabilize the Big 12 — a league he didn’t intend to destabilize last year — while at the same time partnering with what has been the nation’s second-strongest league during the BCS era?  (Championship game berths by league: SEC – 9, Big 12 – 7, ACC – 3, Big East – 3, Big Ten – 3, Pac-12 – 3.)  Did he want to deal a death blow to the ACC?  Or was he simply looking to do what was best for his own conference, consequences be damned?  Personally, I’ve never heard a peep from anyone at an SEC institution suggesting that Slive would for any reason “attack” Swofford’s ACC.  Therefore, it seems much more likely that this was Slive’s way of saying, “You can have the Rose Bowl, we’ll partner with the Big 12 and recent history says our bowl will feature higher-rated teams than your bowl.”  It’s strictly business.

11.  Though Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick says he doesn’t think the new SEC-Big 12 deal deal will have “significant near-term consequences” for his school, rest assured he’s puckering up a bit more today.  Unless Notre Dame and the ACC can reach an agreement to merge, both bodies will continue to become more and more irrelevant by the hour.

12.  Kudos to Neinas and the Big 12.  Dan Beebe took the fall for a league that was built on a fault line and part of the league’s turnaround can surely be attributed to the fact that its members were looking over the edge of a cliff just a few months ago and that scared them straight (at least straight enough to share their media rights for 13 years).  Still, the Big 12 is a perfect example of how the college football landscape is changing and morphing and shifting day after day.  One day the Big 12 looks doomed.  The next, it looks strong as can be.  Who knows what the future holds?  But Neinas deserves a lot of credit for grabbing the reins of his league’s wild horses, stopping them, and ultimately pulling them and the Big 12′s wagon back from precipice.

 

So what conclusions can be drawn from all this?

The Big 12 appears stronger.  The ACC appears weaker.  The likelihood of Florida State moving looks somewhat greater.  And the SEC just continues to roll right along with an answer for every problem, a yin for every yang.

Other than those, no one should draw any conclusions.  There’s a battle over a new playoff and what form it will take.  Will it include existing bowls?  Will bowls start to disappear, replaced by conference-owned games?  What about bowl eligibility standards?  Will more schools move from their current leagues?  What about those $2,000 stipends for players?  How can the NCAA preserve a level playing field when the biggest leagues are pushing to give players extra cash while more and more small schools (Old Dominion, Texas-San Antonio, Georgia State, etc, etc) jump to the FBS level?

Think you’ve got a read on what’s coming next?  Think again.  The powers-that-be don’t even know what’s coming next.  There are too many variables in too many equations for anyone to feel confident in their beliefs about the future of college football.

Today’s news?  Yeah, it’s big.  But what it means long-term for all the parties concerned?  That’s anybody’s guess.

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Flip-Flop: Swofford Now Says ACC Prefers Conference Champ Model For Playoff

Well, you can’t say we didn’t see this one coming.

A week ago Monday, Tony Barnhart of CBSSports.com made the case for a college football playoff involving the four best teams in the nation, period.  In that piece — which, as you know, we totally agree with — included this quote from ACC commissioner John Swofford:

 

“I’m a big believer in conference championships and that resonates with me.  But if you’re selling a four-team playoff, and it’s not 1-2-3-4, then the credibility of the system is undermined.”

 

To date, the Big Ten and Pac-12 have been the leagues trying to limit the number of non-conference champs who could reach a playoff.  The ACC and SEC have been in favor of inviting the top four teams regardless of league silverware.

But between last Monday and this past Monday, Florida State’s Andy Haggard opened his mouth and sent shockwaves across the landscape of college football.  He put FSU on the auction block.  That put Swofford in a tough spot.

On Monday — in a post titled: Did An FSU Trustee Just Cost The SEC A Playoff Partner – we wondered if Swofford might change his tune regarding a playoff for political purposes.  We wrote:

 

“(Faced with losing FSU) Does Swofford suddenly switch sides in the current playoff talks?  If the ACC were to suddenly join the Big Ten and Pac-12 in pushing for a champs-only or champs-mostly style of playoff, he’d be exerting pressure in two places.  Faced with a champs-only plan, Notre Dame might be forced to actually join a league and the ACC would have a one-in-three shot at grabbing them (along with the Big Ten and the Big 12).  In addition, Florida State might suddenly view the ACC, Pitt, Syracuse and all those other ‘basketball schools’ as looking pretty good.  What’s the easiest path to a national title and beaucoup playoff dollars: Besting Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and TCU in the Big 12 or beating, well, uh, the field in the ACC?  The ACC would clearly be the easier path at the present time (even though FSU has only one its league once and it’s division twice since 2005).  In that scenario, it might make greater financial sense for Florida State to stay put.”

 

So guess what Swofford said earlier today:

 

 

Well, whaddya know?

This will most likely be seen as a tit-for-tat deal with the Big Ten and Pac-12.  ”You stop pushing for on-campus semifinals and we’ll go along with your plan of taking any conference champs ranked in the top six.”

But don’t think for a second that this isn’t also being driven by Swofford’s need to either a) lure Notre Dame into the ACC or b) hold on to Florida State.

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Ex-Player, Trustee Brooks Says He Thinks Big 12 Approached FSU (And He Mentions “SEC Talk” Too))

Let’s try to get all this straight:

 

* For months, rumors have swirled of Florida State and Clemson (then Miami) leaving the ACC for the Big 12.

* No traditional journalist in America could get a single source to confirm any of that even off the record.  (Not even Joe Schad threw out a “sources say.”)  I can’t stress enough how unbelievably uncharacteristic — and telling — that is.

* The ACC and ESPN announced a new deal, but instead of being viewed as a positive, many viewed it as a negative.  But they did so for many of the wrong reasons.

* The AD at Florida State, Randy Spetman, said last Friday that his school was committed to the ACC.

* A day later, the chairman of FSU’s board, Andy Haggard, nuked Spetman and the ACC and ESPN and said the board “unanimously” agreed with him that it’s time to listen to other offers from the Big 12 or the SEC, etc.  FSU football coach Jimbo Fisher backed Haggard’s comments that afternoon.

* Later that same day, FSU president Eric Barron downplayed Haggard’s trustee/booster’s comments.  He and the ACC put out statements saying Haggard had his facts wrong regarding the new TV deal.

* To the west, the University of Texas is on record as saying it’s in favor of the Big 12 remaining a 10-school league, at least for now, and AD DeLoss Dodds — probably the most powerful man in the Big 12 — said FSU is a “long ways away” from joining the Big 12.

* Newly-appointed Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said yesterday he wants expansion to slow down, but he also admitted that he has to discuss the possibilities with his schools’ presidents.

* Officials at FSU, Texas and inside the Big 12 have all said there have been absolutely no talks and that no one has even begun any sort of negotiations.

* ESPN — having just re-worked a deal with the ACC in hopes of giving that league more stability — certainly wants FSU to remain in place and not jump to the Big 12, which would set off further moves and force the network to tear up and then re-work more contracts.

* Monday, FSU’s president sent out an email listing the complaints some FSU folks have with the ACC while simultaneously listing even more issues they would have with the Big 12.  In the process, he kicked the Big 12 right in the diplomas calling that conference “academically weaker” than the ACC.

 

Got all that?  Well now ex-Florida State football player and former trustee Derrick Brooks has gone on Tim Brando’s radio show and said the following:

 

“This is no new discussion for Florida State in terms of leaving the ACC.  Whether it be the SEC talk, Big 12, you know, what other conference.  It’s nothing new…

I finished up my trusteeship recently, but I’m still very involved.  You know, and the Big 12 is coming after us and it’s no doubt that we’re gonna listen.  You know, if anyone comes in to talk, I think there’s no harm in listening to what the pitch is.

But there’s been no commitment at all and I think from our president’s standpoint, you know, he was just attempting to put things out there from his perspective, saying ‘these are the pros and, as I see it, these are the cons, as I see it.’  But at the end of the day, you know, we’ll measure each one and if it’s a good decision then the board will decide.  You know, not me as a president, but the trustee board will decide what happens and hopefully by the Big 12 flirting or courting us it gives the ACC that much more credibility…

From my understanding it is the Big 12, you know, wanting to talk to us… now again, that’s from my understanding that appears to be the case.”

 

Observations:

* Even in previous conference realignment moves — with people lying all over the place — I’ve yet to see a situation quite like this one where no one seems to be on the same page.  Right down to Haggard’s rant about the details of a TV contract that were not the actual details of that TV contract.  This isn’t like watching a soap opera… it’s like watching a Mexican soap opera when you can’t speak Spanish.

* Why is it every time someone on or once on FSU’s board speaks — first Haggard, now Brooks — he mentions the SEC as a possibile dance partner for the Seminoles?  It seems that either a) FSU is longing desperately for an invite to the SEC or b) that FSU’s board knows the SEC would/will/is talking to them (which would mean there is no hard and fast agreement within Mike Slive’s league to steer clear of schools in current SEC states.)  The SEC — typically, wisely — remains quiet regarding FSU, allowing that school, the Big 12 and the ACC to stumble all over themselves instead.

* Brooks’ comments regarding the email sent out by FSU president Eric Barron make it seem even more clear that — as we wrote yesterday — if State does join the Big 12, Barron won’t be the president at the time of arrival.  Brooks sounded like a jock making sure everyone knew that the board, not the nerd, would make the final call. There’s a battle inside FSU at the moment and unlike the similar fight that was waged at Missouri last year, this one’s much more public and it’s getting a good bit nastier.

* It’s possible that Haggard and Brooks and FSU are simply trying to “pull a Texas” on the ACC.  By openly flirting with other leagues — as the Longhorns did with the Pac-10 and Big Ten and, reportedly, the ACC over the past few years — the Seminoles seem to be making a leverage play with commissioner John Swofford.  ”Give us something extra.” What’s amusing about this is that “Lil’ Texas” could wind up living in a league with the “Original Texas” and then we’d really get to see some tug-o-wars.

* Brooks’ comments make Bob Bowlsby and the Big 12 look bad.  Bowlsby and Big 12 officials have consistently said they’re not even all on board with expansion at this point with Texas being the one, big, known holdout (though Longhorn Rivals’ site Orangebloods.com is trying to help drive an FSU-to-Big 12 move).  Barron insulted the Big 12 with his “academically weaker” comment and he must have done so intentionally.  Brooks’ comments make the Big 12′s new commissioner — who’s not even officially on the job yet — look either misinformed or dishonest.  Unintentionally Brooks might have ticked off a few Big 12′ers himself.

* Finally, how the Big 12 chasing FSU would give the ACC more credibility is anyone’s guess.  I’m guessing Swofford is feeling less confident these days, not more confident in his own conference’s future.

 

At this point, anything at all is possible and anyone trying to read the tea leaves is wasting their time.  There are simply too many leaves to be read.

Which means the last 30 minutes I spent writing those observations… yeah, I’ll never get those minutes back.

 

UPDATE — This just keeps getting better.  Brett McMurphy of CBSSports.com reports that FSU’s AD told him of today’s radio interview: “I don’t know where Derrick got that.”

We at MrSEC.com have obtained a quick video breakdown of the current FSU situation:

 

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Big 12′s Bowlsby Wants “Smooth Water” On Expansion Front… Which Means Little

On numerous occasions over the past month we’ve told you that most college presidents and conference commissioners wants the realignment wheel to stop spinning for a while.  It was our view — backed up by talking to a few folks in SEC athletic departments and administrations — that the current push for a playoff without AQ status was driven in part by a desire to take away one of the key forces — AQ status — that has been driving much of the recent expansion (along with television revenue, conference infighting, and good, ol’ hubris).

That view — coupled with the fact that not one source at any school or league would confirm the Florida State/Clemson/Miami/Big 12 rumors to a single journalist at a any traditional news source — led us to believe there was nothing to the FSU realignment talk.  In fact, we still believe the trustees at FSU bought too much into rumors of TV contract flubs, reacted to those rumors, and gave the rumors more credence than deserved.  FSU board chairman Andy Haggard lit a fuse that was previously unlit, in other words.

So it’s not surprising for us to see that brand spanking new Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has come out and said exactly what we were saying a month ago — a cooling off period on expansion would be nice:

 

“My opinion is college athletics would be well served by some period of smooth water and not all of the angst and disorganization that goes with moves from one league to another… 

Conference realignment will continue to be an issue and one we all have to be vigilant about.  I think the topic will be on every agenda going forward.  But it’s on every other conference’s agenda going forward, too…

It’s all about driving value for the member institutions.  There is a case to be made for optimal value being driven by the status quo, and there is a case to be made for some form of expansion.  And I’m not prejudging or adopting either side of that right now.”

 

Ways to read those comments:

 

1.  The Big 12 doesn’t want to expand before doing some serious research and learning exactly how the last round of moves will impact the league.

2.  Bowlsby and several others in the Big 12 want to expand, but with Texas in favor of remaining a 10-team league the new commish can’t buck them.  Yet.

3.  League powers are split on expansion an Bowlsby — as a newbie — is trying to figure out who to back and how.

4.  Bowlsby means what he says about wishing for smoother waters, but things change on a daily basis and it’s possible the Big 12 could add schools never… or by sundown.

5.  Bowlsby is flat lying while his league hammers out a deal with FSU right this very moment.

 

We’ll go with Option 4 on that list.

Presidents and league commissioners across the country are looking for stability for themselves.  Whatever insures stability for their own league or school, they’ll support.  Unfortunately, one league’s move to stabilize itself will in turn destabilize a brother conference.  Thus, the wheel never stops spinning.

But the people running the schools and leagues are smart men and women.  Most realize that it’s better to gauge the changes they’ve just made and then decide whether more changes are necessary than it is to just rush willy-nilly into more changes.  If you don’t know how a 10- or 14-team Big 12, SEC or ACC will work out, why rush to 12 or 16 schools?

Unfortunately, presidents are owned by trustees.  Trustees are often nothing more than wealthy fans driven more by emotion than the cooler, nerdier presidents.  Trustees can make presidents do things they don’t initially want to do.  That’s what happened at Missouri.  That’s what happened to an extent at Texas A&M.  And that appears to be what’s happening at Florida State.

We believe Bowlsby and others would prefer to catch their collective breath before diving back into the depths of the churning realignment seas.  The trustees and fans who ultimately drive these decisions with their checkbooks… not so much.

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Internal FSU Battle Playing Out Externally; More Proof That The Tail’s Been Wagging The Dog

By now you’ve certainly seen the memo/email that Florida State president Eric Barron sent out yesterday during the ACC’s spring meetings.  In it, he gave serious counterpoints to the arguments first made on social media… that were then picked up and shouted by the chairman of FSU’s board of trustees, Andy Haggard… and that are now being supported by more and more Seminole fans each day.

It was a stunning response to Haggard’s statements on Saturday.  Aside from Texas officials in years past, I can’t recall many university presidents referring to other conferences as being “weaker” academically.  Especially not when their school was supposedly angling for an invite into that very league.

Before we look at what Barron said, let’s tackle some obvious points:

 

1.  Barron is having to convince his own board that any move to the Big 12 would be rash and imprudent.  Ditto the fanbase.  His email reads like a private communication rather than as something he knew would hit the press.  It wasn’t given the once-over and twice-over and proof-reading polish that these types of statements usually receive.  (Hey, Barron could fit in as a writer here at MrSEC.)  There is emotion in his words.

2.  The fact that he sent the email at all tells you that there’s suddenly a movement growing to get FSU out of the ACC and into the Big 12.  Haggard on Saturday claimed he could speak “unanimously” for his board.  Was he going rogue? Does he really have everyone’s backing?  Barron’s email suggests that if he didn’t have strong support before his statement he certainly has it now (unanimous or not).

3.  Before Haggard gave credence to the incorrect info regarding the ACC’s contract with ESPN, Seminole fans seemed split on a move.  Since Haggard spread his incorrect info, the FSU messageboards and other social media outlets show a strong, strong fan push toward exiting the ACC.  ”Give us Iowa State!”

4.  This move is being driven by the internet.  We noted on Saturday that the tail could be wagging the dog a bit in this whole FSU-to-Big 12 situation.  First, bloggers and messageboarders say FSU and Clemson are moving to the Big 12 for more money and because they’re tired of everything favoring the North Carolina schools.  Then the chair of FSU’s trustees takes that misinformation and spreads it.  That makes national news (everywhere but at ESPN, the ACC’s television partner).  After it makes national news, public opinion spins even further in the direction of a move.  Tail… wagging… dog.

5.  Further, the two Rivals.com sites covering Texas and Florida State are working together to drum up support for the move and to goad more FSU fans into supporting the move.  Orangebloods.com wrote a response to Barron’s email yesterday arguing against all of his points.  All that was missing was a “please come to the Big 12, FSU” at the end.  Soon, Warchant.com posted Chip Brown’s story on its own site and today that site has posted its own response shooting down Barron’s email.  It’s pretty clear how the Rivals sites want things to culminate.

6.  Ironically, Orangebloods.com — viewed by many as a PR arm for Texas’ athletic director — is actually breaking ranks with DeLoss Dodds on this issue.  Dodds wants the Big 12 to remain a 10-school league.  Why not split the new TV contract among fewer schools, have an easier path to the national title without a league championship game, and give yourself a 1-in-10 chance of winning the league rather than a 1-in-12 or -14 or -16 chance by expanding?  He told Kirk Bohls of The Austin American-Stateman yesterday that FSU is “a long ways away” both in terms of distance and of joining the Big 12.  ”There’s no traction.  There’ve been no conversations between Florida State and the Big 12… I’m for 10.  I think Oklahoma wants to alk about it.  If the rest of the league wants more than 10, we’ll be good partners (and accept that).”  So yet again Big 12 schools are apparently all over the map on this with Texas claiming they’ll be a good partner when even new commissioner Bob Bowlsby referred to the Longhorns as the league’s “800-pound gorilla” just a wee ago.  Seeing if  Texas will acquiesce to Kansas State’s wishes will show us just how happy and friendly the Big 12 schools really are these day.  (Using KSU only as an example of a school that might favor adding FSU.)

7.  All the above — Barron’s email, Dodd’s comments, etc — appear to further prove our “Wag the Dog” theory.  Reports of a done deal were the nonsense everyone in the traditional media said they were.  But those very reports have led some to start thinking more and more about a move and now those against a move are having to make their cases against an FSU-Big 12 marriage.  Regarding the traditional media in all of this, isn’t it likely that at least one — one! — reporter working the rumors would have found someone to fess up before Haggard’s rant?  No one from The Topeka Capital-Journal to The Tallahassee Democrat to The Dallas Morning News to Yahoo! Sports to ESPN could get a single source to confirm any of this.  Then it blew up Saturday thanks to Haggard’s reaction.

8.  Despite Barron and Dodds making it clear they’re against a move, neither said specifically that a union wouldn’t occur.  Barron’s long email made no such definitive statement.  (Mainly because he couldn’t.  The board of trustees is his boss.  They’ll make the call… just as the board did at Missouri a few months ago.)  And Dodds said he’d be a good soldier if that’s what’s required.  So, no, Barron’s email and Dodd’s public stance of being pro-10 schools don’t nix the chatter or the possibility of a move one bit.

 

Now, take a look at Barron’s email.  It’s startlingly strong:

 

I want to assure you that any decision made about FSU athletics will be reasoned and thoughtful and based on athletics, finances and academics.  Allow me to provide you with some of the issues we are facing:

In support of a move are four basic factors argued by many alumni:

1. The ACC is more basketball than it is football, and many of our alumni view us as more football oriented than the ACC
2. The ACC is too North Carolina centric and the contract advantages basketball and hence advantages the North Carolina schools
3. The Big 12 has some big football schools that match up with FSU
4. The Big 12 contract (which actually isn’t signed yet) is rumored to be
$2.9M more per year than the ACC contract. We need this money to be competitive.

But, in contrast:

1. The information presented about the ACC contract that initiated the blogosphere discussion was not correct. The ACC is an equal share conference and this applies to football and to basketball – there is no preferential treatment of any university with the exception of 3rd tier
rights for women’s basketball and Olympic sports. FSU is advantaged by that aspect of the contract over the majority of other ACC schools.

2. Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas A&M left the Big 12, at least in part because the Big 12 is not an equal share conference. Texas has considerably more resource avenues and gains a larger share (and I say this as a former dean of the University of Texas at Austin – I watched the Big 12 disintegration with interest). So, when fans realize that Texas would get more dollars than FSU, always having a competitive advantage, it would be interesting to see the fan reaction.

3. Much is being made of the extra $2.9M that the Big 12 contract (which hasn’t been inked yet) gets over the ACC contract. Given that the Texas schools are expected to play each other (the Big 12 is at least as Texas centered than the ACC is North Carolina centered), the most likely
scenario has FSU playing Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, and West Virginia on a recurring basis and the other teams sporadically (and one more unnamed team has to join to allow the Big 12 to regain a championship game), we realize that our sports teams can no longer travel by bus to most games – the estimate is that the travel by plane required by FSU to be in the Big 12 appears to exceed the $2.9M difference in the contract – actually giving us fewer dollars than we have now to be competitive with the Big 12 teams, who obviously do not have to travel as far. Any
renegotiated amount depends not just on FSU but the caliber of any other new team to the Big 12.

4. Few believe that the above teams will fill our stadium with fans of these teams and so our lack of sales and ticket revenue would continue.

5. We would lose the rivalry with University of Miami that does fill our stadium

6. It will cost between $20M and $25M to leave the ACC – we have no idea where that money would come from. It would have to come from the Boosters which currently are unable to support our current University athletic budget, hence the 2% cut in that budget.

7. The faculty are adamantly opposed to joining a league that is academically weaker – and in fact, many of them resent the fact that a 2% ($2.4M) deficit in the athletics budget receives so much attention from concerned Seminoles, but the loss of 25% of the academic budget (105M) gets none when it is the most critical concern of this University in terms of its successful future.

I present these issues to you so that you realize that this is not so simple (not to mention that negotiations aren’t even taking place). One of the few wise comments made in the blogosphere is that no one negotiates their future in the media. We can’t afford to have conference affiliation
be governed by emotion – it has to be based on a careful assessment of athletics, finances and academics. I assure you that every aspect of conference affiliation will be looked at by this institution, but it must be a reasoned decision.

Eric Barron
President

 

Wow.  Barron is obviously trying to calm down his trustees and a fanbase that’s increasingly feeling the urge to move.  But some of his comments suggest he might be trying to scuttle any chances of an FSU-Big 12 merger from the inside, too.

In Point 2 he makes the Big 12 appear weaker without those four schools that have left it.  He says that Texas — where he was a former dean of the geosciences school — rules the conference.  He’s basically saying what we wrote yesterday: If Seminole fans think there’s a Carolina bias in the ACC, just wait’ll you land in the Big 12 with Texas.

In Point 7 he states that the FSU faculty are “adamantly opposed to joining a league that is academically weaker.”  Holy crap, he just flat called the Big 12 “academically weaker.”  We’ve written time and again that schools don’t move to academically weaker leagues — especially schools from the ACC, Pac-12 and Big Ten.  Some Big 12′ers have emailed to ask about Mizzou and Texas A&M moving to the SEC?  First, neither the Big 12 — a league formed in the mid-90s — nor the SEC were viewed on par academically with the other three leagues I specifically referenced.  Second, when A&M and Mizzou moved to the SEC, they made it the stronger conference than the Big 12 in terms of the number of AAU schools.  (Again, rant against the AAU if you wish, but that’s a measure used and pushed by academicians across the country.)  More importantly, neither MU or A&M publicly dissed the SEC as being academically inferior even during the non-denial/denial stage of their courtships.

Think Big 12 presidents will enjoy reading Points 2 and 7?  Think Barron didn’t know they’d be ticked at reading them?

Barron has walked so far out on a ledge that there’s almost no room left for backtracking.  At least not for him.  If the board of trustees ignores the points he’s put forth and decides to push for a Big 12 move it’s hard to imagine Barron being the the Florida State president if/when the school entered that league.

This is all looking more and more like Barron and his pointy heads versus Haggard and his hot heads.  Meanwhile, it also appears that there might be yet another Texas versus Everybody fight brewing in the Big 12.

Welcome to Dysfunction Junction… where the Big 12 and Florida State meet.

Again we ask the following question: When’s the last time the Big Ten or SEC had any kind of public battles like this?  The Pac-12 under Larry Scott’s leadership has also learned to keep its fights and arguments in-house, behind locked doors.

That’s not the case in the ACC or Big 12 yet.  That’s why those leagues still aren’t as stable as the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12, television dollars be damned.

For now, we at MrSEC.com await the next round of the internal fight in Tallahassee that’s being waged externally for all to see.  What happens between FSU and the Big 12 could destabilize an already shaking college football landscape further.  So watch with care, SEC fans.  The moves at Florida State could set off a chain of events that might just impact your league in the long run.

We didn’t see that one coming.  Probably because it wasn’t actually coming until Haggard believed what he read on the internet and kickstarted a Seminole Summer, rather than an Arab Spring.

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Monday Expansion Headlines – 5/14/12

Man, I was reaaaaallllly hoping we weren’t going to have to do this again all summer…

 

1.  Here’s the full extent  of FSU trustee Andy Haggard’s “I was only trying to say” backtrack from Sunday.

2.  The ACC meetings got going yesterday and the Seminoles in attendance were “calm and relaxed.”  (As opposed to Nathan Thurm.)

3.  Want amazing?  ESPN’s ACC blogger Heather Dinich lists “What to Watch” at this week’s gathering but does not mention the comments of Haggard or FSU’s AD or FSU’s president.  At all.  She barely mentions Jimbo Fisher’s comments and thanks him “for keeping the expansion talk alive.”  Wow.

4.  David Ubben, ESPN’s Big 12 blogger does talk about Haggard’s comments, but it’s clear that ESPN has put this topic on the backburner.  I kept looking but I never saw this enormous, wild story make the homepage at ESPN.com over the weekend.  Never.  And you can bet that if it weren’t an ESPN contract that had FSU so ticked off you’d have seen Haggard’s comments and all the rampant speculation they touched off getting a lot more play.  ”Worldwide Leader” indeed.

5.  CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd is talking about a four-league universe.  (He thinks ESPN will try to get FSU to stay put.  We do, too, as we’ve mentioned.)

6.  Matt Hayes of The Sporting News — taking things a bit further than we did today — suggests FSU would get “slaughtered” in the Big 12.  (As we said when folks made those comments about Texas A&M last year, we’re not buying that based on FSU’s rich history.  Power programs always rise again.  However, at the moment there’s no question the Big 12 is tougher than the ACC football-wise and the Noles haven’t been tearing up the ACC.  Additionally, if some FSU fans think the ACC favors UNC and Duke, wait’ll they land in the Big 12 with Texas.)

7.  Chadd Scott of ChuckOliver.net does a good job of explaining Tier 3 media rights if you’re not well-versed on that subject.

8.  Warchant.com says “it’s all about the money” for Florida State.

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Did An FSU Trustee Just Cost The SEC A Playoff Partner?

On Saturday, the chairman of Florida State’s board of trustees went nuclear on the ACC’s new TV deal with ESPN.  In the process, Andy Haggard not only undercut the Atlantic Coast Conference and its television partner but also his own school’s athletic director.  Randy Spetman had said all was fine and dandy with FSU, the ACC, and ESPN just a day earlier.  Seminoles football coach Jimbo Fisher then stood beside Haggard and all his booster cash and said his school should indeed look at the Big 12.  (Which should all give you some idea of just how powerless a puppet Spetman is in Tallahassee.)

As it turns out, Haggard was railing about Tier 3 rights and a pro-North Carolina school bias within the ACC without actually knowing what he was talking about.  His view of the new contract was driven by Twitter, messageboards, blogs, etc.  Those sources were wrong when it came to the details of the contract.  Therefore Haggard was wrong, too.

Enter Florida State president Eric Barron who tried to put the toothpaste back into the tube with this statement late Saturday night:

 

“Florida State University regrets that misinformation about the provisions of the ACC contract has unnecessarily renewed the controversy and speculation about University’s athletic conference alignment. Florida State respects the views of the Chair of its Board of Trustees that, of course, any university would examine options that would impact university academics, athletics or finances.  At the same time, Florida State is not seeking an alternative to the ACC nor are we considering alternatives. Our current commitments remain strong.”

 

By Sunday, Haggard was backtracking a bit, too:

 

“All I tried to say was I think Florida State needs to keep an open mind.  If the Big 12 or the SEC or any other conference wants to talk, we have an obligation to listen.  If the Big 12 calls, should we hang up the phone?  No.I’m not saying take it.  I’m saying listen to it.  Listen to what they have to say.”

 

Well if that’s all he was trying to say, he did a pretty poor job of saying it.  Not very impressive for a man who’s practiced law for decades.  He botched the evidence and then went too far with his closing argument.

Additionally, his talk may have set off Realignment War III.

“If the Big 12 or the SEC or any other conference wants to talk…”  That’s a clear way of telling the Big 12, the SEC and maybe even the Big Ten that his cell phone is turned on and in his pocket.  Now, the Big Ten — even though Jim Delany has said his league somehow needs to reach further south due to population shifts — would never chase FSU because it’s not an AAU school.  (Rant, rave and fill up our comment boxes about the AAU if you like, but there’s a reason university presidents and conference commissioners tout AAU membership anytime they get the chance.)

That leaves the Big 12 and the SEC as options — in Haggard’s mind, at least — for FSU.  If given the choice, you can bet he and the rest of FSU’s “let’s get outta the ACC” faction would choose Mike Slive’s league over Bob Bowlsby’s.  First, if FSU could get on equal footing with Florida cash-wise, that’d be a huge plus.  Also, though one year FSU’s recruiting is up and the next UF’s is, being in the same league would take away a strong Gator recruiting pitch: “Come play in the league that produces more NFL draft picks.”  Finally, the SEC would be easier on fan travel and the  school would have ready-made rivalries with Florida, Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, etc.

But the Big 12 is still the more likely landing spot for FSU if FSU bolts the ACC.  And at that point, who else from the ACC leaves for the Big 12?  Ask a Big 12 fan and you’ll hear that Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech are all ready to roll.

If that happened, would the Big Ten or the SEC then come and siphon off what’s left of John Swofford’s weakened league?  Slive might not worry about raiding his pal’s conference if that league were already breaking apart.

All that leads us to the other thing Haggard might have done with his Saturday comments — he might have cost the SEC an ally in the ongoing playoff negotiations.

Until now, the Pac-12 and Big Ten have reportedly been pushing playoff plans geared toward protecting the Rose Bowl and protecting conference champions.  Reason: They want to make sure they get teams in a four-team playoff and the SEC doesn’t get more than one.

The ACC and SEC have led the other voting bloc.  While the Pac-12 and Big Ten are both 12-school leagues, the SEC and ACC will, er, were expected to be 14-school leagues by the time a playoff kicks off after the 2014 season.  They have reportedly been pushing for the top four schools in the rankings to get the playoff bids.  Reason: They’re bigger conferences which by default means they’re more likely to have two teams ranked in the final top four.

But now Swofford is faced with a dilemma.  With his league now on the verge of losing one or more schools, what does he do?

 

1.  Does he go back to ESPN and beg that network to provide more money quickly in an attempt to hold things together and steady the landscape?  That’s the main reason the Big 12 got a huge media deal recently (the brand name value of Texas and Oklahoma was another).  In 2011, the Big 12 actually drew fewer TV viewers per game than the ACC did.  The Big 12 got big cash for its five-state product because the networks didn’t want to have to re-work every other contract they had in place with other conferences who were waiting to pick the Big 12′s bones clean.

Interestingly, for all those squawking about the ACC’s “awful” new deal with ESPN, keep in mind ESPN didn’t have to do much of anything at all.  They had a contract in place with the ACC already.  Adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh won’t move the needle much in football unless one of those schools returns to previous glory.  The network could’ve told the ACC to live with a very slight increase in its current deal.  Instead they cut a backloaded new pact trying to keep things stable.  Would they do so again — at a larger price tag — if they thought FSU would hang around and the ACC would survive and they’d have fewer contracts to re-work overall?  At this point, I wouldn’t rule anything out, but that seems doubtful.

 

2.  Does Swofford try to bolster his league with more football powers and go back to ESPN for more cash that way?  If so, the only football name he could hope to grab that would sway ESPN would be Notre Dame.  The school and the ACC have flirted in years past, but the Irish want no part of a conference.  Their independence is part of their heritage.  Notre Dame joining a conference would be akin to Alabama leaving the SEC or Ohio State leaving the Big Ten.  It would take a serious change in the landscape of college football.

That brings us to Point 3…

 

3.  Does Swofford suddenly switch sides in the current playoff talks?  If the ACC were to suddenly join the Big Ten and Pac-12 in pushing for a champs-only or champs-mostly style of playoff, he’d be exerting pressure in two places.  Faced with a champs-only plan, Notre Dame might be forced to actually join a league and the ACC would have a one-in-three shot at grabbing them (along with the Big Ten and the Big 12).  In addition, Florida State might suddenly view the ACC, Pitt, Syracuse and all those other “basketball schools” as looking pretty good.  What’s the easiest path to a national title and beaucoup playoff dollars: Besting Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and TCU in the Big 12 or beating, well, uh, the field in the ACC?  The ACC would clearly be the easier path at the present time (even though FSU has only one its league once and it’s division twice since 2005).  In that scenario, it might make greater financial sense for Florida State to stay put.

 

If Swofford decides the best way to help save his league is to change his stance on the playoffs, that would leave Slive and the SEC outvoted among the major conferences.  So it’s at least possible that Haggard’s rant has set of a chain of events that could either a) lead to further conference realignment or b) lead to a playoff system favoring league champions only or mainly.  In other words, Haggard’s misinformed rant could be the reason a team like Alabama’s in 2011 might not get a shot at national crown in the future.

We’re talking possibilities here.  And as you’ll see us say 10 times today and probably 100 times this summer: Anything is possible.

We’ll just have to wait and see how quickly other leagues start dialing up Haggard and by what means Swofford tries to keep FSU in the ACC clan.

But it’s certainly possible all this could hurt the SEC when it comes to its push for a playoff taking the top four teams in the country.

 

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FSU’s Outgoing Top Trustee Makes FSU’s AD, The ACC, Media Everywhere, And Yours Truly Look Bad

For months, we’ve blown off the rumors of Florida State and Clemson jumping to the Big 12.  When it was reported in the last week that a secret deal was already in place for the Noles and Tigers to move, we scoffed.  Most any journalist who actually signs his name to his work did.  Oh, at the time we gave it the standard, “Never say never,” (now you see why) and we admitted that ADs and presidents often lie.

But we at MrSEC.com spoke to sources at SEC schools who thought realignment was slowing down, not speeding up.  We spoke with officials from two ACC schools who we have connections to and they both thought the talk of FSU/Clemson to the Big 12 was absolutely bonkers.  ESPN had just cooked up new television deals for both those leagues.  Why would they do that if they thought all that work could soon go up in smoke?  Even Orangebloods.com — the Rivals site that covers Texas — had repeatedly called the idea a “longshot” and like, oh, so many others had said there had been no contact between Big 12 officials and the folks from Florida State and Clemson.

Add to this 20 years of Florida State officials talking about how partnering with ACC schools had helped their own academic image and it was hard to imagine the FSU administration backtracking.  Plus, the commissioners of all the conferences are currently working on what’s expected to be a new postseason playoff plan.  Seems like it would be difficult to agree on a plan if you don’t even know who’ll be playing where in a couple of years.

So we were inclined to buy it — for once — when FSU athletic director Randy Spetman said this on Friday:

 

“We’re in the ACC. We’re committed to the ACC.  That’s where our president and the board of trustees has committed to, so we’re great partners in the ACC.”

 

Well, uh, no.  At least that’s not the case according to the outgoing chairman of Florida State’s board of trustees, Andy Haggard.  On Saturday, he completely cut the legs out from under his school’s athletic director, the Atlantic Coast Conference, and ACC/FSU television partner, ESPN.  Hell, Haggard sawed through more legs than a Civil War doctor.  His barrage against his own league and — by default — his own athletic director was epic.

He was ticked that the ACC gave away its Tier 3 rights for football to ESPN while holding on to its basketball rights:

 

“It’s mind-boggling and shocking.  How can the ACC give up third tier rights for football but keep them for basketball?… It continues the perception that the ACC favors the North Carolina schools.”

 

(Remember that part.  It’s important.)

As for the long-held argument made time and again by the “Knowledge is Good” crowd in Tallahassee that ACC + FSU = Win, Haggard scoffed:

 

“No FSU graduate puts on his resume or interviews for a job saying they are in the same conference as Duke and Virginia.  Conference affiliation really has no impact on academics.”

 

And then he dropped the bomb that yes indeedy he wants Florida State to start talking to the Big 12:

 

“How do you not look into that option?  On behalf of the Board of Trustees I can say that unanimously we would be in favor of seeing what the Big 12 might have to offer.  We have to do what is in Florida State’s best interest… With the SEC making the kind of money it does it’s time to act.  You can’t sit back and be content in the ACC.  This is a different time financially.  This isn’t 10-15 years ago when money was rolling in.”

 

“On behalf of the Board of Trustees I can say that unanimously.”  Really?

Boom.  (And we ain’t talkin’ Will Muschamp.)

We’ll break this down from a few different angles below, but that’s just an amazing interview for Haggard to have given Warchant.com — the Rivals site covering FSU — just one day after his own school’s athletic director had said the complete and total opposite.  We know — we’ve written it — ADs lie.  You can call it spinning if you like, but technically, they lie.  Often.  Still, they’re usually not outed within 24 hours by their own top trustee.

Just remarkable.

Even more amazing?  Seminoles football coach Jimbo Fisher — who sources had pegged as a pro-ACC guy — told The Orlando Sentinal post-Haggard’s rant:

 

“There have been no official talks, but I think you always have to look out there to see what’s best for Florida State.  If that [jumping to the Big 12] is what’s best for Florida State,then that’s what we need to do.”

 

If Haggard dropped Fat Man, Fisher unloaded Little Boy.  Both fell right into the laps of Spetman and the ACC.

Some thoughts:

 

It seems the tail’s been wagging the dog at FSU

You would think Haggard would be pretty clued in to the ACC/ESPN television contract.  He’s FSU’s top trustee until his term ends — reportedly — at the next board meeting.  But like so many others in the last few days, he was actually all wrong regarding those hotly-debated Tier 3 rights.

Jim Lamar of The Tallahassee Democrat reports that ACC assistant commissioner Michael Kelly said Saturday that all ACC schools have the exact same Tier 3 rights.  Moreover, all the men’s basketball and football games go to ESPN.  Now, that won’t put any more cash in FSU’s coffers, but the idea of the basketball schools being given an advantage?  Unless Kelly is lying — and the contracts would be pretty hard to forge — Haggard was 100% off base on that front.

Which makes this writer wonder just how connected to this process he’s been.  Could that be the source of his anger?  Is this an Arab Spring type of moment we’re witnessing, driven by rumors, exaggerations, anonymous blogs and social media?

Think about it:  The ACC cuts a deal with ESPN.  One blog drives the story that FSU and the Big 12 are talking.  Somebody floats their rage over the Tier 3 rights on a messageboard or two.  It hits Twitter.  An outgoing, left-out (and possibly angry about it) Haggard sees all this and decides to do a number on his own AD and ESPN because he  believes what he sees in the blogosphere, the messageboards and Twitter.  But then it turns out that a good part of his spiel is based on faulty information.  ”They’re favoring the North Carolina schools!”  Uh, no, actually they’re not.

Additionally, FSU reportedly made all of a whopping $350,000 last year on its Tier 3 rights.  In other words, it’s not like the new deal with ESPN is really going to cost the Florida State a whole lot of cabbage.  It wasn’t making it under the old deal, either.

Trouble is — the damage is already done.

 

What can the ACC say now?

Nothing.  There is no way back from what Haggard’s done.  Perhaps as an attorney and uber-booster he knew all along he could drive FSU to the Big 12 by simply opening his mouth.  Trustees at Missouri forced chancellor Brady Deaton’s hand last year.  Key boosters and trustees led the charge for Texas A&M to join the SEC, too.

The ACC has already come out to declare that the deal is even-Steven for everyone.  They’ve said the perception of uneven Tier 3 rights is “totally inaccurate”.  Kelly also said, “There is no change in fundamental rights at this time.  ESPN does have the rights to all of our football and all of our men’s basketball games.  There is no opportunity for our conference or our schools to produce games beyond that in those two sports.”

So it’s the exact same deal ESPN and the ACC had put together years ago.  They just extended it.

Some FSU fans won’t care, though (and that number grows every time a guy like Haggard spreads inaccurate information about the deal that was cut).  The deal may be even, but it’s still worth $3 million less per year than what other schools in other conferences are making.  Nevermind the fact that if the Seminoles had been winning as much as the ACC expected when it brought them in, the league’s contract would’ve probably paid a whole lot better.

Ironically, the ACC’s spring meetings begin today in Amelia Island, Florida.  Oh, that should be a fun event.  Especially for Spetman, who thanks to Haggard, will arrive without the use of this testicles.

 

What can Spetman do?

Call Bill Byrne at Texas A&M, perhaps?  Call a realtor?

Spetman’s been emasculated by his school’s top money man.  Whether he’s the chairman of the board or just Johnny Millions, Haggard will continue to have clout via six-inch sheets of green paper.  Lots of ‘em.  And clearly he’s not in the same corner as his athletic director when it come to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Worse, nothing Spetman says from this point forward can ever be believed again.  Literally.  He was either a liar regarding FSU’s interest in the Big 12 (and was outed quicker than most lying ADs) or he is just a stooge standing in front of the real power brokers on FSU’s board (which is closer to the truth for most athletic directors, including Spetman).

He may stay in Tallahassee and Haggard may be discredited as having gone rogue, but Spetman’s credibility is kaput.  Dunzo.  Finito.

 

What can FSU do to save face?

Florida State president Eric Barron put out a press release Saturday night trying to calm the storm (or cover up whatever’s happening behind the scenes):

 

“Florida State University regrets that misinformation about the provisions of the ACC contract has unnecessarily renewed the controversy and speculation about University’s athletic conference alignment. Florida State respects the views of the Chair of its Board of Trustees that, of course, any university would examine options that would impact university academics, athletics or finances.  At the same time, Florida State is not seeking an alternative to the ACC nor are we considering alternatives. Our current commitments remain strong.”

Whatever.
“Our current commitments remain strong,” alright… right up until the time the Big 12 starts waving cash.
If the Big 12 offers big bucks, FSU will break its strong commitments.  Because trustees like Haggard can force him to do things he doesn’t want to do, Barron did not say, “Florida State is married to the ACC long-term.”

 

Naturally, the Big 12′s already interested

There will be a lot of “told ya so’s” coming from the crowd that said a deal had already been struck between FSU and the Big 12.  By all accounts that’s not true.  Sources from Lubbock to Austin to Tallahassee have all said there’s been no contact between the parties and that the Big 12 hasn’t even talked expansion with its new commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

You can bet they’ll talk about it now.

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports immediately responded to the Haggard/Warchant.com story by Tweeting that a Big 12 source said, “I can’t imagine how we wouldn’t be interested in Florida State.”  He went on to say that there’s “legit concern in ACC” that Miami may also try to leave if FSU goes.

 

Where’s ESPN’s coverage of this?

The chairman of Florida State’s board of trustees just said he wants the Big 12 to give the Seminoles a ring and as of midnight this morning, ESPN.com did not have the story as one of its featured frontpage headlines.  Hmmm.  That wouldn’t be because Haggard’s statements make the ACC/ESPN deal look bad, would it?

Or maybe ESPN is just hoping/praying that the deals it negotiated with the Big 12 — paying it a higher-then expected fee just to keep it together — and the ACC — extending its deal through the late 2020′s — aren’t going to be tossed into the trash heap just yet.  ”Ignore it, maybe the story will go away.”

 

The Dude abides

Hey, we at MrSEC.com have been right on a lot of things regarding conference expansion.  So right in fact that a lot of other sites have copied our material and then patted themselves on the back for getting our predictions and theories right.  But we can admit when we were wrong.

In this case, “The Dude of WV,” a blogger who won’t sign his name to his posts, had heard from someone who knew some FSU backers were ready to move.  Kudos.

Now, the “done deal” part of the story, well, that’s pretty much been shot down by everyone who a) has legitimate sources and b) signs his name to his posts.  Still, we didn’t think this was coming.  We trusted our sources.  On FSU’s interest in the Big 12 — or at least in one very influential man’s interest — those sources were wrong.  Which means we were wrong.  Which means we tip our hat to the unknown West Virginia fan who tossed his horseshoe a lot closer to the stake than most anyone else on this FSU/Big 12 thing.

 

Blankety-Blank, Blankety-Blank

Speaking of our sources, I followed up with a good friend who happens to be in a pretty high-up position with an ACC school’s administration.  After being told repeatedly for the last week that folks in the league really did feel good about the future and that FSU officials were A-OK with the new ESPN deal, I zipped him a text this afternoon: “What gives?”

His response?

Well, I can’t tell you exactly what he said because this is a family site.  But I can give you the gist.  The folks at his school were not happy.  They were blindsided.  And Haggard was viewed as a “petulant child” — that is a quote — for his outburst.

 

Academics don’t matter

Perhaps to Haggard academics don’t matter, but to most top dogs at major universities, they sure as heck do.  No school has left the Big Ten, Pac-12 or ACC in decades in order to move to a richer league with a worse academic reputation.  If FSU heads to the Big 12, it will be the first.

The grant and research money that can be brought in for schools via cooperative programs such as the Big Ten’s Committee on Institutional Cooperation is enormous.  Try more than $500 million each year.  

A school like Florida with its $100,000 athletic budget?  UF recieves more than $550 million annually in sponsored research funding.

Academics might not matter to Haggard and they might not matter to Florida State (despite 20 years of saying just the opposite).  There might not be enough shared academic/research cash in the ACC to give FSU pause in the first place.

But for a man to suggest conference affiliation doesn’t have anything do with academics?  He sounds like a guy who was born rich and didn’t have to do a lot of homework of his own in college.

We’ve talked to so many university officials over the years who’ve said that getting “name” schools into a league is big, big, big for the pointy heads running those schools.  If academics didn’t matter, why has the SEC been promoting Missouri and Texas A&M’s AAU status non-stop since they climbed aboard?

 

The Big 12 would be catching a big fish

If the Big 12 lands Florida State, that’s a win for Bowlsby’s league and a loss for Mike Slive’s.  Missouri has a better academic reputation, solid athletics, and will bring in a lot of new cable households in a brand new part of the country.  We’re all in on Mizzou, so don’t start screaming when you read this, Tiger fans, but…

Florida State is a national brand.  When it comes to national television ratings, FSU versus Arizona State would draw more eyes than Mizzou versus Arizona State.  Florida State versus Georgia would get better ratings than Missouri versus Georgia.

No, FSU wouldn’t add a new state or new households to the SEC.  If the league doesn’t start a new network with ESPN, then what’s the difference on that front?  Florida State would’ve been a bigger brand name and would have drawn bigger numbers for every SEC contest they played.

FSU to the Big 12 would be a major coup for a league that was on a respirator about 12 months ago.

The Big 12 would also get a nice little tit-for-tat by picking up the Noles.  The SEC just got a foothold in Texas with A&M.  FSU would give the Big 12 a foothold in Florida.  Take that, SEC.

 

FSU would get more cash, but…

Let’s face facts, Florida State is a national brand despite the fact they’ve fallen off in football over the last decade.  If they couldn’t beat the Wake Forests and Georgia Techs of the ACC for a league title, just how are the Seminoles going to fare in the Big 12 with Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and TCU?  Careful what you wish for, Mr. Haggard.

In addition, FSU already has a rival with Florida and could easily develop rivalries with Georgia, Auburn, Alabama and others in the much closer SEC.  At some point Seminole fans might be faced with road trips to Lubbock, Ames and Manhattan (Kansas) that make their current excursions to Atlanta, Coral Gables and Tobacco Road seem like neighborhood strolls.

 

Clemson, Miami, Louisville and Notre Dame… you’re on the clock

What once was an unsubstantiated rumor supported by no quotes an written by an unknown person has quickly become an honest-to-God mega-story thanks to Haggard’s comments (and Fisher’s response to them).  You can bet the expansion/realignment talk will go absolutely nuts at this point.

FSU will be viewed as a done deal and schools all over America will be kicked around as being the next to join the Big 12… or Big 14… or Big 16.

What about Notre Dame?  The Big Ten?  Will the Big East collapse?  Will the ACC?

You can also expect all the talk of a 16-school SEC to start up again.  Expansion chatter is good for business when football and basketball are out of season.  So get ready to read that Commissioner Slive has secretly flown into Blacksburg and Raleigh and Chapel Hill and Durham.  Get ready for East Carolina fans to start their campaign for SEC entry again.  Get ready for rumors of a Big 12 versus SEC tug-of-war for Florida State to commence.

Oh, it’s all coming.

Damnit.  (Trust me, I’m not excited to be writing about this stuff at 1am on a Sunday morning.)

 

If you’re a conference commissioner, good luck on the playoff front

Those talks between the league commissioners and Notre Dame’s AD just got a lot more interesting, didn’t they?  Let’s see if they can design a playoff system while also trying to figure out who’ll be playing who on a regular basis.

 

Will Florida State get any Texas A&M-style blowback?

Last summer, a myriad of national writers took aim at Texas A&M for destabilizing college football with its move to the SEC.  (How the third school to leave a league was to blame for realignment, I’m still not sure.)  But let’s see if the columnists now hammer Florida State for with equal vigor for kicking off Expansionpalooza 2012.

Shoot, let’s see if ESPN ever gets around to even mentioning this story.

 

While we think the SEC should have grabbed Florida State…

Have we made this clear yet?  If FSU lands in the Big 12, that’s a huge plus for the Big 12 and — like the extension of their grant of rights and their new TV deals — it will further stabilize a league where everyone needs a set of handcuffs to stick together.

But…

When you consider how loudly factions at FSU just broke ranks and went in separate directions, you think, maybe the Seminoles really wouldn’t have been a good fit for the SEC.  Seriously.  When’s the last time you saw an SEC or Big Ten school do something like Haggard and Florida State just did?  Never?  Those are the two top leagues in America because they don’t air their dirty laundry.

Saturday in Tallahassee was dysfuntional at best.  And while the Big 12 is clearly improving, it could have easily changed its name to the Dysfunctional 12 over the last few years.  Maybe FSU is better off with the Texases and Oklahomas of the world after all.

Nah.

We still think the SEC and/or FSU missed the boat on this one.  Florida State should be in the Southeastern Conference.

Kudos to the Big 12 if they land ‘em.

I think that deal’s supposed to be done in two months, right, Dude?

I gotta start following that guy’s Twitter feed.

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FSU A.D. Spetman Guns Down Big 12 Rumors

Florida State athletic director Randy Spetman must be a big ol’ liar.  Either that or he’s not as well connected as messageboard posters and insiders like “The Dude of WV.”  I say that because Spetman told The Orlando Sentinel today that the Seminoles are committed to the ACC.

Doesn’t he know FSU’s already got an agreement in place to move to the Big 12 along with Miami, Clemson and others?  A deal to start their own television network?  A deal that would grant them a full-share of revenue as soon as they enter Big 12?  And a deal for the Big 12 to help buy the Noles’ way out of the ACC?

Apparently not:

 

“We’re in the ACC. We’re committed to the ACC.  That’s where our president and the board of trustees has committed to, so we’re great partners in the ACC… I’m not out negotiating.”

 

Further, Spetman told The Sentinel that any reports about any Florida State officials talking to Big 12 officials are — in the writer’s words — patently false:

 

“They’ve said I’ve been in Texas all this week.  My wife was wondering how I was getting back and forth every day…  I don’t know why people have written (about FSU to the Big 12).  I don’t know how they can say that — and I don’t mean to pick on the media – but how can the media person come out and say that there was a Florida State person in a meeting that wasn’t true?  How can they get away with that?  To my knowledge, nobody from our organization was there.  So I don’t know how they can get away with saying that.”

 

Spetman also said he and his fellow FSU officials “weren’t actively seeking” an invitation to the SEC last summer, either.

Things change.  People lie (or “spin” if you prefer).

But Spetman’s definitive comments sure seem to confirm what we wrote last week and what we’ve been told all this week from people actually working inside athletic departments and university administrations — Florida State and Clemson aren’t going to the Big 12 in the near future.

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