Talk of Florida State University moving from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big 12 picked up some steam today when school president Dr. Eric Barron released an email debating some of the pros and cons of remaining in the ACC. To backtrack a bit, this whole discussion began last week when the ACC, the conference that the Seminoles has been a member of since 1991, reached a new 15 year, $3.6 billion agreement with ESPN that sounds great on paper but not in reality. Yes, this is a slight increase in annual revenue (about $1 million/year per school to start, eventually reaching a $4 million increase 9 years from now in 2021) but for an athletic department already operating at a deficit (FSU may have to trim $2.4 million a year in expenditures) this new deal is a slap in the face. To put things in perspective, the new ACC television contract calls for each team to receive $17 million annually (on a back-loaded contract), which is the same amount of money that every school in the Southeastern Conference currently receives with their deal with ESPN. With the re-alignment in college athletics, the SEC now has the right to renegotiate their deals with both ESPN and CBS and when that goes down the new contracts are expected to dwarf what the ACC just got. So, like I said, it might look good now but let the initial shock wear off and take a look at your surroundings. The Big 12 is currently negotiating their television contracts and it is expected to bring the schools an additional $2.9 million than the ACC deal, and the SEC’s contract will blow that out of the water as well.
As much as I hate to say it, collegiate athletics have become a business. There is no denying that universities bottom lines mean just as much (if not more) than successes on the fields and courts. It’s a sad state of affairs but that’s what it has to come to, the “amateur” aspect of sports dwindles more and more every day. And when dealing with conference alignment dollars and cents have taken precedence over traditional rivalries and good ole fashioned hate. College sports have been an “arm’s race” for as long as I can remember and switching conferences may help FSU in the short term, but long-term I do not see it as a good move financially or competitively. Over the next few paragraphs (and in the sake of keeping this concise) I will challenge the four points that Dr. Barron said are arguments that support a move and try to convince you that staying in the Atlantic Coast Conference is the best play for the Seminoles athletic department to make at this time.
You can read the entirety of Dr. Barron’s statement here: http://floridastate.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=1365254, but the first argument for making the move to the Big 12 that he mentions is that “the ACC is more basketball than it is football, and many of our alumni view us as more football oriented than the ACC”. There is no arguing that point. What Bobby Bowden helped build at Florida State turned FSU into a “football school” and as a southern school FSU will always keep that status. No matter what Leonard Hamilton and the Seminole Basketball teams accomplish people will always associate the Noles with football whether they are in a conference that is known for the sport or not. With the addition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh this year the ACC just got even better as a basketball conference, but that doesn’t mean that they will all of a sudden stop playing football too. In my opinion there’s no reason to leave the best basketball conference in the country just because you are a “football school”, especially because if two out of three of the Noles, Miami Hurricanes, or Virginia Tech Hokies can return to anywhere near the national prominence they had in the 1990s then the ACC’s football reputation will only improve.
Dr. Barron’s second point again relates to basketball as he states “The ACC is too North Carolina centric and the contract advantages basketball and hence advantages the North Carolina schools”. Chairman of the FSU Board of Trustee’s Andy Haggard has been outspoken on this issue and he is the individual who said that FSU would be interested in hearing what the Big 12 might have to offer, and he believes that the contract caters too much to basketball and the traditional powers in Duke and the University of North Carolina. I’m not calling Haggard a liar and that may be true, but it has been reported that the member schools of the ACC have not been distributed the new contract with ESPN so it is tough to know where he received that information. As I haven’t seen the contract either I can’t really comment on that aspect, but if it does “favor” basketball one reason could be that there are more basketball games every season that ESPN can televise just based on the season length and that they play more than just on Saturdays. Again, I don’t know if that’s the case, and for Dr. Barron to make that one of his four major points in his email memo sent out today just shows how weak the case for moving really is and how motivated it is by the new TV deal (which is only one part of the equation).
The third point Dr. Barron makes is that “the Big 12 has some big football schools that match up with FSU”. Traditionally the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma have had fantastic programs (though both had down years this past season). The rest of the conference? Not so much. At the moment the Big 12 does have the better football and is a conference with a ton of parity, but you would have to be crazy to think that Baylor and Oklahoma State will be as good as they were last season without Robert Griffin III and Brandon Weeden , respectively. The ACC has been the second worst BCS Conference lately and moving to the Big 12 would be a challenge in the short term, but over the next few years there is no telling whether or not the University of Miami, Virginia Tech, or Clemson University along with FSU could return the ACC to respectability. The Big 12 is the better football conference, but the difference in the long term is marginal at best (and the differences in basketball… the only other revenue sport at most universities…is just about enough to call it a wash).
Dr. Barron’s fourth and final argument about moving is that the “Big 12 contract (which actually isn’t signed yet) is rumored to be $2.9 million more per year than the ACC contract. We need this money to be competitive”. There’s no arguing that FSU does need the money, but since that contract hasn’t been signed the almost $3 million figure may be misleading. There are also other financial aspects to consider, such as travel expenses or the advertising and marketing costs for school’s athletic departments. Payouts for bowl games and for BCS championship games are other factors to be considered as well. Lastly, the Big 12 is a conference that does not share revenue equally, so a school like Texas which is the biggest draw for the conference is always going to have more money in the athletic department budget than a newcomer like Florida State. Why put yourself at a competitive disadvantage before you ever play a game in that conference?
This talk about switching conferences is probably much to do about nothing and will not happen. For all we know the Big 12 might not even have interest in taking FSU in, and may not even give Andy Haggard the time of day that he seems to want. In my humble opinion staying in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the time being is the only wise play for the Seminoles, at least until we have concrete information about what is available at the moment and what should be available at a later date. With the current Bowl Championship Series contracts set to expire in 2014 the payout structures may be different and it could be possible that staying in the ACC and competing for conference titles and a berth into whatever playoff or postseason scenarios come out that deal would be a financial more stable decision. My gut feeling is that the Noles athletic department along with school president Barron will come to the right decision and remain in the Atlantic Coast Conference at least until we know what happens with the BCS situation down the road, but I really hope that Barron does not receive a call from the 469 area code that even gives the Seminoles a chance to jump ship for that quick buck.