With rumors of Florida State moving from the ACC to the Big XII, Florida State University president Eric Barron had little to say, but what he said was spot on. Barron essentially weighed the pros and cons on a move to the Big XII and left the university’s options open. Barron said that the school is presently “committed” to the ACC. However, Barron left future realignment open as a possibility. But essentially, Florida State has to do what’s best for Florida State and if that means moving to the Big XII then so be it. The total criteria and implications of a move however, go beyond just dollars and cents although they do play a large factor.
Most know by now that Florida State athletics is enduring a $2.4 million budget shortfall this year and with leaving the ACC also comes a $20-25 million buyout. Most also know that the ACC is a revenue sharing league while the Big XII is not; although the Seminoles with all the Big XII offers would increase revenue by an estimated $2.9 million per year, the travel budget would increase by roughly 40 percent. With that said, the new travel costs may not cover the nearly 3 million new dollars in revenue. However, there is speculation that under a new Big XII TV deal that is being negotiated at the moment, Florida State could make much more, but that remains to be seen. The belief however, that the ACC has no future or that FSU has no future in the ACC is a farce.
Among the FSU alumni, fans and boosters, moving from the ACC to the Big XII appears to be a populous move and to some point for good reason. But Barron said it best when he said, “We can’t afford to have conference affiliation governed by emotion.” The gripes are largely that the ACC is a weak football league, the officiating too often goes against the Seminoles, and it is North Carolina centered which Barron states himself. Five scheduled Labor Day games in the past eight years for the Florida State football program and Thursday night road games in Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Chestnut Hill and soon Blacksburg also rubs the fan base the wrong way from time to time as well. It didn’t help matters when ACC commissioner John Swofford dismissed concerns when the issue of FSU leaving the conference was brought about.
While the move is popular and ACC football is without a doubt inferior to the Big XII, there are some athletic advantages to playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The ACC has two traditional basketball powers in North Carolina and Duke while the Big XII has just one in Kansas. Sure, schools like Texas, Kansas State and Baylor have had great seasons here and there, but the tradition pales in comparison to Duke and Carolina. The ACC top to bottom is not only a better men’s basketball conference, it’s a better women’s league as well and a better league for sports like baseball and women’s soccer; both are sports that FSU has excelled at in recent history. But the money maker is football and any change from the ACC to the Big XII would be done for football purposes.
While Florida State and its fans have grown weary of the ACC, FSU athletics have flourished since becoming a member of the conference in 1992. On the football field, Florida State has won their first and only two national championships under the ACC banner. Florida State is a power year in and year out on the baseball diamond and over the past five years have become a forced to be reckoned with on the hardwood, both men and women.
While the ACC is a North Carolina centric conference and rightfully so with four of the 12 schools coming from the state, the conference has held many prominent events within close proximity to the Seminoles. Jacksonville has had the ACC baseball tournament, St. Petersburg has held the men’s basketball tournament and five of the seven ACC football title games have been held in the state of Florida. The ACC lost its bowl tie with the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, but still has a bowl game (Champs Sports Bowl) in Orlando and another (Chick-Fil-A Bowl) in Atlanta, which is just about four hours north of Tallahassee. The ACC’s football conference champion at least for the time being, goes to Miami for the Orange Bowl. While the ACC has been and will likely continue to be North Carolina centric, the conference has not come close to neglecting FSU or the state of Florida.
But as good as the move to the ACC has been to Florida State, Florida State has been even better to the ACC. The Seminoles have won the conference two national championships in football and three in men’s outdoor track and field prior to NCAA sanctions. Florida State has been a mainstay at the top of the college baseball landscape and are on the cusp of reaching the top tier of both men’s and women’s basketball. It is also worth noting that Florida State’s women’s soccer and volleyball teams have reached the national semifinals in recent years.
At this point, Florida State is arguably the crown jewel of the ACC. While the commissioner has yet to publicly acknowledge that, he has to know it and keeping the ‘Noles in the ACC should be a very high priority.
There is a notion floating about that Florida State would have trouble competing in the Big XII; this is false. While the Big XII is definitely a better football conference than the ACC, the move would be at best a lateral move in many other sports. But just in football alone, Florida State would be just fine.
The SEC is by far the best football conference in the country and over the past five years, Florida State is 4-4 against the SEC. In two of those five years, Florida State finished just 7-6 and those four wins have come against teams other than an underachieving Florida. Over the past five seasons, the Seminoles have also knocked off Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide and a South Carolina team that won the SEC East in 2010. Both of those victories came on neutral fields. As for the Big XII, Florida State was blasted by Oklahoma in Norman in 2010, but nearly pulled off a victory over the then top-ranked Sooners in Tallahassee last season despite playing with a 165-pound freshman backup quarterback. Also with a backup freshman quarterback, Florida State with just a 6-6 record, concluded the 2009 season by beating up on the Big XII’s newest member, West Virginia, in the Gator Bowl. As far as competing in the Big XII goes, the ‘Noles will be just fine.
The ACC has not been what many thought it would when it brought in Miami, Virginia Tech and eventually Boston College, but is still a very capable conference. The 2-13 record in BCS games is abysmal, but just last season, the conference showed that it has worth. Three ACC schools all handily beat Florida, Ohio State and defending national champion Auburn. Sure, all three of those schools were down, but all were solid programs and bowl teams. Ohio State, who lost 24-6 to Miami, beat eventual Big Ten champion Wisconsin. Ohio State wound up losing to 6-6 Florida in the Gator Bowl. Florida who had to score a late touchdown to avoid being shut out at home by Florida State, lost heartbreakers to South Carolina and SEC East champion Georgia. Auburn went on to finish the year 8-5 and remains a solid win on anyone’s resume’.
During Auburn’s national championship year of 2010, the Tigers played in a lot of close games, but the only team to take them to overtime was the ACC’s Clemson Tigers. Clemson beat Auburn 38-24 last season and the teams will kick off 2012 in Atlanta.
While Florida State would be no one’s whipping boy in the Big XII, it’s no secret that Florida State has underachieved in the ACC. Despite having seemingly more talent, the Seminoles have still managed to lose their fair share of ACC games over the past decade. While there is no excuse for it, a big reason for it is familiarity. After teams see each other and coach against each other for a number of years, conference foes tend to know one another much better than non-conference opponents. It’s the reason why the great USC teams of the early millennium could beat up on Auburn, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Michigan and then lose to a team like Oregon State. It’s also the reason why a team like Boise State can upset teams like Oregon, Virginia Tech and Georgia and then lose to a Nevada or a TCU.
While the Big XII right now is a far more attractive conference from a football standpoint, there are numerous criteria to consider before making a move. While the ACC is North Carolina centric, the Big XII is Texas centric which is a further trip for Florida State any way you spin it.
Stability also favors the ACC; while there are rumors of the collapse of the ACC altogether, recent history suggest otherwise. When the Seminoles joined the conference in 1992, FSU became the ACC’s ninth member. Since then, the ACC without losing a single member, has added three schools and that number will soon become five. The Big XII was not formed until 1996 and it came as a blending of the Big 8 and Southwest Conference. In just over more than a year, the Big XII has lost three schools to the Big Ten and SEC.
As before mentioned, the ACC is a profit sharing conference while the Big XII is not. The Seminoles in the long run could make more money in the Big XII, but there is a question whether or not it’ll be enough to compensate for new travel costs and the more than $20 million that they will have to pay to the ACC. Furthermore, Florida State is not going to receive much preferential treatment from the Big XII as compared to a Texas or an Oklahoma. When rumors of a Texas move to the Pac-12 came up, the Big XII acquiesced to every need of the Longhorns which led to the Longhorn Network and to Texas A&M bolting to the SEC. The Longhorn Network to this point, is an utter failure and one of the most bitter, intense, exciting end of the year rivalries is gone for probably at least a decade. Seeing the effect that the Big XII coddling Texas had on the conference may be one of the reasons as to why ACC commissioner Swofford has yet to do the same to FSU. Also worth considering is if Texas plays the Pac-12 or SEC card in the future, where does that leave the Big XII?
Texas and Texas A&M however, may not be the only rivalry killed as a result of conference realignment. A move to the Big XII would also put Florida State in the position of losing its rivalry with Miami. Before Miami joined the ACC, the Seminoles played both the Hurricanes and Gators non-conference so scheduling would not be an issue. But with the turmoil currently surrounding Miami, it is not an appealing program to the Big XII. If the Seminoles jumped ship and left the ACC in shambles, Miami may not be so eager to oblige Florida State with that non-conference match-up that is sure to sell out Doak Campbell Stadium every other year.
If a move to the Big XII can strongly benefit Florida State long term, it is a move that should be explored. But as far as athletic funding goes, the Seminoles will have some stiff competition. Texas has virtually limitless resources while Oklahoma is not far behind. The contributions made to the Kansas basketball program is enough to keep the Jayhawks afloat and look at what all the money that T. Boone Pickens has pumped into Oklahoma State has done for that program. Newcomer West Virginia is the only major program in its state and has a devoted fan base and devoted boosters. The Big XII could be beneficiary to the Seminoles, but much of the competition will have significantly stronger financial resources which may or may not be a problem for FSU.
While unfortunately it has become cliche’ in this day and age, the guys and girls who wear the garnet and gold on the field are student athletes and students first. The ACC is a much better academic conference than the Big XII which does matter; granted, there are some very good institutions in the Big XII like Baylor, but the ACC has a certain academic prestige to it that aside from the Big Ten, few major athletic conference have. Being lumped with elite institutions of higher learning such as Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Boston College, Virginia and Maryland is a huge plus and one of the reasons as to why FSU can attract Rhodes scholars like track and field star Garrett Johnson or former safety Myron Rolle. The University of Miami gets most of its perception from the football teams of the last 30 years, but Miami is in fact a private school and an excellent academic institution.
20 years ago, the University of Florida was considered a far better institution than Florida State academically. Today, Florida State is one of the 100 best colleges in the entire country and that list includes schools like MIT and the entire Ivy League. There’s no real way to measure how much if any of that is a result of being an ACC school, but being affiliated with schools like Boston College, Wake Forest and Virginia has at the very least, helped to preserve that superb academic persona.
What the future holds for Florida State University athletics or for college football as a whole is highly uncertain. The entire country seems to be undergoing a giant overhaul, but for FSU, they have as president Eric Barron suggested plenty of options. The Big XII is certainly a possibility for Florida State, but that decision should be made on not just whether the athletic program would be better off, but if there is long term stability in the Big XII Conference. While the Big XII could be an option, it is not a must. There are a lot of advantages to playing in the ACC and whatever decisions take place over the next several years, should be based in certainty on what is best for Florida State University and not done hastily out of emotion or outcry.
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