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July 24, 2011
PINEHURST, N.C. - Twenty years ago this month, the game changed for Florida State.
Joining fellow independent powers like Penn State and Miami in an exodus to conference affiliation, the Seminoles made the leap to the Atlantic Coast Conference on July 1, 1991.
Twenty years later, it's hard to argue the move in terms of performance: In 19 seasons, Florida State has won two national championships, 12 ACC titles and has raked in well over $100 million in revenue with its conference tie-in.
"Philosophically, nothing has changed," said Bob Goin, who served as Florida State's athletic director when the move was made. He was the Seminoles' AD from 1990-94. "You're still affiliated with great universities that are well-respected throughout this nation. We've won national championships, it's a great conference."
Florida State has also served as a cornerstone for the league's football reputation - for better or worse - since its first conference game in 1992.
It's made the others really rise up, especially with the dominance (Florida State) had early," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Now they've made an impact, and it's time for us to get back in the mix and get back to the top of the league. Hopefully we can do that if we keep playing well, recruiting well and coaching well."
But the surge of the Southeastern Conference in the past half decade - a league that also courted Florida State during the same time it moved to the ACC - coupled with a relatively weak level of competition in the ACC has sparked much debate about what a move to the SEC would mean to the Seminoles now.
Not only has an SEC team won the past five national championships, it has dwarfed the ACC's current television contract. The SEC rakes in about $205 million per year in its ESPN deal compared to the ACC's $155 million take. Add to that, halving eight SEC teams on the schedule would certainly boost attendance numbers compared to ACC foes. Florida State will host N.C. State, Maryland, Miami and Virginia at home this year.
"If it's all about money, maybe (the SEC is) a better fit," Goin said. "But if you work in philosophy and the opportunities that the ACC gives and the quality of people, I don't know. I also believe that I don't think that Florida State ought to ride in on Florida's coattails. I don't think they should be chasing Florida. They should stand on their own two feet. I believed that then and I believe it now."
FSU paces ACC football surge
Former ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan oversaw the nation's top basketball conference in the early 1990s. National darlings like North Carolina and Duke helped the league land a $17 million per year television contract for basketball alone, a figure that no other conference came close to matching. But the football contract paid just $3 million a year.
So as Corrigan lobbied fervently for a ninth ACC member, Florida State was at the top of his list.
"For 10 years, (Florida State) was playing for the national championship almost every year so they had the most significant program in the United States in that period," said Corrigan, who was replaced by current ACC commissioner John Swofford in 1997. "But more recently, they've fallen on little harder times. But to bring someone in your league who was going to play every year for the national championship - we were doing that in basketball, but we weren't doing that in football.
"My feeling as commissioner was to buck up our football. So that was the biggest thing that happened during my 10 years as commissioner to bring them in, and we were delighted to have them. They came in, and from the very first day they were a wonderful member."
Florida State lost just two conference games in the 1990s and carried the torch for the league by playing in four national title games in a five-year span (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000). And despite lackluster performances from its two marquee traditional football powers - FSU and Miami - in recent years, the league locked in a 12-year, $1.86 billion TV contract in 2010, which stood as a a record until the SEC inked its deal less than a year later.
The 'Big Dog'
While there was plenty of discussion about which league to choose in 1991 - there was a faction of decision-makers who believed SEC was the better fit at the time - Goin liked the fact that FSU would be the top team in the league, he liked the ACC's academic reputation and he liked the idea of breaking away from the Florida Gators.
"I thought our football program was better than most of those (SEC teams)," Goin said. "But I also knew that we were going to be on national television most of the time. We were going to be the big dog, there's no question about it. We weren't going to be suppressed by a league that was getting a little tired of seeing us on TV as an independent.
"We knew that we could survive in football, we've won two national titles since we went in there. Florida State has been to major bowls and have been going to a bowl game ever since. Nothing has diminished. I think some of the schools in the SEC are wishing they were Florida State more than Florida State wishing they were them."
Both Goin and Corrigan, the two key pieces of the deal, say they understand the groundswell of fans who believe a leap to the SEC would be beneficial to the Seminoles program today. But they believe it may not the perfect solution that many make it out to be.
"Things run up and run down. You're up for a while, and then all of a sudden everyone says 'What the hell happened to the other guys?' The pendulum swings, I don't pay attention to that.," Corrigan said. "I think the SEC has been very, very good the last few years and I think the ACC has not been that good. But that doesn't mean that's going to stay that way? Don't you think Florida State is going to be really good? I do. From what I can see and read is that things are going well."
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