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May 13, 2012

Column: It's all about the money

The conference expansion rumors involving Florida State took real substance over the weekend when Board of Trustees Chair Andy Haggard blasted the ACC's new television deal with ESPN/ABC and opened up the door for potential talks with the Big 12.

Florida State president Eric Barron tempered those comments when he stated through a press release that the school is not seeking nor considering an alternative to the ACC.

If that's really the case it begs the question: Why not?

Florida State athletics is at a financial crossroad. There is a projected $2.4 million dollar deficit next year and it's unlikely that these financial shortcomings will dramatically improve down the road with a dull home football schedule and increasing operating costs. And it's looking more and more like new ACC television deal will barely make a dent on FSU's balance sheet.

According to Yahoo! Sports writer Dan Wetzel, the new deal with ESPN/ABC is back loaded such that much of reported $17 million per school won't be seen for several years. In fact, Wetzel adds that the initial bump in revenue will only be just over $1 million and that schools will receive around $12 million next season.

However, nobody seems to know exactly how the deal is structured, what amount of money each school will receive (or when), or how exactly third tier television rights will be handled. That's because the ACC won't release the actual contract. In fact, if Wetzel is correct, ACC members don't even have a copy of the agreement.

Of course, the PR department at the ACC has been willing to give their version of how beneficial the contract is for the member schools. Keep in mind that these are the same people that vigorously defended the league's football officials last fall.

While a lot of focus has been on the nature and extent of the third tier television rights retained by ACC schools (ACC PR folks say it's the same as it was last year), that topic is pretty irrelevant to the issue at hand. That issue is of course money.

Even if Wetzel's sources are completely off base and FSU will see every penny of that $17 million next year (I really doubt that) that figure is still substantially less than what the Big 12 could offer. And if in fact the television agreement is back loaded, the financial disparity between FSU and the schools in the power conferences could get wider than the Grand Canyon over the next few years. Nevertheless, school president Eric Barron maintains that the school is perfectly content to remain in the ACC.

Missing something? Me too.

If Barron is truly happy with what the ACC has done for FSU and has no intentions of exploring other options such as the Big 12, it's hard to see how FSU's major sports programs will be able to compete at an elite level in the coming years. In addition to athletics facing a budget deficit and facilities, like the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center, in desperate need of renovations, the SEC is about to get a major influx of cash.

Figures are purely speculative as this stage but it's pretty clear that the SEC's new TV deal will be worth well in excess of $20 million per school. That means that every school from the four major football conferences will rake in $20 million or more annually in the very near future. That's 48 FBS schools that will have substantially more financial resources are a result of television than Florida State. That includes the likes of Iowa State, Colorado, Northwestern and Vanderbilt. But it's schools like Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Auburn and South Carolina that could make the biggest impact since the directly compete with FSU on the recruiting trail.

Most believe that Barron's attachment to the ACC stems from the overall academic prowess of the conference. It is true that seven ACC schools ranked in the top 40 in the latest US News and World Report Top Colleges List, which is by far the most of any major conference. The Big 12 had zero schools ranked in the top 40 by the way.

Academic rankings can make for good ammunition in a message board debate with a rival fan but have very little relevance in the real world. Haggard said it best in his Saturday interview with Warchant.com when he said "no FSU graduate puts on his resume or interviews for a job saying they are in the same conference as Duke and Virginia."

In fact, academics at Florida State's could be improved should the school join the Big 12.

It's not uncommon or a school's athletic department to donate money back to the school. In fact, Florida has done it on several occasions and FSU did it as recently as 2009 when the athletic department donated $100,000 to the university's libraries. Should FSU join a conference that can provide the athletic department with a significant increase in revenue, it's reasonable to assume that some of that money will find its way back to the university. But that certainly won't happen as long as the athletic department is suffering from a budget deficit.

This is a case where it really is "all about the money."

Florida State fans have grown accustomed to being a significant player in the major college sports arena. If that is going to continue, the administration better wake up and smell the balance sheet because the numbers just don't add up.

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