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May 14, 2012

Florida State president no fan of Big 12

I was told Monday the pros and cons of expansion in the Big 12 will definitely be discussed at the league's meetings in Kansas City at the end of this month, and there's probably a good chance Florida State will come up, even if it's just to reflect on the twists and turns in Tallahassee over the past week.

That conversation can now include an email that became a headline across college athletics Monday from Florida State president Eric Barron.

The email to school followers wanting an answer about any potential conference move included Barron openly questioning a move by Florida State to the Big 12.

The email followed public comments made Saturday by FSU board of trustees chairman Andrew Haggard to Warchant.com saying the Seminoles, who are facing a $2.4 million athletic department deficit for 2012-13, should explore any conference situation that might be a better fit (financially or otherwise).

"On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I can say unanimously we would be in favor of seeing what the Big 12 might have to offer. We have to do what it is in Florida State's best interest," Haggard told Warchant.com.

So, in light of that, consider Monday's email from Barron, the dean of the geosciences school at the University of Texas from 2006-08:

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


So let's go point by point and address Barron's email:

1) Barron says the information presented about the ACC contract that started the blogosphere discussion was not correct.

If Barron is referring to the Orangebloods.com report last Wednesday, it merely pointed out that cash-strapped Florida State had more of an opportunity to maximize its third-tier revenue in the Big 12 than in the ACC because schools in the Big 12 own their third-tier rights, whereas most of those rights are shared in the ACC.

Third-tier inventory is comprised of football and basketball games and any other athletic events that go unselected by the Tier 1 and Tier 2 TV partners. In the Big 12, schools own all of their Tier 3 rights, which includes at least one football game and a handful of basketball games as well as women's basketball, baseball, softball and Olympic sports.

FSU would have more third-tier inventory to package and sell in the Big 12 than in the ACC. And in Florida (population 19 million), it's hard to gauge what those third-tier rights could command. All of this would take some vision and leadership by Florida State to make happen.

Texas thought it would have to spend money to launch its own third-tier network initially. Then, Texas figured it might get roughly $3 million per year for its third-tier rights. The Longhorns ended up getting $15 million per year for 20 years from ESPN. Fox was also a bidder.

Speaking of Fox, Oklahoma is close to announcing a third-tier rights agreement with Fox that will add money to OU's TV revenue outside of the money it already receives from the conference.

I was told by an industry expert Florida State "could probably land somewhere between Oklahoma and Texas in terms of third-tier revenue in the Big 12."

But even more than Tier 3 revenue is the overall compensation FSU stands to gain when you combine its Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 TV money together in the Big 12. By the most conservative of estimates, it reaches between $22 million and $25 million per year (with FSU getting a projected $20 million from Tier 1 and Tier 2 in the Big 12 and between $2 million and $5 million for Tier 3 rights annually).

2) Barron talks about unequal revenue sharing in the Big 12. The Big 12 now shares Tier 1 and Tier 2 money equally. That wasn't the case before realignment hit the Big 12 in 2010.

The unequal revenue Barron now refers to is at the Tier 3 level, which Florida State is uniquely equipped to exploit for itself (being in a populous state with a strong football brand and tradition).

Big 12 schools have also verbally agreed to a 13-year granting of TV rights back to the conference, which effectively bars any defections (since you can't take your TV rights with you).

3) Barron speculates on how the Big 12 would be split into divisions with 12 schools and complains about travel costs.

No one knows how divisions would be drawn in the Big 12 if the league returned to 12 schools. The new commissioner Bob Bowlsby would have some say in it, and he's still unpacking boxes.

Barron estimates FSU would only get an additional $2.9 million per year in revenue from the Big 12 ($20 million) as opposed to the ACC ($17.1 million) and that would not cover the costs of flying to remote destinations in the Big 12, such as Lubbock and Ames. Barron even says FSU's bus trips would go away.

First of all, if FSU could maximize its third-tier revenue, plus any potential increase in Big 12 TV money with addition of FSU, the Seminoles would stand to earn between $22 million and $25 million annually, if not more. Secondly, where is FSU taking buses in the ACC?

Here's a list of drive times by car from Florida State to the rest of the ACC?

Clemson - 6 hours 47 minutes
Wake Forest - 9 hours 34 minutes
North Carolina State - 10 hours 8 minute
Boston College - 22 hours 31 minutes
Maryland - 14 hours 41 minutes
Virginia Tech - 11 hours 3 minutes
Virginia - 12 hours 53 minutes
Georgia Tech - 4 hours 47 minutes
Miami - 7 hours 54 minutes
North Carolina - 10 hours 34 minutes
Duke - 10 hours 30 minutes

4) Barron says fans at opposing schools in the Big 12, especially at Iowa State, K-State, Kansas and West Virginia, would not buy up their allotment of tickets when playing at FSU.

Again, no one knows how the divisions would be drawn. Fan bases in the Big 12 tend to enjoy destination trips, and Florida State would certainly be one of those.

And if FSU ended up in a division with Kansas, K-State, Iowa State and West Virginia as well as a yet-to-be-determined addition, only a few of those would be home games each year with the rest of the home games against either Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, TCU or Baylor.

Would those games be worse than FSU's current ACC Atlantic Division opponents, which include N.C. State, Boston College, Maryland and Wake Forest (in addition to marquee foe Clemson)?

And the financial models for ticket sales should be predicated on your own fan base, not the 4,000 or so tickets sold to opposing teams. Those home ticket sales might improve dramatically if the fan base is energized about its conference. And according to local polls, FSU fans appear energized about a possible move to the Big 12.

5) Barron says Florida State would lose the rivalry with Miami (Fla.)

That wouldn't be clear until it was known how many conference games (8 or 9) there would be in the Big 12 if Florida State joined. If there was only 8 conference games, FSU would still have a chance to play Miami in non-conference action every year.

Because Florida State has basically been contracted to play Florida under the Florida State Control Board since 1958, FSU may run out of non-conference room for Miami(unless the Hurricanes became a candidate for the Big 12, which is unlikely. Miami is radioactive in the wake of the Nevin Shapiro scandal).

There's a better chance of Clemson becoming a candidate for the Big 12 than Miami.

So all of this is unclear at the moment.

6) Barron estimates FSU's buyout from the ACC at $20 million to $25 million and questions how FSU would pay for it. Barron even indicts the FSU boosters by saying they'd have to pay for it and that they don't currently contribute enough to support the athletic budget (hence the current deficit).

First of all, it seems no one pays full price to leave a conference. Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri certainly didn't pay full price to leave the Big 12. That's what lawyers are for.

Secondly, there could be a loan made to FSU by any new conference to be paid back over time or an effort by a new league to pay that tab outright by sharing the expenses. That would all have to be negotiated. Again, that's what good lawyers are for. (Sources have told Orangebloods.com, the Big 12 is loaning West Virginia up to half of its $20 million Big East buyout.)

7) Barron says Florida State's faculty is apparently "adamantly opposed to joining a conference that is academically weaker" in reference to the Big 12.

Florida and Vanderbilt, two members of the prestigious American Association of Universities, which recognizes top research schools in the U.S., have not been negatively impacted by being in the Southeastern Conference, which has not been known for its academics.

Haggard may have addressed this best in talking to Warchant.com, saying when Florida State grads seek jobs, they don't say they went to Florida State, which is in the same conference with Duke and Virginia. They stand on their Florida State education, which currently ranks No. 101 in the U.S. News and World report rankings for 2012.

Messages left with Haggard about Barron's email weren't immediately returned.

Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher told the Orlando Sentinel on Saturday, "If that is what's best for Florida State (jumping to the Big 12), then that's what we need to do."

At the ACC meetings on Monday, Fisher softened that stance a bit, saying the FSU administration will handle the matter, adding to reporters, "I'm not a decision-maker."

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds told the Austin America-Statesman Monday:

"There's no traction. There've been no conversations between Florida State and the Big 12."

And Dodds is right. There's been no contact between Florida State and the Big 12. But that could change after the Big 12 meetings in two weeks or after it becomes clear what the BCS and a potential four-team playoff in college football looks like at the end of the summer. That's when ESPN's exclusive negotiating window to renew its current $500 million TV contract with the BCS begins.

No matter how you add this up, Florida State is going to be seen as a wildcard in the realignment game for the foreseeable future for a couple reasons:

1) Haggard has expressed the FSU trustees would be unanimous in hearing what the Big 12 has to say.

2) The FSU fan base may be getting restless about life in the ACC, which puts the kind of pressure on trustees that lead to the same kinds of decisions made by regents and curators that we saw at Texas A&M and Missouri in their move to the SEC.

From the Big 12 perspective, things could get interesting at the league meetings in two weeks. While Dodds continues to champion a 10-member Big 12, Oklahoma president David Boren is on the record saying he'd like to see the league grow back to 12 to increase stability.

Bowlsby said at his introductory news conference when asked about expansion:

"I think the Big 12 can do anything the Big 12 wants to do. The landscape is changing quickly and we're going to need to change with it. ... It's not a geographic footprint anymore. We're talking about an electronic footprint."

Some in the Big 12 wonder if expansion will ultimately be Bowlsby's legacy as commissioner.

Bowlsby was not available for comment on Monday, according to a Big 12 official.

Bowlsby's ability to build a consensus and manage the two biggest voices in his conference could be tested early.

The Big 12 has not disbanded the expansion committee it had when TCU and West Virginia were invited to the league, sources said. And multiple sources in the Big 12 have said the league would be foolish not to take a look at Florida State from an expansion standpoint.

Calls to Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis, chairman of the Big 12 Board of Directors and chair of the league's expansion committee, were not immediately returned Monday.

So if Florida State and the Big 12 are to ever get together for a conversation, some differing viewpoints internally would most likely have to be rectified.

First, Barron and the FSU trustees would have to figure things out. And the Big 12 would have to determine if it wants to grow past 10.

But don't look for any sudden moves.

Stay tuned.


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