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May 14, 2012

Column: Barron's pro-ACC points are debatable

The FSU-Big 12 soap opera took another bizarre turn on Monday afternoon when Florida State president Eric Barron sent out an email in response to fan inquires regarding the potential for FSU leaving the ACC for the Big 12 The memo, which first appeared on Warchant.com's message boards, goes into great detail as to why the president feels the Big 12 is not a good fit for FSU.

First, it's unprecedented for a university president to write a detailed response to fans on a subject like conference expansion when reportedly the two sides haven't even touched base.

It's even more surprising that this memo followed a statement released on Saturday that said Florida State's commitment to the ACC "remains strong."

Barron's memo was so unorthodox that many fans originally thought it was a hoax. Warchant.com confirmed that the memo came from the president's office.

Addressing the points presented by Barron one by one:

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 third 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.

GW: The incorrect information about the school's third-tier rights was more a matter of form over substance. Unlike the SEC and Big 12, FSU does not have legitimate third tier television rights for football such that they can be sold for a significant amount. Since the contract between ACC and ESPN is held under lock and key somewhere in Greensboro, it's hard to pin down the exact nature of these rights. Based on the comments coming from the ACC, the effective loss of third tier TV rights kicked in last year rather than under this new deal. That doesn't change the fact that the arrangement adversely impacts FSU's bottom line compared to the Big 12 and SEC. The notion that FSU is "advantaged" by having third tier rights for women's basketball and Olympic sports is laughable.

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."

GW: Why is being rewarded for bringing in more revenue such a bad thing? This strict adherence to equal revenue sharing is a major problem with the ACC - FSU is the biggest conference draw TV wise in football, which is the main reason why ESPN just agreed to a deal worth over $3 billion. Nevertheless, the school receives the same share as Wake Forest or Duke. Why is this a positive point for the ACC?

Texas actually gets an equal share of the conference split from the conference television deal but retained full third tier rights. That allowed them to negotiate a separate deal (Longhorn Network). While FSU will never get the same monster deal that Texas obtained, the ability to cut a separate deal for these rights could bring in much needed additional revenue. That's something it simply can't do in the ACC.

Finally, so what if Texas brings gets more revenue from the Longhorn Network? It's not like Texas is a traditional competitor of FSU on the recruiting trail. The University of Florida receives far more revenue both from its SEC TV cut and from boosters. But unlike Texas, the Seminoles and Gators go toe-to-toe for nearly every elite recruit in the Southeast. The two also play each other on the field every year. On the other hand, Texas many not even end up in FSU's division, meaning the two would only play once in a while in football.

"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. ... 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."

DC: To assume that the annual payout to Big 12 teams will remain the same (it's expected to be $2.9 million per year more than the ACC without Florida State or another team included yet) is a very unsafe assumption. When teams are added, the TV contracts are always renegotiated. And considering the national brand power Florida State carries, you can be sure that the contract will increase dramatically. We're hearing it could be as much as $23 to $24 million per team if Florida State and another strong program were added to the Big 12. So yes, it's understandable that travel costs may go up with a move to the Big 12, but they certainly won't offset what could potentially be a $6 million to $7 million bump in revenue. And this doesn't even consider the possible backloading of the new ACC-ESPN contract mentioned by Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel over the weekend. That could make the gap substantially wider, at least over the next few years.

An excerpt of the Barron memo: 3a. "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..."

DC: There is no way this can be determined at this juncture. To assume that all of the Texas schools and both Oklahoma schools would automatically be in one division is far-fetched. First of all, if Barron is accurate on his guess that Florida State would be in a division with Kansas, KSU, ISU, West Virginia and a potential 12th team, the Texas/Oklahoma division would be massively better and stronger than the other division. We all know that competitive balance is sometimes cyclical (like the SEC East, which was worlds better than the West division 10-12 years ago and now that has flipped) but it wouldn't just be skewed based on wins and losses. You would have all of your strongest programs and biggest media markets in one division, which really wouldn't make much business sense.

4. "Few believe that the above teams (Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, and West Virginia) will fill our stadium with fans of these teams and so our lack of sales and ticket revenue would continue."

GW: As noted above, there's no way to predict which Big 12 teams will be in FSU's division and the scenario laid out by Barron looks like a reach. Even if this long shot divisional scenario played out, and assuming Clemson came along, this grouping, along with West Virginia, would still draw more interest and ticket sales than FSU's current Atlantic Division foes NC State, Wake Forest, Maryland, Boston College and soon be added Syracuse. And if we are going to play the guessing game when it comes to predicting potential Big 12 division, I've heard a scenario where FSU and West Virginia could be matched up with the other new team (Clemson?) and the Texas schools including Texas, Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor. That scenario would dramatically increase the viability of FSU's home football schedule. Throw in Florida as one of FSU's non-conference games and ticket sales and booster contributions would soar.

5. "We would lose the rivalry with University of Miami that does fill our stadium"

DC: There would be no way to know today that the FSU-Miami rivalry would be finished. What if Miami follows FSU to the Big 12, as some people have speculated? We know that FSU coach Jimbo Fisher isn't one to want to schedule marquee out of conference matchups, and of course if there was a choice between keeping Florida or Miami on the out of conference slate, the Gators would stay and the Hurricanes would go. But Barron took quite a leap to say that the rivalry would be over if Florida State leaves the ACC. That can't possibly be determined as fact right now. Miami and FSU could continue to play sporadically with home-and-home contracts every so often, and while that would spell the end of the annual rivalry, there is no telling what could happen down the road if Florida State was in another conference.

Also, if Barron is going to say FSU would be losing a rivalry "that does fill our stadium," you also have to consider what home games against Oklahoma, Texas, TCU, West Virginia and others would bring. There are only three teams in the ACC that would be guaranteed sellouts at Doak Campbell Stadium as it stands right now - Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech - two of which are not in FSU's division. That list would be much longer in the Big 12. So if Barron believes the biggest issue of the potential loss of an annual FSU-Miami rivalry is a loss of a sellout, that would certainly be offset by more opportunities for big games in a more talented conference.

6. "It will cost between $20 million and $25 million 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."

GW: Why was it left out that the Big 12 would likely pay a substantial portion (if not all) of FSU's exit fee? Heck the Big 12 paid half of West Virginia's $20 million buyout to the Big East and FSU is certainly a more valuable property than the Mountaineers (no offense Morgantown). And these buyouts are almost always negotiated down anyway.

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."

GW: I think Andy Haggard said it best when he pointed out that no graduate brags about conference affiliation when applying for a job. It's really hard to image that having schools like Duke and Virginia in the same conference has any real impact on FSU's academics. Also, being in the SEC, which is another "academically weaker" conference, hasn't exactly hurt Florida or Vanderbilt's standing in academia.

As noted in Monday's column, a profitable athletic department can benefit academics. For example, the Longhorn network is giving $5 million a year to academics for the first five years of the deal.



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