An inevitable spike in travel costs for Florida State's athletic program have been at the forefront of the the debate about FSU's viability in the Big 12. A college athletics consulting firm suggests to Warchant.com that FSU's travel budget could increase up to 40 percent if it realigned, but that the expense would not outweigh the potential profitability of a move to the Big 12.
Russell Wright, Managing Director of Collegiate Consulting, Inc., estimates that Florida State would see its travel budget increase as much as 40 percent with the move from the ACC to the Big 12. According to Florida State's projected athletic budget for the current 2011-12 academic year, Florida State is slated to spend $4.36 million on team travel for its 18 varsity sports. A 40 percent increase on that would amount to about a $1.74 million bump in travel costs.
"The travel costs are definitely going to go up," said Wright, whose firm has been contracted for studies by the athletic departments at more than 100 colleges and universities including 70 Division I institutions. "But 40 percent would be the high end."
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The 2011-12 projected budget does not factor in postseason play. However, FSU's most recent report filed to the NCAA which outlined the program's expenses for the 2010-11 season - a year in which all 19 FSU athletic teams made the NCAA postseason - said that FSU spent $5.78 million in travel. Even at the higher figure from 2010-11, a 40 percent spike would add up to $2.31 million in additional travel costs. The school reported to the NCAA that it spent $5.16 million on travel during the 2009-10 season, a figure that falls between the 2010-11 number and the 2011-12 projection.
The athletic department reported a $2.4 million budget shortfall to the FSU Athletics Board earlier this month, a deficit that could have played a role in the overall operating projection entering the year.
Wright's estimate of 40 percent differs somewhat from FSU president Eric Barron's memo to FSU fans earlier this month in which he outlined some potential pitfalls with a move to the Big 12. He addressed concern for steep travel expenses if FSU were to realign, saying "one estimate is that the travel by plane required by FSU to be in the Big 12 may exceed the $2.9 million difference in the contract - actually giving us fewer dollars than we have now to be competitive with the Big 12 teams."
The $2.9 million figure has been a point of debate since it was derived from comparing the recently inked ACC deal, which averages about $17 million per school per year, to a rumored $20 million per school, per year Big 12 deal (yet to be completed) that only involves the Big 12's current 10-team setup. That rumored Big 12 deal would not factor in the value of adding Florida State, a potential 12th team and a championship game. If Florida State decided to realign, the discrepancy between the two TV contracts would increase well above the $2.9 million figure cited by Barron.
But Wright believes even $2.9 million wouldn't be cancelled by the extra travel that Big 12 conference membership would require.
"I don't see it being that high. There's no way that (added revenue with a move to the Big 12) gets eaten up all by the travel costs," Wright said. "They're just wrong, actually."
Florida State's football team was projected to spend $950,000 in travel this past fall. The Seminoles played five road games (Wake Forest, Boston College, Clemson, Florida and Duke) and played in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando.
While a one-page outline of the projected athletic budget for the upcoming 2012-13 season was presented to the athletic board earlier this month, it did not have a specific line item for travel expenses. An FSU athletic department official said that the figure had not been finalized yet.
Wright says that the final price tag on athletic travel is misconceived by some because they base a travel cost increase on the actual distance traveled. For example, the average road trip from Tallahassee to a Big 12 destination averages between 200-250 miles longer than the current ACC setup, roughly a 50 percent increase in average miles to travel for conference play. But unless it is an extreme case - like San Diego State moving to play all the way in the Big East - he says the biggest eater of travel dollars comes in destinations.
"The distance isn't so much the issue if you're flying as the airports," Wright said. "If you're going into metropolitan airports, then obviously your pricing is better, and that's the whole hook."
Wright said there are several remote destinations that would affect FSU's bottom line in the Big 12 like Lubbock, Texas, Ames, Iowa and Manhattan, Kan., but pointed out that those trips would compare cost-wise to Florida State's current ACC docket of Blacksburg, Va. Charlottesville, Va. and Syracuse, N.Y. Currently, all of Florida State's sports are already flying to every ACC school for road competition except Georgia Tech, Miami and Clemson in certain cases.
Also, the $5.78 million FSU spent on travel in 2010-11, cited in the report to the NCAA, includes more than city-to-city transportation. The figure includes "air and ground travel, meals and incidentals for competition including preseason, regular season and postseason." It also includes the value of the use of school-owned vehicles or airplanes.
So while the cost of getting from Point A to Point B would increase, there would be little or no change in the cost of meals, incidentals or lodging for FSU's teams according to Wright.
Wright said that in the end, the potential financial outlook with a move to the Big 12 could prove beneficial one for Florida State financially and it's one that is worth investigating.
"You're remiss if you don't look at it, you really are," Wright said. "They're not doing their due diligence if they don't at least do that. You're doing what's prudent for the best of the school.
"To me, it's a no-brainer to at least look at it."