Warchant.com spoke with Florida State University President Eric Barron last week about a wide range of topics concerning athletics at FSU including the canceled West Virginia football game, the progress of the indoor practice facility, an evaluation of the work by athletic director Randy Spetman and how the overall economic situation at the school affects the athletic program.
D.C. Reeves: How important are athletics to this university, and what makes them so important at Florida State in particular?
Eric Barron: There are a lot of different factors. One is I enjoy it thoroughly personally, another is that it is the number one way alumni come back and connect with their university. The whole presence of winning sports on all sorts of different levels is another opportunity for students to excel. It certainly changes the campus environment to be able to be out there and root for the team or just look at everybody rushing the court in basketball or the excitement over a big game in football. So there are just many, many facets.
A lot of schools see increases in admissions when big teams win. We have an application set that is way beyond what we can accept anyway, but these things do make a difference. So there are a lot of different factors of why athletics are a great thing to have.
D.C.: Since you've been on the job, how much feedback do you receive from students or alumni regarding athletics?
EB: There are a lot of questions and comments about it. A lot of curiosity. People have different things that they like. We have die-hard baseball fans, die-hard football fans and die-hard basketball fans. It really depends on who you're talking about. I have large numbers of people who tell me 'Why do I not hear more about academics?' So it's all over the place. But uniformly, people are proud when we do well, no matter what it is. But athletics can probably generate more e-mails than just about any other topic. With very strong opinions - it's either A or B - there's usually very little in between.
D.C.: How important are home football games for Florida State, and how much do you think losing the West Virginia game hurt FSU economically for the upcoming season?
EB: We would have made a substantial amount of revenue off of the West Virginia game. Plus it would be a team that had a national reputation, so beating them helps develop a season and develop your ranking and that's important. Now obviously, on the one hand, West Virginia, you look at them and say 'You didn't need to do that.' And on the other hand, West Virginia is looking and saying 'You (the ACC) didn't need to take two teams out of the Big East (Pitt and Syracuse).'
And (West Virginia) is playing a little bit of a game in claiming that they're going to keep the game that follows (the 2013 game in Morgantown, W. Va.) because they know the ACC will go to a longer game season in league and that means we might not be able to play it, so it's a little bit of a game there. And if you knew that far enough in advance, you'd fix it. But this isn't far enough in advance. It's a very, very difficult situation, but there is not much you can do about it. I've never seen people work so hard to find a team to play.
D.C.: What is your feeling about the football program's indoor practice facility?
EB: It's going to be built, and when the call went out for funds - and I worked on that call myself - people chipped in. So it's going to be built, it's good.
There's only one problem with it, and it's that you have to pay maintenance year in, year out. So there's a cost to that that's not going to go away. It's not just building it. So that will be a challenge for athletics and boosters to support that. But it's going to happen, so this is good.
D.C.: Any update on the timetable for the construction of the IPF?
EB: Well they'll move very quickly. It has to be bonded, and any bonding issues has to go to my trustees and the Board of Governors. So that will take time in itself because I think even the Board of Governors have to have any bonding issue 30 to 60 days in advance and my Board of Trustees has to have it first. So you're not talking about turning it around instantly because we're just working on the bonding right now. And then football season is going to come and we're not going to want to do it then, so I have the feeling they'll jump all over it as soon as football season ends and have it ready by the 2013 season, that's what I bet.
D.C.: FSU athletic director Randy Spetman's contract expires in less than a year. How do you feel he has done in his time here?
EB: It's hard to argue against the data. So what do you have? The other AD's elect them as their chair nationally - that's an interesting thing that occurs. All these teams are successful. The highest two years in our history in the Director's Cup and going into the spring at No. 2, which is certainly the highest we've ever been. No compliance issues. A lot of academic success stories. That's a pretty good record.
We've just done a survey of athletics - we're not done yet - to get feedback on how all of athletics is functioning. So we'll have even a lot more information here. But, there are not too many people who can claim that kind of success with an athletic program.
D.C.: Is there any timetable for a decision on Spetman's contract?
EB: Once we're inside a year, which we are, it's time to start talking about it. But we've just gone through the legislative cycle and we're not done yet with a lot of financial issues coming out of that legislative cycle. So I need a little time.
D.C.: Considering how the program has transformed the past decade, what are your thoughts on this year's basketball team?
EB: It's fantastic. It couldn't be healthier to have winter/spring sports and solid fall sports because then you're bringing people back to Tallahassee all the time. You have that excitement all the time. So it's absolutely great to see a team beat Duke twice, beat North Carolina twice, that's phenomenal. I can take all of that, but I'll tell you the best part was seeing all of those guys on the court after beating North Carolina (in the ACC Tournament). They just had a good time.
D.C.: There has been talk of Florida State increasing its control of the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center. It was even mentioned as something the school could acquire in the latest state budget. Are there any plans to do anything with the Civic Center?
EB: There are all sorts of issues surrounding the Civic Center. And a lot of it, because it involves legal issues right now, we're not really talking about because they have to be resolved. But I would say that we know we have to find a way to have a better facility. And we know that it's been struggling financially. And this is not a statement about Tallahassee, civic centers all over the country, especially in medium sized cities, are struggling. It's part of why the economy is struggling. That facility is very important to Florida State because we need to have a facility. Otherwise you can't do basketball, otherwise you can't do commencement. So the best thing to say at this particular time is that a lot of heads are being put together to figure out a way that this civic center is better than it is right now.
It's very important to the community, and it's a shared facility. Any kind of shared facility is tricky. And money hasn't been put into maintenance and making the place look good in a long time because the money hasn't been there to do it. We have a strong interest in making sure the community needs are served and that FSU has a place we can play basketball.
D.C.: Is there more motivation to improve the Civic Center based on the recent success of the basketball team?
EB: Your facilities are an important part of recruiting. A lot of our teams, they would tell you that facilities have been an important part of our recruiting. The Civic Center looks pretty drab these days.
D.C: How would you evaluate the overall success of Florida State athletics in the past year?
EB: Isn't it fantastic that every team you look at is out there competing to be great, going to postseason play? Some are better than others, but you know, the runs for soccer and volleyball were fantastic. ACC Champs (in basketball) was wonderful and beating Notre Dame (in football) was a lot of fun. So it's a very healthy athletic program. It could always use more money, but it's a very successful athletic program.
D.C.: The state government continues to slash the budgets of universities throughout Florida. Can that affect Florida State's athletic programs and does it affect them?
EB: We've had a long history where except for the student athletic fee, no dollars from this state goes to athletics. From tuition, and certainly not from the state, that wouldn't even be legal. And we've watched the academic budgets being cut severely, six years in a row - that's really tough to take - while there has been some growth in athletics. There are a lot of cases of schools, including a noted rival (Florida) who give back quite a bit for academics. Certainly our program and the boosters give back to make sure the university is successful. So in that way, the budget of the university doesn't really affect the athletic budget except for the fact that - we would always like it if we got a little bit more on the university side if the athletic program is really successful. And this has gone up and down over the years depending on what the need has been. I sort of feel like the boosters have been generous in terms of their contributions, I do think athletics needs more, but the university is not in a position to give it.