Florida State fans appear to be divided into thirds at the present moment, with a third of them wanting to stick with the ACC, the second third ready to bolt for the Big 12 and the last third willing to sit back and hope the SEC comes calling eventually.
Yes, it's the college football offseason, which means it's time to talk about realignment and the possibility of four eventual 16-team super conferences making it easier to set up some sort of Final Four and finally get that playoff most everyone wants to see -- the sport continues to have the most satisfying regular season but the least satisfying postseason. The Seminoles are the center of attention right now, with the chairman of the Board of Trustees, Andy Haggard, saying over the weekend he is indeed willing to listen to what the expansion-hungry Big 12 has to offer.
On the surface, FSU does not appear to have much in common with the Big 12, with the glaring exception that the conference features a pair of traditional football powers in Texas and Oklahoma, who have a combined 11 national titles between them. The 'Noles have been competing in what by all accounts is a basketball-first league in the ACC for two decades now, and while the rest of the athletic department has raised its level of play and the school's academics are also more respectable than they were a generation ago, pigskin accounts for somewhere in the vicinity of 80-90 percent of all television revenue generated by college sports.
Maybe Florida State does want to gain entry into the Big 12 and maybe it doesn't, but here is a question not many are asking: Would the Big 12 even want the Seminoles in the first place?
"New Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in his introductory press conference that expansion is predicated not on geographic footprints but on electronic footprints," said Joey Helmer, the publisher of SoonersIllustrated.com. "That is to say any school that is capable of adding a big payout in the television contracts has to be considered. One of those schools is obviously Florida State, and that's why these rumors have not been dispelled and are completely legitimate. FSU also fits in athletically in the Big 12, being a football school with a highly-competitive athletics program all across the board. So it makes sense for a number of obvious reasons."
FSU played Oklahoma each of the last two seasons, and despite the fact that coach Jimbo Fisher and Co. came out on the losing end both times, the atmosphere at Doak Campbell Stadium for the Sooners last September was nothing short of electric.
"Using an individual case on how the conference's members would react, FSU and OU played a home-and-home the last couple years, and the Sooner fan base is really excited about this possibility of potentially working and establishing this into another national conference rivalry," Helmer said. "Surely most of the rest of the conference would salivate at seeing this and possibly FSU-Texas, among other big-time games the Seminoles would bring in the Big 12."
Even after watching Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A&M all leave recently for greener pastures elsewhere, the Big 12 would indeed be a step up football-wise for FSU, although the ACC is superior academically and more balanced athletically.
Nevertheless, the prettiest girl at the conference dance is the SEC, as evidenced by six consecutive BCS championships and a TV contract that is both more lucrative and less restrictive than the one the ACC just restructured. We're talking several million dollars more per year for each and every program, plus the ability to make additional coin outside the scope of the deal itself.
The 'Noles obviously have more in common with the SEC schools than they do the Big 12 schools, starting with their long-standing rivalry with perhaps the biggest power broker in the league: Florida. It's also a lot easier to get from Tallahassee to Athens and Tuscaloosa than it is to Lubbock and Ames, which is important since Florida State travels fairly well -- not "SEC well," though. And, no question about it, visitors from Ole Miss and Tennessee would make their way to the Panhandle in greater numbers than those from Texas Tech and Kansas.
But no matter how badly the Seminoles may want the SEC, the SEC simply may not need the Seminoles.
"If the SEC is looking they want a school that will generate TV dollars, and so for the conference I don't think that Florida State is desirable at all," says Bob Redman, the publisher of FightinGators.com. "Florida would own the biggest share of almost every TV market in-state anyway, and I don't think FSU brings anything to the table in that regard."
For years, UF supporters have teased their rivals to the north that the ACC gauntlet is a cake walk compared to the SEC's weekly bloodbath, but that in itself might not be enough to earn a reservation at the big-boy table.
"The fans are a mixed lot on whether this would be good or not," Redman said. "There is zero love lost here among fans, and half wouldn't want it for the sake of FSU taking the SEC money they would be getting. The other half would like it as a chance for FSU to face a 'real' schedule as they see it."
One thing to remember: Legendary former coach Bobby Bowden was the dictionary definition of job security until the Board of Trustees started to flex its muscles, so take the comments you've seen recently from president Eric Barron and athletics director Randy Spetman with a grain of salt.
John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.
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