ACC commissioner John Swofford, who many Florida State fans believe is one of the main reasons to leave the conference and explore opportunities elsewhere, made his first public comments on the rumors surrounding the Seminoles and their possible move to the Big 12.
FSU's Board of Trustees is apparently very unhappy with the league's latest television contract after seeing more lucrative numbers -- and less restrictions for opportunities outside the scope of the deal -- being promised to programs in the Big 12 and SEC, as chairman Andy Haggard was quite public with his desire to do what's best for the institution he represents. President Eric Barron and athletics director Randy Spetman, on the other hand, perhaps doing a bit of damage control, continued to back the ACC and seemingly have no desire to go anywhere.
Overall, an argument can be made that the 'Noles belonging to the ACC the last two decades has been good not only for the football team but the athletics department at a whole. Legendary former coach Bobby Bowden won the school's two crystal trophies as a member of the league, plus basketball is coming off a conference tournament title, baseball is ranked No. 1 in the country, track and field owns a handful of national championships and the women's sports are strong from soup to nuts. Not to mention the fact that it never hurts for a university to affiliate itself academically with the likes of Duke and Virginia.
But a lot of fans believe Florida State is the most important football team in the ACC by a wide margin and should be treated as such, since the conference had next to no significance in the sport prior to the Seminoles coming aboard in 1992, yet Swofford is a Tobacco Road (read: hoops) loyalist and sounded like one Wednesday.
“Florida State has been, for 20 years, an excellent member of the ACC,” Swofford said at the conference's spring meetings in Amelia Island, “and we’re looking now at a league that is currently 12, soon to be 14 [once Pittsburgh and Syracuse arrive from the Big East], in nine contiguous states that covers the entire Eastern seaboard, that has just extraordinary potential. We’ve got 14 valuable members, and Florida State is certainly one of them."
Swofford, a former athletics director at his alma mater, North Carolina, was a part of FSU surrendering its independent status and coming to the ACC and sees no reason why the two parties should change their relationship at this point.
“As an AD in this league, I was on the site visit in 1991 on behalf of the conference when Florida State joined the league," he said. "I think that it has been, and I would anticipate that it will continue to be, a very beneficial relationship to both parties, which is what it should be."
While the 'Noles haven't been relevant in the national-title chase on the football field since losing the BCS Championship Game to Oklahoma at the conclusion of the 2000 campaign, Swofford sees an entire athletics department currently thriving.
“Florida State’s program has emerged across the board during that period of time," he said. "That’s been good for Florida State, and it’s been good for the Atlantic Coast Conference.”
Nevertheless, when finally asked about the possibility of losing Florida State to the Big 12, Swofford was suddenly less eloquent and not nearly as verbose.
“I don’t deal in hypotheticals,” he said. “I deal with what’s tangible.”
However, Swofford obviously can't ignore the elephant in the room and has discussed the topic with at least one representative of the Garnet and Gold.
“I’ve had a conversation or two with Dr. Barron, which was very positive,” Swofford said.
Perhaps very soon, the collegiate landscape will discover what is truly important to Florida State: better academic standing and a more balanced athletics department, like the pres and AD want, or better football and a more robust bank account, like the BOT wants.
There are many reasons to stay, including some that are financial, as the extra annual TV money in the Big 12 is but a fraction of the eight-figure exit fee the Seminoles will likely have to hand over to the ACC. And, unlike the Big 12, which has lost Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A&M to other leagues recently, the ACC is actually expanding and will feature Pittsburgh and Syracuse soon.
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Conversely, regular matchups with some traditional powers like Texas and Oklahoma -- the Longhorns and Sooners have 11 national titles between them -- are an easy sell to an FSU fan base that simply can't get excited about visits from Georgia Tech and NC State, let alone road trips to College Park and Chestnut Hill. And it's not like they don't play quality basketball and baseball in the Big 12, where Kansas is coming off its 14th trip to the Final Four and Texas has been to the College World Series 32 times. If the annual Border War between Kansas and Missouri can essentially be erased from the football schedule after 105 renditions dating back to 1891, then saying goodbye to 'Noles vs. 'Canes -- 56 battles, the first in 1951 -- is not unfathomable.
What the Board of Trustees wants, the Board of Trustees usually gets. Ask Bowden. The president and athletics director told him he could stay forever. The BOT finally said otherwise. He's likely making the turn about now at a golf course near you.
John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.