Yesterday, in discussing the news that Florida State had formed a committee to study conference expansion and realignment — and had announced the formation of that committee — we mentioned that some SEC old-timers “haven’t forgotten that FSU spurned the league in the early 1990s.” In our view, the fact that the Seminoles were targeted for an invite 20 years ago shows that Florida hasn’t always stood in the way of FSU joining the SEC… which means UF might not stand in the way now, if FSU decides it wants to join.
Now, when we write “the sky is blue” around here, we can count on some blowback. “Check your sources, it looks grey to me.” “Blue? It’s called azure, Mr. Know-it-all!” That happened yesterday, too. Several Florida State backers popped up to say that the SEC never made an offer to Florida State.
Technically, they’re right. FSU never voted to pass on an “official” SEC invitation. But according to two SEC representatives from those days, we’ve been told the invitation was clearly made via formal presentation, even if it wasn’t “officially” extended. That fact has been reported for years and we were a bit surprised to get 12 emails from angry Nole fans claiming that no such meeting/presentation/offer ever took place.
But the SEC was interested in Florida State. FSU just happened to be more interested in the ACC. And despite a pitch from Roy Kramer and crew, the Seminoles were leaning to Gene Corrigan’s league when — reading the writing on the wall — the SEC decided not to “officially” extend an invitation to FSU.
Just as schools will talk to coaches, lay out financial teams, get turned down, and then tell the press, “We never made an official offer,” that’s what happened back in September of 1990.
Well, we’ve done some digging and found an excellent piece written by Bob Thomas of The Florida Times-Union back in 2001. It was written as FSU celebrated its first 10 years in the Atlantic Coast Conference. We like these historical pieces because they’re plum hard to argue with.
Earlier this week, we also took some heat for stating what everyone but Baylor fans acknowledge freely — that Baylor was admitted to the Big 12 thanks in large part to political arm-twisting that went all the way up to then-Texas governor Ann Richards, a Baylor grad. BU-backers accused us of touting urban legend.
So we dusted off a story written on the day of Baylor’s announcement showing that, yes, BU had used political pull to enter the Big 12. The urban legend was the Baylor spin.
In the case of FSU-to-the-SEC, the urban legend is that the SEC never pursued Florida State. It did. And for those who choose not to believe us or our Southeastern Conference sources, here are some quick excerpts from the exhaustive piece we linked to above (including quotes from ex-SEC commissioner Kramer):
“While conference affiliation would impact FSU’s entire athletic program, suggesting that football was anything less than a major factor in expansion talk would be naive. So while (Bobby) Bowden was not directly involved in the decision, his support was critical in the process.
Not surprisingly, the Birmingham born-and-raised Seminoles coach — who spent one year as a quarterback at Alabama — said the SEC was ‘emotionally’ his first choice. Even so, he carefully weighed all options.
‘I was probably involved just about as much as anybody in that I agreed to [the ACC],’ Bowden said. ‘I think if I would have wanted to fight for the SEC it might have caused some concerns for everybody, but I didn’t feel that way.
‘When you started looking at it from a financial perspective and what’s best for us, I felt pretty sure what we should do is go ahead and join the ACC. … Bob [Goin] had it laid out pretty good. I’ll be honest with you, it was a no-brainer.’
Haggard, like many on the advisory committee, valued Bowden’s view on the choice of conference.
‘Bobby was totally SEC when it started,’ (Andy) Haggard said. ‘As Bobby’s thinking changed, our thinking changed. It ended up unanimous ACC.’ (Haggard is currently the chairman of FSU’s board of trustees and he was the man quoted in yesterday’s story regarding FSU’s expansion committee.)
By the time a contingent of ACC school and league officials made their Sept. 2 tour of FSU’s campus, the league had already made substantial gains on the SEC’s initial foothold. Finances, football and basketball prowess aside, the ACC’s overall image — specifically its academic reputation — had left a strong impression.
‘More people here wanted the ACC; that’s what really changed me,’ Sliger said. ‘The faculty really wanted the ACC. There were very few [faculty members] that had gone to the SEC, but many of them had gone to North Carolina and Virginia, places like that.’
While the ACC and FSU continued to discover common ground through the search process, the SEC was losing ground. In early August, athletic directors Joe Dean of LSU and Hootie Ingram, who was at Alabama after nine years with FSU, publicly proclaimed the Seminoles would join the SEC. Time, however, was no longer on the SEC’s side and Kramer’s timing made it even worse.
Kramer and top aide Mark Womack made their official visit and presentation in Tallahassee on Sept. 11, perhaps not coincidentally, the same day that (ACC commissioner) Corrigan arranged a conference call with the ACC’s university presidents to make his final presentation for expansion and Florida State.
Hogan vividly remembers the SEC presentation before the entire FSU athletic department.
‘That very day, when Bob Goin and Roy Kramer sat in the room there was very much a different dynamic,’ Hogan said. ‘It was very stiff and very cold. ….
‘The SEC in those days was certainly the 3,000-pound gorilla. They kept putting out vibes, ‘How could you not want to play with us? We’ve already got a great deal going; wouldn’t you want to jump on our train?’
Whether real or merely perceived, the vibes generated from the SEC’s presentation didn’t sit well with some at FSU.
‘There was quite a bit of feeling that we didn’t want to be entrapped; a feeling among some of the fans that if we go into that conference that has been dominated by the Alabamas, Auburns and Georgias we’d be kind of a stepchild,’ Miller said. ‘[That] we wouldn’t get the respect we deserved.’
While Kramer emerged from the five-hour long meeting with FSU officials, declining comment on the school’s possible membership, Corrigan forged ahead. His conference call with the presidents went so well that he set a conference call vote on expansion for 9:30 the following morning.
Corrigan woke up on Sept. 12, 1990 certain he had the six votes necessary to move ahead and expand. Duke and Maryland, he knew, would cast the only no votes. He was even more certain that if the league agreed on expansion, adding Florida State would be nothing more than a formality.
In a matter of minutes, Corrigan saw all the hard work on the delicate issue come apart. Clemson, Georgia Tech and Virginia, the strongest supporters on the issue and FSU all along, voted for expansion. Duke and Maryland voted against, but to Corrigan’s surprise, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest abstained; the equivalent of three no votes.
Expansion was suddenly dead.
‘Corrigan was just about in tears when the vote was over,’ said Tom Mickle, Corrigan’s top aide.
‘All of a sudden we’ve got these abstentions,’ Corrigan recalled. ‘I’ve got the athletic directors on another line waiting. … A couple of them went ballistic.’
The resounding voice of the AD’s was: ‘That’s not the way we thought we were voting.’
Corrigan could have let the issue die, but after conferring with the athletic directors, agreed to have a second vote at 7 p.m., after the abstaining parties had the opportunity to hammer out final questions.
Meanwhile, the SEC had caught wind of the ACC’s intention to hold an expansion vote and quickly convened its own conference call. They voted to not extend Florida State an invitation to the conference.
Goin and the Seminoles were in limbo.
As the second vote was taking place Goin was on a plane to an in-state function, kept abreast of the proceedings via cell phone from Hogan, who was in constant communication with Corrigan and Mickle.
At the same time Goin said he was, ‘dodging Kramer’s call because I didn’t want him to tell me he didn’t want me.’
‘That was some tense times,’ Hogan said. ‘Had that vote not gone our way, we were screwed.’
‘There was anxiety, but at the same token, I was representing a pretty good university,’ Goin said . ‘If you’re not carrying a very strong deck, I would have had more anxiety. I don’t think we would have been in the open market very long.’
It didn’t matter. The re-vote went 6-2 in favor of expansion and 8-0 in favor of the Seminoles. FSU had a new home.
Corrigan extended FSU its formal invitation the following day — Sept. 13 — and FSU accepted without hestitation.
Kramer said he has no hard feelings about Florida State’s maneuvering. Asked if, in the end, he felt Florida State had played the SEC’s offer against the ACC’s, Kramer said:
‘Officially, no. I had known Bernie [Sliger] forever and considered him a friend. I dealt with him and he was very up front. I never felt we were being used.’
One has to wonder how many current SEC representatives still hold a grudge about FSU’s decision. We have heard it mentioned second-hand, but never has anyone sounded upset about a 20-year-old decision when talking to us.
The above story also leaves us wondering if some members of the FSU family would a) want to leave the more academically reputable ACC and/or b) still feel as though FSU would be viewed as a “stepchild” today.
Of course, the dynamics are different today. If Florida State fears that the ACC is unstable or that a potential Texas-entry into that league could lead to in-fighting, then FSU might feel it’s time to get while the getting’s good. Also, television contracts are so much larger today that money has to be playing a bigger role in the school’s thinking than it did back in 1990.
But whatever happens in the coming days and weeks regarding the SEC and Florida State, one thing is certain — the SEC wanted FSU 20 years ago and the Seminoles chose to go to the ACC instead.