May 13th, 2012 01:17 AM║ Posted By: John Pennington ║ Permalink
║ Schools: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Tags: ACC, Florida State, FSU, SEC
For months, we’ve blown off the rumors of Florida State and Clemson jumping to the Big 12. When it was reported in the last week that a secret deal was already in place for the Noles and Tigers to move, we scoffed. Most any journalist who actually signs his name to his work did. Oh, at the time we gave it the standard, “Never say never,” (now you see why) and we admitted that ADs and presidents often lie.
But we at MrSEC.com spoke to sources at SEC schools who thought realignment was slowing down, not speeding up. We spoke with officials from two ACC schools who we have connections to and they both thought the talk of FSU/Clemson to the Big 12 was absolutely bonkers. ESPN had just cooked up new television deals for both those leagues. Why would they do that if they thought all that work could soon go up in smoke? Even Orangebloods.com — the Rivals site that covers Texas — had repeatedly called the idea a “longshot” and like, oh, so many others had said there had been no contact between Big 12 officials and the folks from Florida State and Clemson.
Add to this 20 years of Florida State officials talking about how partnering with ACC schools had helped their own academic image and it was hard to imagine the FSU administration backtracking. Plus, the commissioners of all the conferences are currently working on what’s expected to be a new postseason playoff plan. Seems like it would be difficult to agree on a plan if you don’t even know who’ll be playing where in a couple of years.
So we were inclined to buy it — for once — when FSU athletic director Randy Spetman said this on Friday:
“We’re in the ACC. We’re committed to the ACC. That’s where our president and the board of trustees has committed to, so we’re great partners in the ACC.”
Well, uh, no. At least that’s not the case according to the outgoing chairman of Florida State’s board of trustees, Andy Haggard. On Saturday, he completely cut the legs out from under his school’s athletic director, the Atlantic Coast Conference, and ACC/FSU television partner, ESPN. Hell, Haggard sawed through more legs than a Civil War doctor. His barrage against his own league and — by default — his own athletic director was epic.
He was ticked that the ACC gave away its Tier 3 rights for football to ESPN while holding on to its basketball rights:
“It’s mind-boggling and shocking. How can the ACC give up third tier rights for football but keep them for basketball?… It continues the perception that the ACC favors the North Carolina schools.”
(Remember that part. It’s important.)
As for the long-held argument made time and again by the “Knowledge is Good” crowd in Tallahassee that ACC + FSU = Win, Haggard scoffed:
“No FSU graduate puts on his resume or interviews for a job saying they are in the same conference as Duke and Virginia. Conference affiliation really has no impact on academics.”
And then he dropped the bomb that yes indeedy he wants Florida State to start talking to the Big 12:
“How do you not look into that option? On behalf of the Board of Trustees I can say that unanimously we would be in favor of seeing what the Big 12 might have to offer. We have to do what is in Florida State’s best interest… With the SEC making the kind of money it does it’s time to act. You can’t sit back and be content in the ACC. This is a different time financially. This isn’t 10-15 years ago when money was rolling in.”
“On behalf of the Board of Trustees I can say that unanimously.” Really?
Boom. (And we ain’t talkin’ Will Muschamp.)
We’ll break this down from a few different angles below, but that’s just an amazing interview for Haggard to have given Warchant.com — the Rivals site covering FSU — just one day after his own school’s athletic director had said the complete and total opposite. We know — we’ve written it — ADs lie. You can call it spinning if you like, but technically, they lie. Often. Still, they’re usually not outed within 24 hours by their own top trustee.
Even more amazing? Seminoles football coach Jimbo Fisher — who sources had pegged as a pro-ACC guy — told The Orlando Sentinal post-Haggard’s rant:
“There have been no official talks, but I think you always have to look out there to see what’s best for Florida State. If that [jumping to the Big 12] is what’s best for Florida State,then that’s what we need to do.”
If Haggard dropped Fat Man, Fisher unloaded Little Boy. Both fell right into the laps of Spetman and the ACC.
It seems the tail’s been wagging the dog at FSU
You would think Haggard would be pretty clued in to the ACC/ESPN television contract. He’s FSU’s top trustee until his term ends — reportedly — at the next board meeting. But like so many others in the last few days, he was actually all wrong regarding those hotly-debated Tier 3 rights.
Jim Lamar of The Tallahassee Democrat reports that ACC assistant commissioner Michael Kelly said Saturday that all ACC schools have the exact same Tier 3 rights. Moreover, all the men’s basketball and football games go to ESPN. Now, that won’t put any more cash in FSU’s coffers, but the idea of the basketball schools being given an advantage? Unless Kelly is lying — and the contracts would be pretty hard to forge — Haggard was 100% off base on that front.
Which makes this writer wonder just how connected to this process he’s been. Could that be the source of his anger? Is this an Arab Spring type of moment we’re witnessing, driven by rumors, exaggerations, anonymous blogs and social media?
Think about it: The ACC cuts a deal with ESPN. One blog drives the story that FSU and the Big 12 are talking. Somebody floats their rage over the Tier 3 rights on a messageboard or two. It hits Twitter. An outgoing, left-out (and possibly angry about it) Haggard sees all this and decides to do a number on his own AD and ESPN because he believes what he sees in the blogosphere, the messageboards and Twitter. But then it turns out that a good part of his spiel is based on faulty information. ”They’re favoring the North Carolina schools!” Uh, no, actually they’re not.
Additionally, FSU reportedly made all of a whopping $350,000 last year on its Tier 3 rights. In other words, it’s not like the new deal with ESPN is really going to cost the Florida State a whole lot of cabbage. It wasn’t making it under the old deal, either.
Trouble is — the damage is already done.
What can the ACC say now?
Nothing. There is no way back from what Haggard’s done. Perhaps as an attorney and uber-booster he knew all along he could drive FSU to the Big 12 by simply opening his mouth. Trustees at Missouri forced chancellor Brady Deaton’s hand last year. Key boosters and trustees led the charge for Texas A&M to join the SEC, too.
The ACC has already come out to declare that the deal is even-Steven for everyone. They’ve said the perception of uneven Tier 3 rights is “totally inaccurate”. Kelly also said, “There is no change in fundamental rights at this time. ESPN does have the rights to all of our football and all of our men’s basketball games. There is no opportunity for our conference or our schools to produce games beyond that in those two sports.”
So it’s the exact same deal ESPN and the ACC had put together years ago. They just extended it.
Some FSU fans won’t care, though (and that number grows every time a guy like Haggard spreads inaccurate information about the deal that was cut). The deal may be even, but it’s still worth $3 million less per year than what other schools in other conferences are making. Nevermind the fact that if the Seminoles had been winning as much as the ACC expected when it brought them in, the league’s contract would’ve probably paid a whole lot better.
Ironically, the ACC’s spring meetings begin today in Amelia Island, Florida. Oh, that should be a fun event. Especially for Spetman, who thanks to Haggard, will arrive without the use of this testicles.
What can Spetman do?
Call Bill Byrne at Texas A&M, perhaps? Call a realtor?
Spetman’s been emasculated by his school’s top money man. Whether he’s the chairman of the board or just Johnny Millions, Haggard will continue to have clout via six-inch sheets of green paper. Lots of ‘em. And clearly he’s not in the same corner as his athletic director when it come to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Worse, nothing Spetman says from this point forward can ever be believed again. Literally. He was either a liar regarding FSU’s interest in the Big 12 (and was outed quicker than most lying ADs) or he is just a stooge standing in front of the real power brokers on FSU’s board (which is closer to the truth for most athletic directors, including Spetman).
He may stay in Tallahassee and Haggard may be discredited as having gone rogue, but Spetman’s credibility is kaput. Dunzo. Finito.
What can FSU do to save face?
Florida State president Eric Barron put out a press release Saturday night trying to calm the storm (or cover up whatever’s happening behind the scenes):
“Florida State University regrets that misinformation about the provisions of the ACC contract has unnecessarily renewed the controversy and speculation about University’s athletic conference alignment. Florida State respects the views of the Chair of its Board of Trustees that, of course, any university would examine options that would impact university academics, athletics or finances. At the same time, Florida State is not seeking an alternative to the ACC nor are we considering alternatives. Our current commitments remain strong.”
Naturally, the Big 12′s already interested
There will be a lot of “told ya so’s” coming from the crowd that said a deal had already been struck between FSU and the Big 12. By all accounts that’s not true. Sources from Lubbock to Austin to Tallahassee have all said there’s been no contact between the parties and that the Big 12 hasn’t even talked expansion with its new commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
You can bet they’ll talk about it now.
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports immediately responded to the Haggard/Warchant.com story by Tweeting that a Big 12 source said, “I can’t imagine how we wouldn’t be interested in Florida State.” He went on to say that there’s “legit concern in ACC” that Miami may also try to leave if FSU goes.
Where’s ESPN’s coverage of this?
The chairman of Florida State’s board of trustees just said he wants the Big 12 to give the Seminoles a ring and as of midnight this morning, ESPN.com did not have the story as one of its featured frontpage headlines. Hmmm. That wouldn’t be because Haggard’s statements make the ACC/ESPN deal look bad, would it?
Or maybe ESPN is just hoping/praying that the deals it negotiated with the Big 12 — paying it a higher-then expected fee just to keep it together — and the ACC — extending its deal through the late 2020′s — aren’t going to be tossed into the trash heap just yet. ”Ignore it, maybe the story will go away.”
The Dude abides
Hey, we at MrSEC.com have been right on a lot of things regarding conference expansion. So right in fact that a lot of other sites have copied our material and then patted themselves on the back for getting our predictions and theories right. But we can admit when we were wrong.
In this case, “The Dude of WV,” a blogger who won’t sign his name to his posts, had heard from someone who knew some FSU backers were ready to move. Kudos.
Now, the “done deal” part of the story, well, that’s pretty much been shot down by everyone who a) has legitimate sources and b) signs his name to his posts. Still, we didn’t think this was coming. We trusted our sources. On FSU’s interest in the Big 12 — or at least in one very influential man’s interest — those sources were wrong. Which means we were wrong. Which means we tip our hat to the unknown West Virginia fan who tossed his horseshoe a lot closer to the stake than most anyone else on this FSU/Big 12 thing.
Speaking of our sources, I followed up with a good friend who happens to be in a pretty high-up position with an ACC school’s administration. After being told repeatedly for the last week that folks in the league really did feel good about the future and that FSU officials were A-OK with the new ESPN deal, I zipped him a text this afternoon: “What gives?”
Well, I can’t tell you exactly what he said because this is a family site. But I can give you the gist. The folks at his school were not happy. They were blindsided. And Haggard was viewed as a “petulant child” — that is a quote — for his outburst.
Academics don’t matter
Perhaps to Haggard academics don’t matter, but to most top dogs at major universities, they sure as heck do. No school has left the Big Ten, Pac-12 or ACC in decades in order to move to a richer league with a worse academic reputation. If FSU heads to the Big 12, it will be the first.
The grant and research money that can be brought in for schools via cooperative programs such as the Big Ten’s Committee on Institutional Cooperation is enormous. Try more than $500 million each year.
A school like Florida with its $100,000 athletic budget? UF recieves more than $550 million annually in sponsored research funding.
Academics might not matter to Haggard and they might not matter to Florida State (despite 20 years of saying just the opposite). There might not be enough shared academic/research cash in the ACC to give FSU pause in the first place.
But for a man to suggest conference affiliation doesn’t have anything do with academics? He sounds like a guy who was born rich and didn’t have to do a lot of homework of his own in college.
We’ve talked to so many university officials over the years who’ve said that getting “name” schools into a league is big, big, big for the pointy heads running those schools. If academics didn’t matter, why has the SEC been promoting Missouri and Texas A&M’s AAU status non-stop since they climbed aboard?
The Big 12 would be catching a big fish
If the Big 12 lands Florida State, that’s a win for Bowlsby’s league and a loss for Mike Slive’s. Missouri has a better academic reputation, solid athletics, and will bring in a lot of new cable households in a brand new part of the country. We’re all in on Mizzou, so don’t start screaming when you read this, Tiger fans, but…
Florida State is a national brand. When it comes to national television ratings, FSU versus Arizona State would draw more eyes than Mizzou versus Arizona State. Florida State versus Georgia would get better ratings than Missouri versus Georgia.
No, FSU wouldn’t add a new state or new households to the SEC. If the league doesn’t start a new network with ESPN, then what’s the difference on that front? Florida State would’ve been a bigger brand name and would have drawn bigger numbers for every SEC contest they played.
FSU to the Big 12 would be a major coup for a league that was on a respirator about 12 months ago.
The Big 12 would also get a nice little tit-for-tat by picking up the Noles. The SEC just got a foothold in Texas with A&M. FSU would give the Big 12 a foothold in Florida. Take that, SEC.
FSU would get more cash, but…
Let’s face facts, Florida State is a national brand despite the fact they’ve fallen off in football over the last decade. If they couldn’t beat the Wake Forests and Georgia Techs of the ACC for a league title, just how are the Seminoles going to fare in the Big 12 with Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and TCU? Careful what you wish for, Mr. Haggard.
In addition, FSU already has a rival with Florida and could easily develop rivalries with Georgia, Auburn, Alabama and others in the much closer SEC. At some point Seminole fans might be faced with road trips to Lubbock, Ames and Manhattan (Kansas) that make their current excursions to Atlanta, Coral Gables and Tobacco Road seem like neighborhood strolls.
Clemson, Miami, Louisville and Notre Dame… you’re on the clock
What once was an unsubstantiated rumor supported by no quotes an written by an unknown person has quickly become an honest-to-God mega-story thanks to Haggard’s comments (and Fisher’s response to them). You can bet the expansion/realignment talk will go absolutely nuts at this point.
FSU will be viewed as a done deal and schools all over America will be kicked around as being the next to join the Big 12… or Big 14… or Big 16.
What about Notre Dame? The Big Ten? Will the Big East collapse? Will the ACC?
You can also expect all the talk of a 16-school SEC to start up again. Expansion chatter is good for business when football and basketball are out of season. So get ready to read that Commissioner Slive has secretly flown into Blacksburg and Raleigh and Chapel Hill and Durham. Get ready for East Carolina fans to start their campaign for SEC entry again. Get ready for rumors of a Big 12 versus SEC tug-of-war for Florida State to commence.
Oh, it’s all coming.
Damnit. (Trust me, I’m not excited to be writing about this stuff at 1am on a Sunday morning.)
If you’re a conference commissioner, good luck on the playoff front
Those talks between the league commissioners and Notre Dame’s AD just got a lot more interesting, didn’t they? Let’s see if they can design a playoff system while also trying to figure out who’ll be playing who on a regular basis.
Will Florida State get any Texas A&M-style blowback?
Last summer, a myriad of national writers took aim at Texas A&M for destabilizing college football with its move to the SEC. (How the third school to leave a league was to blame for realignment, I’m still not sure.) But let’s see if the columnists now hammer Florida State for with equal vigor for kicking off Expansionpalooza 2012.
Shoot, let’s see if ESPN ever gets around to even mentioning this story.
While we think the SEC should have grabbed Florida State…
Have we made this clear yet? If FSU lands in the Big 12, that’s a huge plus for the Big 12 and — like the extension of their grant of rights and their new TV deals — it will further stabilize a league where everyone needs a set of handcuffs to stick together.
When you consider how loudly factions at FSU just broke ranks and went in separate directions, you think, maybe the Seminoles really wouldn’t have been a good fit for the SEC. Seriously. When’s the last time you saw an SEC or Big Ten school do something like Haggard and Florida State just did? Never? Those are the two top leagues in America because they don’t air their dirty laundry.
Saturday in Tallahassee was dysfuntional at best. And while the Big 12 is clearly improving, it could have easily changed its name to the Dysfunctional 12 over the last few years. Maybe FSU is better off with the Texases and Oklahomas of the world after all.
We still think the SEC and/or FSU missed the boat on this one. Florida State should be in the Southeastern Conference.
Kudos to the Big 12 if they land ‘em.
I think that deal’s supposed to be done in two months, right, Dude?
I gotta start following that guy’s Twitter feed.
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