Friday, October 4, 2013
As Terps move on, FSU relishes stability
By David M. Hale
Florida State and Maryland meet as conference foes for the last time on Saturday.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's hardly the most tradition-rich rivalry in the ACC, but Saturday marks the end of an era nevertheless.
Maryland will take the field at Doak Campbell Stadium for the final time before departing for the Big Ten at year's end, and while the Terrapins are doing their best to make some noise in the ACC on their way out the door, the fanfare for the FSU-Maryland finale hasn't exactly been robust.
"I didn't know that," FSU receiver Kenny Shaw said when asked about the final showdown between the two ACC schools.
In fairness, the players are rarely the most informed participants, so Shaw can be forgiven for prioritizing the on-field details over the off-field distractions. But what's perhaps most surprising is that conference realignment has become an increasingly insignificant topic, even among the fans.
Coach Randy Edsall and Maryland will leave the ACC for the Big Ten after this season.
For much of the past two years, conference shake-ups have been as hotly debated a subject as anything in college football, and Florida State was often at the center of those discussions. But after FSU president Eric Barron joined his colleagues around the ACC in signing the latest grant of rights agreement -- ensuring all TV revenue rights belong to the ACC through the 2026-27 season -- the rumblings about large-scale changes to the college football power structure have fizzled.
"There's almost no discussion at all," Barron said. "I think the fact that the speculation [from schools] is gone and the worry is gone means that the issue is basically disappeared."
Barron said university presidents around the country "breathed a sigh of relief" at the prospect of a more stable landscape, but for Florida State fans, it's something of a double-edged sword. As much as stability was desired, a vocal contingent within the fan base was eager for Florida State to explore its options on the open market, and many were less than thrilled with the grant of rights deal.
But while speculation and rumors drove the affiliation debates during much of the past few years, Barron said the realities of the situation weren't nearly as clear cut.
Florida State employed a team of analysts, including an outside consultant, to dig up data on the real revenue streams the school might gain by a potential switch in conference affiliation, and the best analysis Barron had at his disposal suggested FSU benefited most from staying put.
"We went through this carefully with all of our trustees -- where the marketplace and where the TV contracts were sitting, where the growth in TV viewerships are likely to be as well as some of the other aspects of the conference," Barron said. "I think you come to the conclusion that the ACC is quite strong in that regard."
ACC members received about $17 million from the conference for the 2011-12 fiscal year, roughly $7 million less than the SEC paid its member schools, but Barron said that gap can be narrowed without a massive shake-up. Many of the primary differences in revenue were derived from areas where the ACC expects significant growth, including the potential launch of an ACC television network, currently in the planning stages, Barron said.
In addition, Barron said the power structure on the field, particularly in football, has shifted in the ACC's favor as well, and he points to the current polls, which include four ranked ACC teams, along with future member Louisville, as evidence. Most importantly, however, Barron said Florida State has positioned itself as a legitimate contender for a championship.
"I can be perfectly honest: I'm looking forward to a national championship in football here in not too much time," Barron said. "So what could I want more than that?"
If significant changes are in store, Barron said, it's likely to be nationwide, rather than conference specific. As the monetary gap between the power five conferences (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12) and other FBS programs grows, it's increasingly difficult to find a universal set of guidelines for both sides to live with. The end result could be an official split for the top-tier conferences.
"That's an important question mark and something that we really should think through," Barron said. "If we're applying sets of rules and conditions to such a broad range of schools that are very, very different, I think you end up with a situation in which, every time you make a proposal on a rule change, they get voted down, because one group or another group votes them down because we've got so many different apples and oranges that are there."
That's a scenario Florida State continues to monitor, but following Maryland to a potential payday beyond the ACC is essentially a dead issue, Barron said -- not just at FSU, but around the country.
"I think you may see some things change," Barron said, "but I guess I'm going to be surprised if the power five conferences change much."