Time to party like it’s 2011. I’ve been on this realignment game for a LONG time. Some of you might remember me from such classics as "FSU & the Big 12: The Dude Never Sleeps" and "Swofford, The Ninja Who Cried".
There’s a fair amount of valid consternation from FSU fans about the SEC’s latest expansion with OU and TX. Let’s just get the ground rules down…this is a big honking deal. FSU and the ACC have been playing the conference payout deficit game for well over a decade now, but that gap is about to get a dose of horse steroids. Realistic projections anticipate SEC and B1G payouts to be in the $75-85M range within a few years. The ACC is currently paying out in the $30Ms.
While everyone is likely to get a boost with additional revenue from the expanded playoff, that doesn’t do anything for relative differences. There’s only one small potential boost for the ACC, and that’s the impending addition of the ACC Network to Comcast. That’s not going to be a "double the payout" type of nut. Other than that…there’s nothing. Nobody to add, no chess moves to make. The ACC is locked in with all their rights in ESPN’s hands through 2036. Amazon or Twitter aren’t swooping in to save the ACC, because the ACC has nothing to sell them until 2037.
"But what about Notre Dame?" Forget Notre Dame. The expanded playoff will give Notre Dame more championship access than ever. Funny how that happens when you put Notre Dame’s AD at the head of the playoff working committee. They don’t want to join, they don’t have to join, it’s not happening. There’s nothing acceptable the ACC can offer to cajole them to join. Technically, I believe Notre Dame will eventually join a conference, but they aren’t joining the ACC in any timeframe that’s relevant to FSU or the ACC’s immediate fortunes.
So what should the ACC do? I’m not even going to go there…there’s nothing meaningful TO do, because the conference has continued to extend their lousy 2010 TV deal over and over for a relative handful of peanuts, to the point that the ACC will go from 2010 to 2036 without ever being available for bidding on the open market. The ACC made plenty of mistakes, but in the end, that’s the only one that really matters…they will go a MINIMUM of 26 years without getting to test the fair market value, while other conferences have reupped over and over. In the end, they have no leverage, and can only get what ESPN deems might shut them up for a bit.
What I want to talk about is what FSU should do. Most would say that FSU has spent at least the last 20 years along for the ride on the ACC, content to go along with schools more dedicated to the bouncy ball and Tobacco Road gladhanding than the to the dirty business of big time college sports. And that’s the easy road for FSU to take, because never at any point has FSU had any kind of easy short-term alternatives. When they didn’t have a GOR, the SEC didn’t want them. In 2012, realignment was driven by cable subscribers in state, and FSU was a duplicate for the SEC. Now that that’s changed, FSU’s in a GOR. There’s never been a clear moment when FSU had both a place to go, and the legal ability to do so.
And that’s no different now. FSU absolutely needs to look at all their options in the short term…is the GOR breakable? Are there enough schools in the ACC willing to withdraw that the conference can be disbanded? Can they lead a group of enough schools to the B1G that the ACC would have practical trouble enforcing the GOR? Every single option should be on the table to get FSU into the SEC or B1G, and no stone should go unturned, but that is a very, very long shot.
Here's what HAS to change though…when it comes to conference realignment, FSU has to stop using the fact that there is no good 24-month plan as an excuse to not have a 10- or 15-year plan.
Because here’s the thing…2036 is an absurdly long amount of time to be stuck on the TV contract, and in the grant of rights. But it’s still just time, and time ticks by. I imagine a few of you here were reading me writing about this ten years ago. It’s going to be ten years from now eventually…and ten years from now, FSU is going to start acquiring it’s leverage back. Texas and Oklahoma are bound to a GOR to the Big 12 until 2025, and they’ve already announced their divorce four years ahead of time, and everyone expects a settlement for them to leave early. Ten years from now, FSU (and Clemson and Miami and GT and everyone else) will only be five years out from the end of their own GOR. The GOR might run until 2036, but within 10-11 years, FSU can finally make something happen, and they need to be thinking and preparing for that NOW.
These are the key factors that FSU has to absolutely prioritize, thinking long term:
A) Absolutely, under no conditions, agree to extend the ACC television contract and sign an extended GOR. I don’t care if ND joins and brings the NY Giants at #16, FSU has to be done signing GORs until the money is on the table. No more "sign the GOR and extend the deal and we promise we’ll take care of you." As many times as the ACC has extended their deal and GOR, they just fall further behind. The cycle stops now…FSU can’t stop the ACC from extending the TV deal, but they absolutely can’t be forced to extend a GOR. They shouldn’t be enticed to do so for a few million more dollars.
2)They must align their Athletic Director and Booster president on the long term need to fix this problem and treat this as a business situation, and they must be conference agnostic. No more hires that are ACC or Notre Dame insiders, FSU must hire stone cold killers in these roles. FSU hasn’t had anything but lightweights in the AD role for a decade or more, and this is part of the price that’s been paid.
D) FSU has got to take the pulse of other members of the conference, and keep their hand on the pulse at all times. No more assuming Clemson will be with you, or assuming NC State won’t. Find out where everyone is on this, and how far they’re willing to go. There’s a lot of assumptions that the "football schools" are of one mind, but I think that’s a big assumption. There’s a big difference between seeing you have a problem, and what you’re willing to do about it. FSU needs to know at any given moment if they are alone, or part of a pack, and devise strategies accordingly
IX) FSU must do everything possible to stay relevant on the field. The spectacular failure of the previous coaching staff may end up being a blessing in disguise for putting a quick end to whatever strategy was in mind to compete on a shoestring budget and medium commitment. Yes, finances are bad for FSU, but we absolutely need one more run toward the top in the next decade. A decade of fiscally responsible 8-win seasons doesn’t position us best for the next realignment. I think we could see some ugly balance sheets.
#%$@#!!) Stay focused at all times on this 10 year reckoning, through good times or bad. If FSU has another run like 2012-14, DO NOT BE FOOLED into thinking the ACC is "fixed" or that "hey we proved we don’t really need all the money anyway." It’s not fixed until it’s fixed for good. Every decision the athletic department makes has to be filtered through how FSU positions itself for 2031-32.
Look, ten years seems like forever, but it’s not like FSU’s ability to compete is just going to fall off a cliff tomorrow. We’re recruiting well, and the real impact of the SEC and B1G contracts aren’t going to kick in for a few years. If we indeed have the right hire here, we can have another run before we’re in the worst of the deficits.
Our most recent ’23 Quarterback commit might not finish his eligibility until 2028. I have no doubt our staff is actively in touch with ’25 recruits as we speak. We fully expect our football staff to work ten years ahead, it’s not too much to ask our administrators and stakeholders to start working a 10-year strategy on this issue that’s been a thorn in our sides for well more than 10 years already.