Nearly 500 days into his tenure at the helm of Florida State athletics, Michael Alford has made some major strides for his department. The biggest of those is coming from the football program.
In that short time frame, the team has gone from cellar dwellers to a likely preseason top-ten team with a commitment to the transfer portal and NIL. Off the field, they’ve broken ground on a new football-only facility after a strong fundraising effort and scheduled a marquee international game in Ireland — something he says has been months in the making.
“I have a great relationship with John Anthony, who is one of the founders of that game,” Alford told the Seminole Wrap. “He approached me... and he said, ‘Hey, would you ever consider it?’ And I said, ‘of course, you know, but there’s got to be certain parameters in place. I’m not going to give up a home game.’”
Alford says that interaction led to game organizers finding a team on the Noles away schedule that would be willing to make the trip overseas. The result — an additional primetime game in 2024 against Georgia Tech.
As for games stateside, that attitude of not giving up home games is a big focus. So that could mean non-conference contests in Tallahassee instead of a neutral site.
“We owe that to this community — to continue our fan base coming back so we can showcase everything academically and culturally that’s going on at the university.” Alford added, “I’m never gonna say never, but my priority is to have games here at Doak.”
Those home games represent $100 million annually to Tallahassee and Leon County, according to the AD. Each game represents a massive boost to the local economy.
One of his other focuses is his department’s finances as well. After all, it’s not free to build a new football facility. Or to pay lucrative extensions to Norvell and other key members of the football staff. Or recruit Link Jarrett away from Notre Dame.
Or... you get the point.
That funding is what remains at the forefront of Alford’s mind as he looks at Florida State’s commitment to ACC.
In this interview, the Seminole Wrap crew asked Alford where he believes FSU’s relationship with the conference stands one month after his presentation to the school’s Board of Trustees. In that presentation, he painted the picture of the growing gap in revenue between them, the SEC and the Big Ten. Does he think a redistribution plan is on the table with the conference?
“We understand, especially at Florida State and a couple of other institutions, really understand the commitment of that gap that’s coming. It’s a freight train. That’s barreling down the tracks... I’m very involved and looking at solutions. Because I can’t sit here. And for five years, it’d be 30 million behind every year. It’s not a one-year thing. And that makes a big difference, especially when you start compounding that year after year after year.”
Those creative solutions include rewarding schools for being leaders on and off the field.
“We’re working with the conference on a revenue concept that rewards success, not only on the field, but I’m also in there fighting for on TV as well,” Alford said.
He wouldn’t say if he’s been contacted by other conferences, but he did say, without the ACC making changes, that gap will put a large burden on the fundraising arms of FSU.
Alford believes falling behind in revenue could have Florida State behind the eight ball in competing for coaches, upgrading facilities and essentially everything else the “Power 2” conference would have to offer. Something else he thinks will force that gap to show up is the university’s reputation and dedication to competing in every sport.
“I need to protect Florida State University, and make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make sure that we’re able to compete nationally. And I’m not talking just football, everyone is going to immediately go there. And I agree. But you know, one thing that’s great about our institution and the culture of our institution is we expect national championships across the board. We want to compete in everything we do... With that revenue gap, you’re going to see maybe some decisions that that we have to make that won’t allow that... want to protect that student-athlete experience, what we’re able to offer them and how they’re able to grow during their time here as much as I can. And that’s the driving factor behind it.”
One place Florida State has been on the forefront of the student-athlete experience is NIL.
They’ve had some of the best name, image and likeness success stories in the country like Dillan Gibbons and his Big Man Big Heart nonprofit. Even today, softball star Kaley Mudge is in Washington D.C. as the only active athlete to speak during a hearing on the topic.
The NCAA’s handling of NIL has made it tougher to navigate for FSU and their fellow Florida schools. Originally, a state law set the Noles up to act quicker than many of their competitors, allowing NIL quicker than most.
But when the NCAA opened the floodgates, state lawmakers had to adjust.
Now that they have, Alford says FSU is again well positioned to support student-athletes collecting on their brand.
“I’m going to always use our platform, to educate them on the laws to educate them on taxes, to educate them on marketing rights, to inform them and educate them on how to grow their brands. So they have more opportunities and how to do it the right way. That’s our apex program. That’s what we do. We’re constantly educating our student-athletes.”
His commitment to the athletic department is felt most in how he views the student-athletes. Many times during our discussion, Alford said he considers his daughters — three D-I athletes in their own right. Would he want them to play for this coach? Would he want them practicing in this facility? How could he make their lives better if this were their program?
It allows him to not view the athletic department from on high but as a student, or at least a parent of one.
That allows him to lean on one guiding principle across the board — caring.
“That is our focus every day. Because I do believe the most impressionable time of your life is when you’re in college. You kind of figure things out and set your philosophies on life. So it’s our job to surround them and be great stewards and role models and help them in any way we can. I’m constantly walking around trying to ask them, you know, what can we do better.”
That leads to hiring coaches who care about players, recruiting players who care about each other, and all of them to care about the community.
“It’s the culture we have here at Florida State,” Alford said. “Florida State has so many special people associated with it not only on campus, department, the community, the fans, you know, and it’s kind of in our DNA, that welcoming and that was the relationships that we have. So kudos to the whole Seminole community, because you really do make a difference.”
These quotes are just a snippet of our nearly 40-minute conversation with the Florida State athletic director. These quotes alone are just a portion of his thoughts on the topics of non-conference football games, his thought processes on conference realignment, the fundraising aspect, and beyond. We also discussed the come-up of the football program, what makes Coach Mike Norvell different than other football coaches around the country, the decision to launch Jordan Travis’ Heisman campaign plus the sport he thinks is knocking on the door of the next national championship for Florida State.