Just as the rumbling rumors of Florida State moving from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big 12 had begun to hush, here came the Saturday afternoon bombshell.
"How do you not look into that option?" asked Andy Haggard, chairman of Florida State's board of trustees, to Warchant.com. "On behalf of the Board of Trustees I can say unanimously we would be in favor of seeing what the Big 12 might have to offer.
"We have to do what it is in Florida State's best interest."
The comments rolled across the ACC like an earthquake. There's a big difference between talk and action, and the Big 12 and FSU haven't spoken even informally, sources said, but this was taken deathly serious among the power set. Truth be told, it wasn't even that unexpected.
The first shock to the system hit Wednesday, when the ACC came to terms with ESPN on a 15-year, $3.6 billion agreement that sure sounded good in the press release. Each school was supposedly getting an additional $4 million a year. The average would be $17.1 million annually. Not bad, it seemed.
The reality was bad, however. The initial bump in television revenue is actually just over $1 million a year, sources said, and a total in the $12 million range next season. The deal is back loaded so the bigger money comes in escalator provisions that, considering how broadcast rights keep growing, probably will be below market by the time any sizeable gains are realized.
That additional $4 million per school, per year? That won't come until 2021, nine years in, sources said.
Privately, almost everyone was troubled by the deal.
Furthermore, there was consternation over the length of the deal, which could favor ESPN. Some wondered if it wasn't agreed upon just to save face, the later money making it look like the ACC landed a windfall in today's dollar.
The deal is done though. The only option is to further expand to 16 teams and force renegotiations. Unless that means adding Notre Dame (highly unlikely) there is no one available that would improve the value of the league.
So here's Florida State, which acknowledged this spring it is running an operating deficit and may have to trim up to $2.4 million a year in expenditures. It's saddled with what it considers a less-than-desirable football schedule as it tries to lure 80,000-plus all the way to the Panhandle. The addition of Syracuse and Pitt to the league slate won't help that problem in the least. And it's literally surrounded by cash-rich SEC clubs.
Across the ACC, the television deal was seen as anywhere from a disappointment to a disaster, sources said.
In Tallahassee, it may have been the last straw.
Yes, this threat feels real, people in the ACC believe. Chairmen of the Board generally don't unload like Haggard did unless they were encouraged by someone behind the scenes, who for political reasons can't speak so boldly.
And even if this was a rogue action, as the moves by Texas A&M and Missouri from the Big 12 to the SEC show, once trustees get involved things happen quickly and the status quo isn't the result.
"Ugh," said one league source, which pretty much said it all. ACC football has never lived up to its expectations – much of the blame, ironically, is FSU's mediocrity – but you lose the Seminoles (and maybe Miami) and the future gets more difficult.
Haggard played up the long held idea that the league office is in the back pocket of the basketball programs of Duke and North Carolina, while floating the concept that there is some pile of cash possible if the Seminoles could only package some of their lower-profile football games, maybe even like Texas does with the Longhorn Network.
"It's mind-boggling and shocking," Haggard told Warchant.com. "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."
The truth is the money delivered by selling off the first- and second-tier rights was shocking enough. Also true: neither of his assertions may be accurate. The ACC later said Haggard was incorrect and third-tier basketball rights are not maintained by schools. And no one has any idea what FSU could get from some of its weaker football games.
Sources say the ACC has not distributed the contract with ESPN to member schools. It rarely, if ever, does. Many in the league are wondering how much Haggard himself came up with the third-tier conspiracy, what he thinks is in the deal or why he believes it even matters so much.
It seems like a ploy to drum up fan support for a bold switch. Nothing rallies boosters like the idea of Coach K bullying someone into action, even if it isn't true. Whatever bias there may or may not be, few think it's enough to leave the league.
"This is about money," one ACC source said.
[Pat Forde: Big East TV deal was a failure of leadership]
The Big 12 should offer more of that money, emphasis on should.
A television contract featuring Texas, Oklahoma and FSU, with ties into two of the most populous and most-football mad states in the country should be better than the ACCs. And those tier three rights, whatever they are worth, could remain property of the Seminoles.
Whether that's enough to offset what sources say is either a $20 million or $23 million buyout to leave the ACC is another question. Then there are the travel costs of non-football and men's basketball teams. The ACC is expansive, but there are some bus trips and many flights are to major cities (Boston, Washington D.C., Charlotte), generally cheaper and easier than some of the distant outposts of the Big 12 (Ames, Lubbock).
And if there is a concern about the ACC's perceived favoring of UNC and Duke hoops, has anyone in Tallahassee heard about the Big 12 and Texas football?
For the Big 12, the concerns are few. FSU offers the national program its been seeking since Nebraska left for the Big Ten. The Seminoles aren't what they were in the hey-day of Bobby Bowden, but Jimbo Fisher has them pointed in the proper direction and no one underestimates the program's potential. This is a proven, name brand team. Its entire athletic department is successful (basketball, baseball, etc).
It would anchor the league in two of the nation's best recruiting rounds, Texas and Florida. Adding FSU and another school would allow for a football conference championship game to be staged and would help add strength to the non-Texas-Oklahoma division. That's something oft-discussed candidates Cincinnati and Louisville can't do.
Outside of FSU, almost no one can.
As for that 12th member if the Seminoles eventually decide to move, many in the ACC believe Miami is most likely to try to chain itself to FSU and come along too. Despite Miami's recent fortunes, its presence would further cement the Big 12 in the state of Florida and give it another name program.
While Clemson is often discussed as a potential partner with FSU, many believe the school's ties to the ACC are too deep (it was a founding member in 1953) and exposure in the Atlanta and North Carolina markets are too important for the university as a whole to bolt to some far-flung league.
Either way, the Big 12, which currently features just 10 teams and has not ruled out expansion, is likely to engage in whatever fact finding mission FSU wants.
Would the Big 12 be interested in Florida State?
"I can't imagine how we wouldn't be interested in Florida State," one Big 12 source said.
This is, by no means, a done deal or even a likely deal. Just Friday FSU athletic director Randy Spetman reaffirmed the school's commitment to the league. Haggard's comments are concerning for the ACC though and potential game-changer for the Big 12. The ACC meetings are set to begin Sunday and the mood has changed dramatically.
The television money from the Pitt/Syracuse round of expansion didn't materialize anywhere but in glowing media accounts. Everyone is worried about the SEC, which already enjoyed a financial advantage and will soon redo its television deal, which almost certainly will deliver big.
Haggard was simply the only one who put his name to what many were thinking.
"With the SEC making the kind of money it does it's time to act," Haggard said. "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."
It was a realignment bombshell for sure. One, deep down, the ACC feared might just be coming.
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