What does it say about that, with a college football season almost at hand, there’s less drama regarding who’ll win than about who, this time next year, will be playing where? Maybe the expanded-by-eight playoff will liven up a sport that could stand livening, but the playoff arrives in December 2024. Meanwhile, the landscape changes by the day.
We last discussed conference realignment a week ago. Much has changed. Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports reports the Big Ten has opened discussions about adding Oregon, Washington, Stanford and Utah. The still-open-for-business Big 12 is poised to add Arizona after it re-poached Colorado. Even Apple TV mightn’t want what’s left of the Pac-12.
On Wednesday, Florida State said what we already knew: Having had one consecutive winning season, it has grown too big for its conference, to say nothing of its britches. President George McCullough proclaimed that, unless the ACC finds a way to pay FSU way more than it pays, say, Georgia Tech, the Seminoles will leave.
His words to ESPN: “I’m not that optimistic we’ll be able to stay.”
Not long ago, North Carolina stood alongside FSU in an alliance of seven disgruntled ACC programs. The splinter group has itself splintered. In an interview with a Raleigh radio station, UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham accused the Seminoles of “barking.” He advised them to pipe down or head out, the catch being that an ACC exit might involve idling on the runway for 12 years.
Cunningham: “Pay for the exit fee, wait for your grant of rights that you’ve given and then in 2036, when those rights return to you, do whatever you want.”
The exit fee is $120 million. ACC media money through 2036 will amount to much more – though not what those in the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 will bank. Florida State’s dilemma: It wants to go where it can make big money, but leaving under these circumstances could render it poor.
We’ve wondered when an ACC school will sue to break the grant of rights. To borrow from “Les Miz”: The time is now; the day is here.
As Peter Collins, FSU’s board chair, told Warchant.com: “(The grant of rights) will not be the document that keeps us from taking action.” In other words: “See you in court, Bubba!”
Cunningham, asking the salient question: “I’m not sure how you can say, ‘Just kidding. I don’t like the deal that was struck and now I want to get out of it.’ "
The grant of rights is the second-biggest issue facing Florida State. The biggest is more basic: Who wants FSU?
The Pac-12 no longer factors. The Big 12 would welcome Florida State, but the Seminoles, as much as they’re interested in money, also seek prestige. With Texas and Oklahoma outbound, the Big 12 will have a bunch of far-flung names – from Colorado to West Virginia, from Cincinnati to Central Florida – but no tentpole.
If you’re leaving the ACC, there are only two places to be. One is the Big Ten, which is looking westward. The league FSU wants to join is the SEC. Trouble is, the SEC hasn’t felt a need for FSU.
Over three decades, the SEC has added South Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, Texas and Oklahoma. At the time of admission, four fit the SEC’s stated criteria: They’re flagship schools in states where the conference didn’t have a member. Texas A&M isn’t a flagship, but the SEC wanted a foothold in the Lone Star State and made an exception. It then made a same-state exception for Texas.
This tells us the SEC’s standards are, ahem, flexible. Asked about Florida State, commissioner Greg Sankey offered ESPN a statement loaded with wiggle room: “Further expansion has not been a central topic in the SEC other than regularly updating our campus leadership on national developments.”
Texas and Oklahoma bring the SEC to 16. The Big Ten could soon be the Big Ten X 2. In all sports save golf, more is better. The SEC could be persuaded to add FSU, though the league’s Florida representative would raise a stink. The SEC might also say: “We’re already a super-conference. We’re fine as is.”
Florida State needs a partner-in-flight. The SEC might look with more favor on a package deal – maybe including Clemson but especially including North Carolina and/or Miami. But no other ACC school will bolt if the grant of rights maintains legal sway. To get where it wants to be, FSU better get good at lawyering.
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