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Why FSU Isn’t Leaving the ACC for the Big 12

Last week, the ACC and ESPN reached an agreement which extended the network’s television contract with the conference for 15 years.  News of the agreement caused many to speculate that FSU would leave the ACC for the Big 12, under the assumption that the amount of money the school would earn under the ACC’s extended media contract was not sufficient and that FSU would be able to earn more under the Big 12’s yet-to-be-negotiated media contract.

However, in a memorandum released today, FSU president Eric Barron all but squashed any rumors of FSU leaving the ACC for the Big 12.

In the memorandum, Barron provided four reasons why alumni believe FSU should consider joining the Big 12:  the Big 12 is more football-oriented than the ACC, the Big 12 would give FSU greater football competition, the ACC provides advantages to North Carolina schools, and FSU would earn more media revenue under the Big 12’s media contract.

In response, Barron nearly doubled the reasons why FSU should not join the Big 12, providing seven explanations.  These explanations included his notations that the ACC is an equal share media revenue conference while the Big 12 is not, any additional money FSU would receive under a more lucrative Big 12 media rights deal would in turn be spent by FSU on further travel to play Big 12 schools, ticket revenue would decline as Big 12 fans would be less inclined to travel to FSU games, the sellout FSU-Miami rivalry would be lost, FSU would have to pay $20-$25 million to leave the ACC and the Big 12 is an “academically weaker” conference.

While many FSU fans may be disappointed in Barron’s response, his reaction is perhaps the most level-headed of any made during the past 18 months in which conference realignment has changed the collegiate athletics landscape.  Barron’s response provided analysis of three of the key factors driving conference realignment:  media contract revenues, travel and academics.  However, it appears that for once, the lure of media contract revenues did not outweigh the costs posed by travel and academics resulting from conference realignment.

Over the past 18 months, fans of college athletics have watched as teams have realigned themselves with conferences in far away lands, under the auspices of joining the ranks of more prestigious academic institutions, better competition, and ultimately, earning higher revenues.  However, in his memorandum, Barron indirectly called out many of these institutions on their bluff:  How can you promote academics and earn more revenue, when you are requiring your student-athletes to travel further distances and expending more money to meet a growing travel budget?

In recent months, I have been given great access into top Division-I athletic department’s budgets.  Across the board, the highest expense any athletic department incurs is for travel.  Athletic departments that compete in localized geographic areas already shell out millions of dollars per year to pay for travel.  Imagine how much the amount spent on travel will increase when schools join conferences with geographic reaches across the nation?  Will it double?  Triple?  Will the possibility of earning $2 million more per year under a media rights agreement balance the additional travel costs incurred by the athletic department, while also negating the time lost to study by student-athletes required to travel further distances for competition?  Only time will tell.

Today, many may be chastising Barron for his memorandum and apparent disinterest in moving FSU to the Big 12.  However, ten years from now, it will be interesting to see what FSU has gained (and likewise, what it may have lost) by remaining in the ACC.

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