Big 12 smoke could develop into fire

The chairman of the Board of Trustees is saying one thing. The president of the school is saying another. Is Florida State interested in the Big 12? Apparently, the Seminoles are indeed willing to listen.

Perhaps Florida State never did fit in with the basketball-first culture of Tobacco Road, so maybe it's not crazy after all to wonder if the Seminoles will instead choose to align themselves with the football die-hards in and around the Lone Star State.

Because conference realignment has been the hot topic in college athletics each of the past several offseasons, and resulted in Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Texas A&M all departing the Big 12 for supposedly greener pastures elsewhere -- not to mention West Virginia bolting the Big East for a wounded Big 12 -- speculation began to surface that FSU could be on the Big 12's radar. But the story originally appeared to be trumped up by bloggers and message-board regulars looking to stir the pot, so the 'Noles stayed quiet and forced everyone to wonder what was truly going on behind those closed Garnet and Gold doors.

Two decades into their relationship with the ACC, while Florida State fans have had a love-and-hate relationship with the conference, at least it was relatively stable. No schools had left, and, as a matter of fact, both Pittsburgh and Syracuse would soon uptick the league from 12 to 14 teams after divorcing themselves from the increasingly irrelevant Big East. Yes, basketball always seemed to be more important than football to commissioner John Swofford, who's a North Carolina alum and lives in Greensboro, but the ACC does possess a pigskin title game (the Big 12 currently does not), an automatic bid into the BCS and recently renegotiated its television package with ESPN to get the annual payout up to $17 million per program.

But then Rivals.com had a one-on-one conversation Saturday with Board of Trustees chairman Andy Haggard, and he had no problem opening up those aforementioned Garnet and Gold doors to let his feelings be known.

"On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I can say that unanimously we would be in favor of seeing what the Big 12 might have to offer," Haggard said. "We have to do what is in Florida State's best interest."

Haggard's comments set off a firestorm of speculation that the university was indeed unhappy with the ACC and possibly looking to make the big move, to the Big 12 or some place else, and even though he was offered an opportunity to backtrack Sunday by the Tallahassee Democrat, he didn't tone down his message very much.

"All I tried to say was I think Florida State needs to keep an open mind," he said. "If the Big 12 or the SEC or any other conference wants to talk, we have an obligation to listen. If the Big 12 calls, should we hang up the phone? No. I'm not saying take it. I'm saying listen to it. Listen to what they have to say."

Florida State president Eric Barron then felt the need to address Haggard's comments by issuing a public statement that may or may not have been designed to mend any broken fences with the ACC -- either that or he and the Board of Trustees simply are not on the same page at this point.

"Florida State University regrets that misinformation about the provisions of the ACC contract has unnecessarily renewed the controversy and speculation about the university's athletic conference alignment," Barron's statement read. "Florida State respects the views of the Chair of its Board of Trustees that, of course, any university would examine options that would impact university academics, athletics or finances. At the same time, Florida State is not seeking an alternative to the ACC, nor are we considering alternatives. Our current commitments remain strong."

Caught in the crossfire, 'Noles football coach Jimbo Fisher was next to go on record, but after scoffing at a similar notion just this past summer, all of a sudden he might be warming up to the idea.

"There have been no official talks, but I think you always have to look out there to see what's best for Florida State," Fisher said. "If [jumping to the Big 12] is what's best for Florida State, then that's what we need to do."

It's been more than a decade now since FSU's reign of dominance on the football field came to an end, plus the economic climate in this country isn't what it once was, as evidenced by the fact that the Seminoles are facing a $2.4 million budget shortfall in their athletic department this coming year.

"With the SEC making the kind of money it does, it's time to act," said Haggard. "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."

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On the surface, Florida State doesn't make a lot of sense in the Big 12. Since Seminole fans historically have not been awfully enthusiastic about road trips to Winston-Salem, North Carolina (Wake Forest), or Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts (Boston College), there likely wouldn't be a groundswell of support for games in Waco, Texas (Baylor), or Ames, Iowa (Iowa State). Not to mention the prestige of being affiliated with some prized institutions like Duke and Virginia in the ACC is a feather in the cap, and it's impossible to deny that FSU's academics and athletics as a whole -- the ‘Noles finished No. 7 in the most recent Director's Cup standings, tops in the league -- are better now than during its days as an independent a generation or so ago.

Nevertheless, if Boise State can be located in the Mountain time zone yet compete in the Big East come 2013, it's apparently not beyond the realm of possibility that Florida State could soon be conference rivals with the likes of Texas and Oklahoma.

As the saying goes: Follow the money. There are more TV dollars in the Big 12 -- the SEC, too -- right now. And FSU is not a rich school.


John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.


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