TALLAHASSEE, FL - Florida State University may soon become a member of the Southern Conference. It won't be this year, but it's very probable that year or 1952 will find the Seminoles in the Southern, one of the Southland's oldest, largest and most important athletic organizations.
Officials here won't comment on the matter, but although their silence isn't a confirmation, neither is it a denial
The Journal has learned from extremely reliable sources that Florida State would be happy to become a member of the conference. It is probably safe to say that steps have been taken toward that goal. Andit is probable, that when and if official action is taken and announced, the conference will be in a receptive mood.
Dr. Howard Danford, Florida State's director of athletics, was asked about the subject. "Our athletic committee has voted to stay in the Dixie Conference for another year," Dr. Danford stated, "and after that I have no comment." The "year" remaining in the small DixieConference is the current "school year" and does not include the 1951 football season.
Coach Don Veller, who has guided Florida State teams to 21 victories in 23 games, the last 10 in succession, declared, "we'll play anybody."
Don has been urged by students and thousands of fans of his team to play a tougher schedule. He agrees that sooner or later his Seminoles will be ready to take on more rugged opponents, but declared, "We need to get a little mmore settled n our recruiting plan. Our coaches are ready, although we need more of them."
"We might have beaten Florida last year," Don said when asked about recent fuore about an FSU-Florida game. He added, "Florida has better and more versatile material than we do this year, and we don't have a passer like Sullivan."
"People don't realize that we are just now getting into the toughest part of our schedule," Veller declared. "If we're good enough to beat Stetson and Tampa, we're good enough to play a tougher schedule," he added, and then grinned, "but I don't think we're that good."
"I didn't ask to play Florida," the coach reported, "the students suggested it. They won't rest until we play them."
Don was asked how strong he considered his Seminoles in comparison with Southeastern Conference teams. "I feel we're on a par with Auburn," he said.
There's a rumor here that the school will be allowed to subsidize athletes under the scholarship system used by other Southern schools. "I'm not free to comment on that." Veller stated, "It's not for me to decide."
TALLAHASSEE, FL - Ten years have passed since Florida State University helped usher in a new era in college athletics, forsaking 40 years of football independence to become the ninth member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The choice of conference affiliation sparked some debate among Seminoles supporters, and still does.
From a football standpoint, it's hard to mount a convincing argument against the results piled up by coach Bobby Bowden's team since the move. Running roughshod over a league that was supposed to benefit from their addition, the Seminoles have won 70 of 72 conference games and nine consecutive ACC titles, and extended their NCAA-record streak of 10-win seasons to 14.
FSU has parlayed those regular-season results into a bowl bonanza. Five times the 'Noles have played bowl games to decide the national championship, including the first three Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games. Twice they succeeded, bringing home the university's first national title in any sport in 1993, before adding a second in 1999.
Financially, Florida State's athletic department has realized a windfall in excess of $57.3 million as a direct result of its ACC membership. No matter how you measure that sum, it's a tremendous return on the initial investment of $500,000, which consummated the FSU-ACC marriage on July 1, 1991.
"The decision for Florida State to join from a pure business standpoint, particularly with regard to football, was visionary," said ACC Commissioner John Swofford, who at the time of the decision was the athletics director at North Carolina. "I think it has turned out what it should be, and that's a good marriage."
But as with any marriage, there are trying moments. Football and financial success aside, FSU has failed to cash in on the notion that the move to the ACC would upgrade its men's basketball program. Likewise, the league continues its uphill fight for football respect, made more difficult by the dominance of the FSU program expected to serve as a catalyst.
"In one sense it appears to be a brilliant decision," Seminole Boosters, Inc., President Andy Miller said, espousing the financial benefits FSU enjoys by virtue of its ACC membership.
Miller, however, can't help but wonder what might have become of his alma mater had it opted to join the Southeastern Conference. A member of the President's Executive Advisory Council that ultimately recommended the ACC over the SEC to then-FSU president Bernie Sliger, Miller was among a majority who favored the SEC from the start.
"From the standpoint of bringing crowds to Tallahassee for football, it [the ACC] has not been a plus at all," Miller said, acknowledging that he accepted the trade-off of the SEC's rich football tradition for the "better fit" of the ACC.
"Would l like to see Alabama, Auburn and Georgia come to Tallahassee?" Miller asked. "Hell yes. Did we need the SEC to become one of the big boys? Hell no. Now we are one of the big boys."
That hasn't precluded current FSU Athletics Director Dave Hart from entering discussions with Seminole fans who believe the university would be a better fit in the SEC.
"As the years have gone by you hear less of it, but it hasn't totally dissipated, either," said Hart, who in 1995 succeeded Bob Goin, the driving force behind the ACC decision. "From a geographic perspective, it could still be argued today.
"For Florida State and Georgia Tech, we are Atlantic Coast Conference members housed in the SEC territory. You have to live that to totally appreciate and understand it."
Hart, an Alabama graduate, won't argue that playing an SEC football schedule would virtually assure sellouts every Saturday. At the same time, he credits former ACC Commissioner Gene Corrigan, who sold the league on the Seminoles, with providing FSU and the ACC the opportunity to realize its potential as players on the nation's center stage.
Through the eyes of FSU, Goin shared Corrigan's vision. He worked tirelessly to build consensus among those who would determine the university's conference course, many of whom favored the SEC.
"I thought it [the ACC] was going to be a good fit," Goin said, "and history would show it was a good fit."
What Goin accomplished over a seven-week stretch from late July to mid-September of 1990, as FSU entertained its conference options, culminated with a decision that altered the university's athletic course and figured prominently in the changing complexion of college football.
How the deal was done
Throughout most of its independent football years, Florida State longed for inclusion; the opportunity to associate itself with the very best. And in Florida's capital city, the best college football had always been played in the Southeastern Conference.
From the time that the first SEC team appeared on the Seminoles' schedule in 1952, six years after the Florida State College for Women became a coeducational institution, FSU fancied itself as the new neighbor, biding its time until it was invited over. In the early 1970s, former FSU president Stanley Marshall began to push the issue, conducting a personal tour of SEC campuses in an attempt to land the Seminoles a place in the conference.
That vision remained as late as 1990, when the face of college football began to change. In August of 1989, Penn State, which along with Notre Dame, Miami and FSU represented the most prominent football independents, accepted an invitation to join the Big Ten. Shortly thereafter, the SEC announced its intention to expand from 10 to 12 teams, quickly snapping up Arkansas from the soon-to-be-disbanded Southwest Conference.
Florida State, with its 32-4 record over a three-year stretch under Bowden, had become an attractive dance partner.
"We had tried to get in the SEC for 30 years and had been turned down all the time," Bowden said, recalling the events in the summer of '90 that ultimately led the school to forgo its independent status. "Then all of a sudden they came to us wanting to get in there."
FSU, a member of the non-football-playing Metro Conference since 1976, had begun to realize the growing challenge of maintaining its football independence before the suitors came calling in the summer of '90. As the talk of conference expansion permeated the NCAA Division I ranks, the threat of scheduling difficulties became real. Lack of conference affiliation also prevented FSU from realizing its full financial potential.
Sensing the time was right to consider an all-sports conference affiliation, FSU President Bernie Sliger appointed an External Advisory Committee to examine the issue. The 12-member committee, dubbed "The A Team", included a host of heavy-hitting boosters, most of whom had strong feelings about joining the SEC from the outset.
"I walked in there as a committee member solely SEC," prominent booster Andy Haggard said. "I was astounded that there would be any other talk. I would say that we were two-thirds SEC because we always wanted to be in the SEC and were always blocked by Florida."
SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer said he never took for granted that Florida State would follow Arkansas as the newest member of the conference, though others did.
"There was a lot of speculation to that respect,'' Kramer recalled. "Our presidents simply announced that they were expanding and didn't mention any schools. I think public perception at that time would have said yes. But factually, speaking for the presidents -- and it was a presidential move -- no.''
The SEC wasn't the only option. The Metro Conference was exploring the formation of a "super" conference, including the 'Noles in their plans for a 16-team league. The surprise player in the field was the ACC, led by commissioner Gene Corrigan, the former athletic director at Notre Dame, who sought to bolster the league's football stature.
It didn't take long for the committee to realize FSU had become a hot property in the escalating expansion race.
"At that time we thought we had arrived, when you have the SEC at your doorstep," Haggard said. "We had the ACC begging us and the SEC begging us."
At the annual ACC meetings on May 22 in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Florida State was mentioned for the first time. The discussions led Corrigan to schedule another meeting on July 25 at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., in the exact room where the conference was formed in 1953.
Frustrated by the league's lack of focus on the expansion issue, Corrigan opted for a different approach at the Sedgefield meeting.
"I said, 'Let's make believe that we've agreed to expand. Each one of you has to write down a name of school,' " Corrigan recalled.
The secret ballot of member schools turned up four votes each for Syracuse and Florida State.
By the close of the four-hour meeting, Corrigan had permission from the ACC athletic directors to approach both schools to gauge interest. His first call was to Syracuse A.D. Jake Crouthamel. Crouthamel expressed interest, but because the Orangemen were charter members of the Big East, said the ACC would have to build a strong case. Corrigan, however, was not interested in wining and dining and told Crouthamel: "Just forget I called."
His call to Goin, however, yielded a different response.
"Bob said, 'Oh my goodness, I was hoping there was some interest [from] the ACC,'" Corrigan said.
Time and popular opinion, at least among FSU's decision-makers, were not on Goin's side and he expressed those concerns to Corrigan during the initial phone call.
Corrigan said that Goin had informed him that talks with Kramer and SEC officials were moving swiftly.
"He [Goin] said, 'We don't have much time,' " said Corrigan, who arranged an Aug. 17 meeting with Sliger and Goin before a group of ACC faculty representatives at the league's offices in Greensboro.
"They were very impressive," Corrigan said of FSU's presentation. "I thought we might get a unanimous vote."
It did not take much to convince Corrigan that the addition of FSU would have a profound impact on the league. Not only would the Seminoles' football program lend credibility to the ACC, but the prospect of tapping into Florida's vast media market was particularly enticing.
Needing six affirmative votes for expansion -- and fully aware that Duke and Maryland were opposed -- Corrigan immediately set out on a whirlwind personal tour in an attempt to sell the league's university presidents.
Sliger and Goin returned to Tallahassee equally impressed, but facing an equally daunting charge -- altering the minds of those who wanted FSU to join the SEC.
Selling the idea
Corrigan had a gut feeling that the face-to-face meeting between Sliger, Goin and ACC representatives had gone well.
"I think our people really liked Bernie," Corrigan said. "The funny thing about Bernie was he really wanted to go into the SEC, but he let other people make that decision."
And that probably was greatest reason for Corrigan's optimism. Goin, FSU's first-year A.D., was the point-man in the school's search for conference affiliation.
"Bob Goin and Gene Corrigan clicked immediately," said former FSU sports information director Wayne Hogan, a Goin confidant throughout the process. "They formed a very tight and lasting relationship right from the beginning."
Goin, however, didn't allow any perceived bias to prevent him from a thorough examination of the two leagues. Armed with comparative charts on subjects as diverse as average SAT scores of incoming freshmen, travel distances between FSU and the two league's schools and projected revenues from football attendance, television contracts and bowl receipts, Goin presented his case.
"My job was to do the pros and the cons and I did that," Goin said. "I shared it with a number of contstituencies there and after a time it started unfolding."
Not surprisingly, in the ACC's favor.
Wake Forest University President Thomas Hearn, who represented the ACC on the NCAA President's Commission, said Sliger's strong stance on academic reform put to rest any questions about FSU's off-field accountability. Sliger was also a member of the President's Commission.
"Bernie had already earned his stars," Hearn said. "No one had any doubt about the integrity of Florida State's commitment to academics."
Since its 1953 inception the ACC had made only one move in terms of membership, and that was replacing charter member South Carolina, which resigned in 1971, with Georgia Tech in 1978. Coincidentally, Georgia Tech had withdrawn from the SEC in 1964, while South Carolina ended 19 years of independence by joining the SEC in 1990.
Corrigan's greatest challenge wasn't selling the league on FSU, but on expansion in general. The eight schools had grown comfortable with their place in the NCAA hierarchy, their philosophies regarding academics and athletics and their revenue-sharing plan that offered the same financial benefits -- much of which came from its lucrative basketball television contract -- to all of its members.
While conference affiliation would impact FSU's entire athletic program, suggesting that football was anything less than a major factor in expansion talk would be naive. So while Bowden was not directly involved in the decision, his support was critical in the process.
Not surprisingly, the Birmingham born-and-raised Seminoles coach -- who spent one year as a quarterback at Alabama -- said the SEC was "emotionally" his first choice. Even so, he carefully weighed all options.
"I was probably involved just about as much as anybody in that I agreed to [the ACC]," Bowden said. "I think if I would have wanted to fight for the SEC it might have caused some concerns for everybody, but I didn't feel that way.
"When you started looking at it from a financial perspective and what's best for us, I felt pretty sure what we should do is go ahead and join the ACC. ... Bob [Goin] had it laid out pretty good. I'll be honest with you, it was a no-brainer."
Haggard, like many on the advisory committee, valued Bowden's view on the choice of conference.
"Bobby was totally SEC when it started," Haggard said. "As Bobby's thinking changed, our thinking changed. It ended up unanimous ACC."
By the time a contingent of ACC school and league officials made their Sept. 2 tour of FSU's campus, the league had already made substantial gains on the SEC's initial foothold. Finances, football and basketball prowess aside, the ACC's overall image -- specifically its academic reputation -- had left a strong impression.
"More people here wanted the ACC; that's what really changed me," Sliger said. "The faculty really wanted the ACC. There were very few [faculty members] that had gone to the SEC, but many of them had gone to North Carolina and Virginia, places like that."
While the ACC and FSU continued to discover common ground through the search process, the SEC was losing ground. In early August, athletic directors Joe Dean of LSU and Hootie Ingram, who was at Alabama after nine years with FSU, publicly proclaimed the Seminoles would join the SEC. Time, however, was no longer on the SEC's side and Kramer's timing made it even worse.
Kramer and top aide Mark Womack made their official visit and presentation in Tallahassee on Sept. 11, perhaps not coincidentally, the same day that Corrigan arranged a conference call with the ACC's university presidents to make his final presentation for expansion and Florida State.
Hogan vividly remembers the SEC presentation before the entire FSU athletic department.
"That very day, when Bob Goin and Roy Kramer sat in the room there was very much a different dynamic," Hogan said. "It was very stiff and very cold. ....
"The SEC in those days was certainly the 3,000-pound gorilla. They kept putting out vibes, 'How could you not want to play with us? We've already got a great deal going; wouldn't you want to jump on our train?' "
Whether real or merely perceived, the vibes generated from the SEC's presentation didn't sit well with some at FSU.
"There was quite a bit of feeling that we didn't want to be entrapped; a feeling among some of the fans that if we go into that conference that has been dominated by the Alabamas, Auburns and Georgias we'd be kind of a stepchild," Miller said. "[That] we wouldn't get the respect we deserved."
While Kramer emerged from the five-hour long meeting with FSU officials, declining comment on the school's possible membership, Corrigan forged ahead. His conference call with the presidents went so well that he set a conference call vote on expansion for 9:30 the following morning.
Corrigan woke up on Sept. 12, 1990 certain he had the six votes necessary to move ahead and expand. Duke and Maryland, he knew, would cast the only no votes. He was even more certain that if the league agreed on expansion, adding Florida State would be nothing more than a formality.
In a matter of minutes, Corrigan saw all the hard work on the delicate issue come apart. Clemson, Georgia Tech and Virginia, the strongest supporters on the issue and FSU all along, voted for expansion. Duke and Maryland voted against, but to Corrigan's surprise, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest abstained; the equivalent of three no votes.
Expansion was suddenly dead.
"Corrigan was just about in tears when the vote was over," said Tom Mickle, Corrigan's top aide.
"All of a sudden we've got these abstentions," Corrigan recalled. "I've got the athletic directors on another line waiting. ... A couple of them went ballistic."
The resounding voice of the AD's was: "That's not the way we thought we were voting."
Corrigan could have let the issue die, but after conferring with the athletic directors, agreed to have a second vote at 7 p.m., after the abstaining parties had the opportunity to hammer out final questions.
Meanwhile, the SEC had caught wind of the ACC's intention to hold an expansion vote and quickly convened its own conference call. They voted to not extend Florida State an invitation to the conference.
Goin and the Seminoles were in limbo.
As the second vote was taking place Goin was on a plane to an in-state function, kept abreast of the proceedings via cell phone from Hogan, who was in constant communication with Corrigan and Mickle.
At the same time Goin said he was, "dodging Kramer's call because I didn't want him to tell me he didn't want me."
"That was some tense times," Hogan said. "Had that vote not gone our way, we were screwed."
"There was anxiety, but at the same token, I was representing a pretty good university," Goin said . "If you're not carrying a very strong deck, I would have had more anxiety. I don't think we would have been in the open market very long."
It didn't matter. The re-vote went 6-2 in favor of expansion and 8-0 in favor of the Seminoles. FSU had a new home.
Corrigan extended FSU its formal invitation the following day -- Sept. 13 -- and FSU accepted without hestitation.
Kramer said he has no hard feelings about Florida State's maneuvering. Asked if, in the end, he felt Florida State had played the SEC's offer against the ACC's, Kramer said:
"Officially, no. I had known Bernie [Sliger] forever and considered him a friend. I dealt with him and he was very up front. I never felt we were being used.''
"With every fiber in my being I thought it was the right thing at that time for Florida State," Goin said. "That program at that time fit better with the ACC than any. I don't know, they may not make that same decision today as they did 10 years ago."
Goin was never fully able to enjoy the fruits of his effort. He was forced out of his post in 1994 in the wake of allegations that he curried financial favor from a contractor that was working on Doak Campbell Stadium; a charge that he was later cleared of.
In hindsight, Swofford believes the league has benefited greater from FSU's addition than any of the other conferences which branched out, or cropped up like the Big 12, as a result of the expansion rush.
"I think definitely we have," said Swofford, in his fouth year as commissioner. "It's an excellent fit. Of any people that would have been available at that point in time, Florida State was the ideal choice for our league. If we had to do it all over again, Florida State is exactly who we would want to have."