- David M. Hale, College football
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The latest jewel added to the Florida State athletic department is being assembled with rapid precision outside Randy Spetman's office at Doak Campbell Stadium. The completion of the new indoor practice facility, which is expected this summer, will mark a defining point in the athletic director's tenure at Florida State -- a project conceived, funded and completed largely on his watch -- that follows the efforts of retrofitting the program.
As FSU tries to maintain its place in college football's upper echelon, perhaps no question looms as large for it as its precarious status in the ongoing game of conference realignment.
Rumors have persisted for more than a year that FSU could bolt from the ACC, and those discussions only gained steam when the school was one of just two conference members to vote against raising the exit fee last fall. The other school, Maryland, has already agreed to leave the conference and join the Big Ten.
The rumblings have quieted a bit -- both nationally and at Florida State -- but Spetman said the wheels continue to turn.
"It's not done," he said. "I watch it every day, reading something about it every day, trying to get a sense and calling my counterparts and seeing where they're really at."
The driving force behind any discussion of Florida State's future with the ACC is revenue, mostly from television contracts; but the particulars of the issue aren't quite so cut and dry.
While Spetman said he has been a part of high-level discussions regarding Florida State's conference affiliation, those measures of cost effectiveness are being debated by the conferences as well, and the fit has to be right on both ends.
"Unless you bring in a revenue for them so that they don't reduce their conference distribution to themselves, they aren't going to bring you in," Spetman said. "That's what I don't think people evaluate as much. It would be great to be in the SEC with our radius of schools and the way our fans travel and their fans travel, but if they bring Florida State into the SEC, I'm trying to see, how do we sell that we bring them enough additional revenue that we pay for ourselves and they make more money off of us? They have Florida just two hours away that has the TV market here."
Similarly, a move to the Big Ten or Big 12 isn't a slam dunk financially for Florida State. Issues surround TV distribution (Maryland won't immediately get a full share from the Big Ten), travel (West Virginia, for example, has had difficulty adjusting to the demands of travel in the Big 12) and, of course, the not insignificant issue of that buyout to leave the ACC, which would cost the university close to $50 million -- a number Maryland is challenging as it works its way out of the league.
In the short term, Spetman said he's confident that the ACC is moving in the right direction, and the Noles staying remains the most appealing solution. However, he said his priority is to ensure that Florida State is prepared for the next major shift.
"We've had conversations at the senior level about what we should consider," Spetman said. "There will be more of those conversations -- they'll continue. It's an evolution every day."
Spetman has out-of-conference concerns as well, mostly with finding attractive nonconference games.
The school announced a home-and-home series with Boise State on Monday, adding a much-needed marquee matchup to Florida State's schedule for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, but bringing a dose of flair to the nonconference slate remains an ongoing challenge.
For the second straight year, the Seminoles' schedule has failed to inspire much enthusiasm, and Spetman said he has heard the complaints.
"We've listened to our fans, that they want to see a little different level of opponent to make sure they come to town," Spetman said. "That's what they want to see us playing. You can't do it all in the first year because we schedule out ahead of ourselves, but we're making some adjustments."
The push begins in earnest in 2014, when Florida State will open its season in Dallas against Oklahoma State at Cowboys Stadium. The neutral-site game offers a palatable compromise in a time when bringing big-ticket teams to Tallahassee is increasingly difficult. Florida State figures to generate some lucrative revenue from the matchup and hopes the game will offer inroads into recruiting the Dallas area, while not requiring FSU to lose a home game in future seasons.
This makes neutral-site kickoff games a likely scenario down the road, too, but again, Spetman said the situation needs to provide an obvious benefit before FSU will sign on.
"I don't want to sign up to a neutral-site game and we don't make our budget," he said. "It's part of the consideration. People say, 'Just go here or there,' but you have to make it work."
Spetman pointed to the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta as an ideal location for future games, but the short-term solutions for drumming up enthusiasm will likely need to come from within the ACC. Spetman said it's crucial that high-profile conference games and upcoming games against Notre Dame -- dates FSU expects to learn by month's end -- will also provide an easy sell.
Winning remains the ultimate sales pitch, Spetman said, and he's acutely aware that how fans define success at Florida State is rarely an easy benchmark to reach.
Last year's ACC title and Orange Bowl victory were significant strides after a long dry spell, though Spetman understands that a vocal contingent of Seminoles fans felt the season fell short of expectations. That makes an evaluation of the program's status right now a bit tricky, and that's part of the reason Spetman said there are not ongoing discussions with Jimbo Fisher regarding a contract extension.
"He's got four years left, he's fairly compensated, and we're comfortable where we are this year with him," Spetman said.
That's not an indictment, however.
What Fisher has done in his three seasons at the helm for Florida State is impressive -- it's just not the finish line for Spetman, who knows his own future is invariably tied to that progress.
"[Fisher] has taken over and what were our hopes? We'd win an ACC championship, we'd get back to a BCS game and win it. There's only a few programs in the nation that were at that level," Spetman said. "We've had the No. 1 and No. 2 recruit classes. He's done that. He's brought us back to national prominence. I think he's put a system in place that is encouraging in where we want to go."
FSU athletic director Randy Spetman has seen some of the fruits of his labor, but as he evaluates the state of the program he's keeping an eye on what's best for the future.