College football: FSU's future is clouded by bad moves in the past | David Whitley

David Whitley
Gator Sports

William Shakespeare probably did not give much thought to SEC football. He did come up with a handy term to describe teams that are itching to join the league.

Hoist with his own petard.

It means you’ve been done in by your own scheme, and it expressly applies to Florida State. The overhaul of college football has left the Seminoles stuck in a rickety league they’re desperate to escape.

The fact that they can’t is a long tale of decisions that have blown up in a lot of faces. It’s one most people in Gainesville doubtless enjoy reading, but they should try to put the hostility aside and think back to the glory days of the rivalry.

Spurrier vs. Bowden. The Choke at Doak. The 1997 Sugar Bowl.

Great teams made for indelible memories. But the way things are heading, FSU may always be a shadow of its old self.

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Gator fans, doesn’t that bother you?

OK, dumb question.

What's next for Florida State and SEC?

UF fans feel like they’re on Noah’s Ark and FSU’s waving for help in the rising floodwater. In case you’re not up on the particulars, the SEC and Big Ten have divided and conquered college football.

They might invite a few more schools to join. Or they might not.

That’s a topic of endless speculation. The one certainty is their TV deals will soon pay members $80 million to $100 million a year. ACC teams are looking at maybe $50 million.

That extra 30 to 50 mil a year will buy a lot of facilities, staff, bells, whistles, recruits and power. Multiply it by TV contract years, and UF will have a billion-dollar advantage over its in-state rival.

No wonder FSU has been making eyes at Greg Sankey.

Despite its post-Jimbo struggles, the Seminole brand still has a lot of cachet. Forbes rated FSU the 14th-most valuable football program at $96 million a year.

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Miami didn’t make the top 25. The ‘Canes also draw Vandy-like crowds at home, so it’ll probably be a cold day in South Beach before the SEC asks Miami to join.

With FSU, it’s a question of overall value. If SEC teams are already getting $100 million a year, are the Seminoles worth $101 million to the league? Is it better to expand the TV footprint to North Carolina and Virginia?

And just what is a petard? It’s a small bomb. In "Hamlet," Act 3, Scene 4, the prince says the petard his enemies plan to use on him will blow up on them.

Cut to SEC Expansion, Act 1, Scene 1 in 1990. The visionary SEC was expanding and invited FSU to join the party. Bobby Bowden, a military buff, knew the battles would be easier in the ACC.

“You’ve heard me talk about generals,” he said. “Well, Custer was never one of my favorites.”

Locked in with the ACC deal

FSU threw in with the ACC. It was the right decision at the time, as three national championships could attest. Nobody foresaw the explosion in TV riches, which brings us Petard Hoist, Act 2.

It was April 2012. The non-visionaries at the ACC, rattled by Maryland bolting for the Big Ten, signed a 15-year deal with ESPN, locking in revenue and stability. It was eventually extended to 2036.

“A milestone agreement,” Virginia AD Craig Littlepage said.

More like a millstone tied around the league’s neck. The grant of rights agreement dictates that a school’s media rights and revenue stay in the ACC.

If FSU wants to leave, it will have to pay an exit fee of about $125 million. Forfeiting the media rights would mean kissing away another $300 million or so.

Unless Elon Musk becomes head of Seminole Boosters Inc., nobody’s writing that going-away check. So, what are FSU’s options?

It can hope Notre Dame rescues the ACC by becoming a full-fledged member. Don’t count on that.

FSU reportedly has had talks with the Big Ten, which might want to expand into Florida. That smells like a long shot.

As for SEC membership, Texas A&M wasn’t thrilled when the league invited Texas last year. The Aggies eventually went along for the proverbial “good of the league.” UF probably would do the same for FSU, though the SEC might find Clemson, North Carolina and Virginia more valuable.

And looming over everything is the grant of rights millstone. The billable hours in that legal fight are going to pay for a lot of lawyers’ vacation homes.

The Seminoles have hoisted themselves into a very uncomfortable limbo. It’s anyone’s guess what the final scene will be, but Shakespearean tragedies usually ended poorly for everyone.

Circle the wagons, Gen. Custer. This is looking like an ending only a Gator fan could love.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley