Wherever Florida State lands, its reps need to get on same page

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The Seminoles, especially under Bobby Bowden, enjoyed years of domination in the ACC. (Getty Images)  
The Seminoles, especially under Bobby Bowden, enjoyed years of domination in the ACC. (Getty Images)  

Let me say up front that Florida State has every right and every obligation to explore the best possible situation for its institution when it comes to conference affiliation.

In fact, a reasonable argument can be made that Florida State should consider a Big 12 offer if it ever comes. With the news on Friday that the SEC and Big 12 have entered into a new bowl agreement, there is no question there is a greater concentration of power in the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 and that the ACC is in a weaker position than it was 24 hours ago. I still don’t believe Big 12 membership would be a smart move for Florida State, but I accept that there is another point of view.

But for those who are representing Florida State and have chosen to air your feelings publicly on the matter, please consider an unsolicited piece of advice:

Just shut up.

Seriously. You need to shut up.

Because the more you guys talk and the more voices we hear on this, the more Florida State comes across as the gang who can't shoot straight. You've started to embarrass both yourselves and the institution.

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Let's look at what we've had so far.

 The university's board of trustees chairman, Andy Haggard, going public to an FSU fan website that he is not thrilled with the ACC's new media rights deal. He complained the ACC sold its third-tier media rights in football but kept them in basketball, which proves once again the ACC is a basketball conference. He called it "mind boggling and shocking." And therefore, said Haggard, Florida State should see what the Big 12 has to offer.

But there was a problem with Haggard's impassioned assertion. It was incorrect. The ACC did not keep third-tier media rights in basketball in this latest deal. Oops.

 FSU's head football coach, Jimbo Fisher, chimed in about the Big 12 speculation. "If [jumping to the Big 12] is what's best for Florida State, then that's what we need to do." There is nothing truly outrageous in that statement, unless you happen to say it right before the start of the ACC spring meetings. Then it's throwing gasoline on a fire. Fisher had to spend most of the first day of those meetings walking that statement back.

 After the statements of both Haggard and Fisher, the flames of revolution are lit on Twitter, where portions of the Florida State fan base begin to air their grievances about the past 20 years of ACC membership. Florida State president Eric Barron has seen his email box explode and feels compelled to respond to his constituency. His email lists the four most common reasons he has heard for leaving the ACC and seven counter arguments. In the seventh argument he insults the Big 12 by saying his faculty believed the conference to be "academically weaker" than the ACC.

As the late, great Lewis Grizzard once said: "Damn, brother. I don't believe I would have told that." You can think it, but Good Lord, man, you don't say it and you surely don't write it.

To the president's credit, he did end the email by pointing out that a lot of people were getting worked up about a $2.4 million (2 percent) shortfall in the athletic budget when academics was getting slashed by 25 percent ($105 million). He also said, "We can't afford to have conference affiliation be governed by emotion."

Guess that horse is kind of out of the barn.

 Former FSU All-American Derrick Brooks, a former member of the board of trustees, goes on the Tim Brando Show and asserts it is the Big 12 making the overtures to Florida State and not the other way around.

 Now the speculation on Florida State's future is at DEFCON 1. Florida State athletic director Randy Spetman, who has been in the witness protection program up to this point, wants no part of the conversation as he moves from meeting to uncomfortable meeting in Amelia Island. He did try to outrun our Brett McMurphy through the halls of the Ritz-Carlton, but finally stopped long enough to way: "I don't know how Derrick got that."

Good grief. Could Florida State have mishandled this any worse? I don't think so.

It never ceases to amaze me how otherwise intelligent, learned people who represent public institutions do not know how to handle these kinds of situations.

What we have here is a lack of leadership at the highest level. An institution with strong leadership always speaks with one voice. No exceptions.

My CBS colleague Spencer Tillman was kind enough to send me the bylaws for the Florida State board of trustees. It lists the university president as the executive officer of the board, and to that end the president "shall exercise such powers as are appropriate to that position in promoting, supporting, and protecting the interests of the university and in managing and directing its affairs."

Yes, I know the president gets his marching orders from the BOT, but he has to be the point man on these kinds of issues. If president Barron didn't know Haggard upstaging him was coming, that's bad. If the president was letting Haggard play the bad cop while he played the good cop, then it is worse.

And while we're on the subject, let's address some of the arguments I've heard from Florida State fans as to why the school should run -- not walk -- to the Big 12:

The ACC is no longer a good enough football league for us.

Well, whose fault is that? Florida State's great 14-year run ended in 2000 and the Seminoles haven't sniffed at a national championship since.

Florida State won both of its national championships (1993, 1999) as a member of the ACC. They won a lot of games and made a lot of money in this league. Then, after losing four of its past six games to Wake Forest, Florida State fans wake up one morning and decide the ACC isn't good enough?

The ACC is too centered around the North Carolina schools.

Now there's a news flash. Four of the 12 (soon to be 14) schools are located in North Carolina. The league office is in Greensboro, N.C. Been that way since the league was founded in 1953, so you knew that when you joined in 1992. You think the North Carolina schools have too much power in the ACC and you want to join a conference that has the University of By-God Texas in it?

We ought to be in the SEC and this (the Big 12) is the next best thing.

You had your chance to join the SEC and you turned it down because you knew -- and Bobby Bowden knew -- that you could dominate the ACC. And you did. But more than once over the past five years, you've let it be known you want to be in the SEC and would like to be asked again. I could be wrong, but I think that ship has sailed.

We get screwed by the officiating.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Duke and North Carolina get all the calls. How many times have we heard that? What is this, high school?

Look, if Florida State thinks it will be happier and make more money in the Big 12, then pay the $20 million exit fee and go. If Florida State is convinced its football problems will be solved by playing Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State every year, then that is what the school should do. If Friday’s news makes Florida State believe that ACC football is in real trouble over the long haul, then the school should act accordingly.

But while you’re at it, tell Mike Martin, one of the best college baseball coaches who has ever lived, that he'll end his Hall of Fame career playing road games in Lawrence, Kansas. Tell Leonard Hamilton, the coach of the defending ACC basketball tournament champions, that he's not playing Duke or Carolina anymore. Instead he'll be going to Manhattan, Kansas, and Lubbock, Texas. Do what you gotta do.

But until you make that decision, somebody at that school needs to step up and show some leadership. Man up, address the issue, and quit hiding under your desks. If you want to leave, then look commissioner John Swofford in the eye and tell him that. When it comes to leadership, the president of the university would be a good place to start. Let him do the talking.

The rest of you guys need to keep a lid on it.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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