The Seminoles and the SEC: A Sordid Love Affair
"The SEC is the only logical conference for us to get into from a geographical standpoint, but that depends on two things: increase in the size of our stadium and the ability of our football team to beat some of the SEC members."
—Dr. Howard Danford, FSU Athletic Director, 11/20/1955.
TAMPA—Every summer there seems to be that certain buzz in the air about conference expansion, or, conference collapse. The impending doom of the next "Temple Owls" program, or the rise of some titanic "super-conference."
Somewhere, mixed in the shuffle of all the media reports and sportscasts, almost assuredly you'll be reminded in some small token of the SEC and ACC expansions of 1991, and you'd have to have a trained ear to not hear the name "FSU" coinciding with the bickerings of "cowards" brought up by a certain fanbase some 150 miles down the road.
Well it's true.
In 1990, the Seminoles agreed to join a basketball conference—the ACC, which was and perhaps still is, less well known for its prowess on the gridiron.
The Seminoles turned down a lucrative bid for one of two open spots in perhaps one of the best football conferences in the land—the SEC.
The Seminoles would go on to play for an unthinkable five National Championships in the next 10 years, winning two in the process. Fans outside of the ACC would say it was due in large part to their dominance within an inferior football conference. They may have been right.
The Seminoles were simply afraid to play a real schedule, against real football teams, namely the teams in the SEC...
...or were they?
To understand the love/hate duality between Florida State and the Southeastern Conference—a lot of history needs to first be examined. The Seminoles' love affair with the SEC did not begin in the late 1980s, no.
Rather, it began through a humiliating series of disappointing rejections, over the course of a 30-plus year process, in which FSU repeatedly applied for membership only to be continuously told, "no."
The irony behind their lengthy plight, as unimaginable as it may sound, was not due in part to the organization whose fans had proclaimed FSU's cowardice in the final days leading up to the Seminoles' joining of the Atlantic Coast Conference in the late Summer of 1990. Instead, FSU would find that the University of Florida—was for many years, its repeated advocate for admission into the conference.
As far back as 1955, Florida State had been looking for a home. A conference where the Seminoles could gain in notoriety, financial support, and capability of becoming a school that could compete in both academics, and athletics.
From the turn of the century, FSU had been designated an all-women's University, while its sister school in Gainesville had been designated an all-men's campus, inheriting both FSU's football program, and fraternity system. During the course of that period however, the University of Florida did not experience any largely significant successes leading up to the co-ed expansion of both schools following World War II.
During the expansion era, FSU made tremendous strides under Head Coach Don Veller, posting winning records in four of its first five seasons, and finishing as their conference's champion in 1948 and 1949, and again in 1950 when they would go undefeated—two accomplishments that had not yet been realized in Gainesville.
Florida State would officially apply for membership its first time (of many) in 1960, citing its schedule of three SEC opponents that season—Auburn, Kentucky and Florida. FSU would lose to all three. Before the season begins that year, Florida cites its support for both Florida State and Miami to join the conference following the 1960 season.
It would never happen.
In 1962, FSU would again lobby for support from the University of Florida to expand the SEC and allow it to join. FSU would garner support from another unlikely source—Jim Whatley from the University of Georgia's coaching staff. Whatley cited that FSU joining the conference would benefit by way of its accommodating facilities, which, at the time, were well ahead of other SEC stadiums. The needed revenue would almost assuredly garner favor for FSU to join the conference, alongside the growing support of other SEC members. FSU's effort would again—fail.
Again in 1963, it would seem with FSU playing toe-to-toe with each of its SEC opponents, (losing only to UF,) FSU would be a lock to join the SEC. Ray Graves of Florida even announced his endorsement of the Tallahassee program joining the SEC. FSU's application would again be declined.
In 1964, the same. Rejection.
1965, a motion was made at the annual SEC meeting, but there was no second.
1966 and 1967, no motion was even made. Florida Head Coach Ray Graves reversed his position on sponsoring Florida State, citing that even though FSU would be a good fit, the current allotment of 10 teams (with Tulane having departed) was perfect, and just what all current SEC teams really need.
In 1968, Graves and the University of Florida again "supported" FSU joining the SEC, but only if a 12th team would join, could the support be fostered and carried by more than the administration in Gainesville. The SEC voted down the proposal, due to a lack of a 12th team.
Florida would begin to dwindle in its support for FSU as its efforts would continuously go unnoticed by the SEC for the next 15 years.
Through the 1970s and 1980s, former FSU president Stanley Marshall began to push the issue by conducting a personal tour of SEC campuses, in an attempt to land the Seminoles a place within the conference. It seemingly was becoming more and more of an issue as Florida State began to make quite a name for itself in the 1980s, but it wasn't until 1990 that another suitor—the Atlantic Coast Conference, would come calling.
Football Head Coach Bobby Bowden now found himself in a position to realize the dream of so many before him in anointing FSU the prodigal child of the two-team expansion of the SEC, but somehow, some way, the ACC had managed to divert Bobby's eyes, along with Athletic Director Bob Goin, just long enough to make the Seminoles strongly consider a move that was against their natural, and seemingly life-long inclination: joining the Southeastern Conference.
Now it's no secret that the offer to join the ACC has paid off handsomely for the Seminoles, who have already made a name for themselves as one of the best programs in the last 30 years. The question on everyone's mind now is "will FSU make the final leap to the SEC?"
Not so fast.
To understand the story is one thing.
Boy likes girl, girl doesn't like boy.
Boy asks for girl to go out with him.
Girl says no.
Girl says no again.
Boy finally dries his eyes, and moves on, and eventually finds a girl who seems to like him.
She treats him well.
He falls for her.
They get married.
The girl he thought he wanted, suddenly wants him.
Now in fairy tale land, it would make sense for the boy to stay with the girl who was good to him from the start.
This isn't fairy tale land. This is the real world, and issues like conference expansion are legitimately more complex than the scenario mentioned above (unless you're the boy in this scenario, which might mean the world is falling apart for you).
Should FSU consider looking at the SEC long-term?
It would make sense both geographically, as well as from a sales standpoint. It's no secret that SEC ticket sales have single-handedly made FSU's sister school—the University of Florida—sufficed to say, a huge success. FSU in recent years has seen its ticket sales seemingly drop, and the need for difficult out-of-conference games have done little to pick up these dwindling numbers.
Will it benefit FSU in the trophy room? Maybe not.
Admittedly, the SEC is a very, very tough conference to play in. But, looking at the love/hate relationship we've just explored, you do have to wonder. Which is more important to a University:
Ticket sales, or winning in front of an empty house?
Maybe history can help both sides consider their differences, or maybe we won't hear about this again...until next year.
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