Column: FSU, ACC must be creative with scheduling, saving

The motto for 2020 should be “creativity and flexibility,” from multinational corporations to small businesses to athletics programs. There is no playbook for a pandemic.

A traditional calendar? Disregard. The rules? Break them. 

College administrators must do what they can to financially survive, to make sure that they don’t cut programs, personnel or scholarships. And that’s where getting creative and being flexible comes into play.

In the last few months, we’ve tried to outline some possible solutions. One that we addressed in early May was the concept of scheduling by geography, where each ACC school can save millions. Another is cutting coaches’ salaries or deferring to the back end of their contracts.

July is typically a quiet month on the college athletics calendar. But now this one may involve difficult decisions about whether to start the football season on time, push it back a few weeks or a month or try the spring. They are decisions about the safety of student-athletes and coaches. And about fans in the stands. Decisions that will shape the future of college athletics in 2020-21 but beyond.

Here are a few proposals that we think are worth trying, whether this year or part of long-term planning. All of these will either save money or potentially bring in added revenue. 

Schedule by geography in Olympics sports: Travel budgets are an easy candidate to get a haircut. I could argue that it’s a wonderful experience for FSU’s athletes to often travel to Boston College, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame but it really doesn’t make good financial sense. Not now, not in a budget crunch. FSU had set aside $9.7 million for travel in 2020-21, with some of that outlined for the 20 sports but also recruiting.

A charter flight for each of game to the northern ACC teams could hit $100,000, which is just too much compared to a few tanks of gas for an FSU program to play any of the Division I programs in north or central Florida as well as Georgia and Alabama.

We know that Jacksonville University and North Florida are 170 miles away. But we often forget that Tallahassee and Auburn are separated by just 190 miles. Same with Macon, the home of Mercer. From Tallahassee to Troy, it’s just 160 miles. Stetson is a bit longer at 240 miles. We just named six potential opponents that are a charter bus or Sprinter van away from Tallahassee, which is far cheaper than a $100,000 flight.

FSU and Florida face off in every sport and another option would also be to schedule a home-and-home with the Gators.

Coaches may balk at the quality of competition by playing Florida A&M, Georgia Southern or West Florida, but all of them make financial sense.

Goodbye, Atlantic and Coastal: No more divisions in football. A number of the old Big East teams were lumped into the Coastal in what made sense at the time. And there was always the thought that FSU and Miami had to be in opposite divisions because one day they would play in the ACC title game. Never did happen.

FSU fans aren’t coming to Tallahassee as often for football games due to heat and humidity, losses, cost of hotels and distance. It’s a problem when football ticket sales are a big chunk of the budget but it’s also a problem when FSU is playing schools that aren’t really rivals each year. The Seminoles have played some good games against Boston College, Syracuse and Wake Forest but none are highly anticipated rivalry games.

The solution should be to create a division-less ACC where the schedule has much more flexibility (and fun) for players and fans. FSU could lock into playing Miami and Clemson every year but there’s absolutely no reason why Georgia Tech isn’t part of the mix annually. The teams played each year from 1992-2003 but then have played just five times since, with two of those being ACC title games (which means only three scheduled regular-season games). The teams have not faced off since 2015 but a renewal of the rivalry would fill the seats in Tallahassee and Atlanta.

It would be great to see Mack Brown (an FSU grad) coach another game in Tallahassee. But when FSU plays UNC in 2021 (for the first time since 2016) it will be in Chapel Hill and the teams won’t play again until at least 2025 or ‘26. Doesn’t it feel bizarre to go five years between playing the Tar Heels?

If you lock into having just three true ACC rivalry games (for FSU, it would be Miami, GT and Clemson) per year it gives a school like FSU the chance to play five ACC games against the rest of the league.

Would it make sense to do this in 2020 with everything else up in the air? No, probably not. But if the goal is to create a few more intriguing matchups on the calendar in 2021 and beyond, as well as make fans happier and sell more season tickets or multi-game packages, this is an attractive discussion.

No more FCS games in the regular season: Sometimes it’s a home opener, which in itself creates buzz. But when was the last time you were fired up to make the trip to Tallahassee to see FSU play an FCS team? With apologies to Samford and others, these are guarantee games. They are not at all guaranteed to bring fans to the stadium or to generate excitement.

Instead of outright eliminating an FBS vs. FCS game, which is vital to a budget at Samford, move the game to the preseason. Men’s and women’s basketball teams have a preseason game or two. FSU baseball annually opens against a northern school. They are warm-ups that are beneficial but not especially competitive or compelling. Let’s admit that it is a preseason game, play it and open up a 12th game for a non-conference opponent. Which brings us to …

The ACC-SEC Challenge or the ACC-Big Ten Challenge: With a 12th game to play, make a deal with another conference and create some intriguing matchups that we won’t see all that often. The ACC has done it with basketball and it’s something worth trying in football. It’s hard for me to forget the buzz for FSU home games against Oklahoma in 2011. FSU has done an excellent job in scheduling LSU in 2022-23 as well as home-and-homes with Alabama (2025-26) and Georgia (2027-28). And it’s worth reminding that means FSU is committed to playing at least 10 Power 5 teams each season through 2030. But it’s also worth looking at other schools from the SEC, Big 12 or Big Ten that would create attractive matchups.

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