Column: Two most important messages delivered at the BOT meeting

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And 10 reasons why the FSUAA will help Florida State and you

The Florida State University Board of Trustees made an announcement Friday that history may remember as transformational for Athletics and Seminole Boosters. Further on in this column I’ll share 10 reasons why this announcement is so important to you but just in case you don’t have time to “read all about it,” here’s two messages delivered Friday you will be happy to read:

  • FSU formally acknowledged the poorly-kept secret there’s been “trouble in paradise” between the two organizations.
  • More significantly the leaders from each organization, athletics, boosters and the university came together to invest thousands of hours to confer on the issues and to craft a memorandum of understanding to foster an effective and sustainable relationship.

If you’ve ever been in a difficult relationship, you know those are steep steps toward healing.

 “There were times when the organization — administration, Athletics and the Boosters — were not always in line with the same goals and missions,” said FSU Board of Trustee Chairman Ed Burr, who initiated the conversation, which ultimately lead to the creation of the FSU Athletic Association. “Communications were informal and not always as effective as they could be. I think the creation of this FSUAA will perfectly align those goals. Not only between the Boosters and the Athletics but also the FSU administration.”

While the FSUAA was approved by Seminole Boosters on Thursday, and the FSU Board of Trustees on Friday morning, it won’t go into effect until final approval of the BOT and Boosters Board is granted at the fall meeting.

The new direct support organization, called the FSU Athletic Association, will become a collaborative governing body that will set policy, review budgets, strategic planning, facility planning, prioritization and financing as well as scheduling and other issues of interest. The FSUAA will also require regular joint financial statements.

“A couple of structural changes and reporting lines will also bring the athletics department and boosters closer together with ticketing, marketing, communications and operations consolidated,” said FSU Athletic Director David Coburn. “I think we’re going to save money, we’re going to operate more cohesively and effectively and it’s just going to make the whole relationship a lot smoother,”

Seminole Booster President and CEO Andy Miller opened his remarks by saying his Board of Directors had approved the structure unanimously.

“I want to give a shout out to Chairman Ed Burr, President Thrasher, David Coburn and Tom Jennings,” Miller told the Board of Trustees. “From the very beginning they said this would be a collaborative process and we’re going to put something on the table that everyone can support and that’s exactly what it was. It was an easy sell to our board… Chairman Burr I commend you for a good idea that was needed here.”

“The (FSUAA and Memorandum of Understanding) establishes a formal structure for communication no matter who FSU hires as President, Athletic Director or President/CEO of Seminole Boosters,” athletic director David Coburn said. 

Coburn and Miller have each praised Booster Chairman Doug Russell for being a steady influence through periods of tough discussions and difficult debates. “Doug should be given a lot of credit for enabling us to reach this outcome,” Coburn said.

“Doug harnessed a lot of Type A personalities and helped me navigate the process,” Miller said. “He enabled us to work well with the university. Our organization has always been blessed to have the right leader at the right time.”

By NCAA rules, the university president will chair the FSUAA. There will be five members on the FSUAA including the President, the Faculty Athletics Representative and a faculty or staff member (to be named) whose university role does not have a direct reporting line to the President. The other two members, who are not university employees, will include the Chairman of Seminole Boosters and a member of the FSU Board of Trustees.

So how would decisions of the past — scheduling, athletics budgets, capital projects, Nike contract, the grant of rights — be made once the FSUAA is in operation?

“The alignment goes both ways,” Burr said. “It will put both the administration, and the boosters and the athletic department in the same room when making decisions that, collectively, affect the university. We are, after all, on the same team.”

It is important to note that in years past the AD reported to the President and the Boosters reported to the President so there always have been formal reporting lines. And the President has always had decision making power. What the FSUAA adds is a formal structure for collaboration among the stakeholders.

Burr and Thrasher insist those prior decisions would now have to come to the FSUAA, which would provide a more-formal place to seek input.

“The AD by NCAA rule has to report directly to the President but this connection with the FSUAA gives us a lot more input to that decision,” Thrasher said.

The President still retains the trump card.

“Nothing usurps the University President’s authority,” Burr said. “Under the NCAA rules and the ACC rules, the president is the one who is responsible for athletics. There is nothing in here that usurps his power; the president can always exercise his authority. This just puts it in a place where it can be collectively discussed and debated but ultimately it will be the president who makes that decision.”

Thrasher agrees the FSUAA formalizes what has been informal communication in the past for him too.

“I certainly consult with my lawyers and consult with other people but I didn’t have the formality of having (collaborative) input and I thought that was a mistake,” Thrasher said. “We are saying let’s all be on the same page when it comes to synergies, staffing, projects, fundraising.”

While the FSUAA will meet quarterly, Thrasher notes a lot of the benefit of the restructure will be realized before those meeting.

“I think a lot of the work will be done before an issue ever gets to the FSUAA because of the structure,” he said, pointing to daily interaction between the Seminole Booster President/CEO and the Athletic Director who will serve on every formal committee the Boosters have.

Unanimous support

There were declarations of victory from the leaders of each organization, who have at times been in opposing corners. Now they stood at the podium, together, making their presentation to the Trustees.

Their words, praising the move toward unity and transparency, seemed authentic but the shared smiles were what convinced me they are heading in the right direction.

Of course, Coburn and Miller have not had issues. They’ve been friends for years. The issue has been with previous athletic directors and the Seminole Boosters and their friendship certainly helped this process.

The timing for change was ideal for other reasons too. Coburn, Miller and Thrasher will be retiring within the next few years, so a transition plan was forward looking. And the sting of relationships past, still fresh in those leaders’ minds, gave clarity to the issues.

When asked about his reason, Thrasher pointed to the need to create formal structure to what had been an informal process of communications.

“We all know people move, and change, and retire, so we need a structure that when new people come in they are all together, working together for the same things,” Thrasher said. “They have been but sometimes it has been a little bit difficult. I think this gives us more opportunity to be structured, to be on the same page, to have as Andy Miller says, input from both sides on issues. The structure gives us the opportunity to do that.”

As Thrasher said, this structure was not about the current FSU Administration, Boosters or Athletics, nor was it about Andy Miller or Stan Wilcox or Randy Spetman or any of the other athletic director or president who have served FSU in years past.  This new organization is about the future. It is about creating a structure that will work for the next president and the next AD and the next Boosters president and CEO and all the others who will come and go after them.

And all the rest of this story is just details.

Good first steps

I believe this was a really-good exercise and one that will bear fruit for the university, the program, the student-athletes and the fans but it’s not a silver bullet.

A lot of time and thought and navigation went into the documents released on Friday but let me remind you of another group of bright minds who wrote the United States Constitution, which has had 27 amendments. And more than 11,000 others proposed.

But I’ve highlighted 10 very solid points to get excited about, so let’s take a short walk through the weeds of what’s coming.

  1. The FSUAA provides a formal set of expectations for the Boosters, the Athletic Department and the administration and a formally scheduled format for discussion with all stakeholders in the room.
  2. The Seminole Booster President and CEO will now have a dual reporting line, one to his Seminole Booster Board, which will remain intact, and now another to the FSU Athletic Director with the title Associate Athletics Director.

Miller raised a laugh from the BOT when he said, “David has already pulled rank on me a couple of times.”

He then, made a compelling point.

“I think I have always had an informal reporting line to the AD but I think this formal line will make us a lot better,” he said. “Strengthening the involvement of our athletic director in our organization by serving on key committees is a very good move.”

  • 3. The athletic director will now serve on the Seminole Booster Board and every significant committee. As President Thrasher noted earlier many of the current issues can be resolved right there own committee.

This a much bigger deal than the average fan may realize.

Let me put it into perspective for you. In the 19 years I served Seminole Boosters as a Vice President – including six different athletic directors – there were athletic directors who would not so much as attend a Booster board meeting let alone serve on a planning committee.

  • 4. The fact the President and CEO of Seminole Boosters will have a reporting line to the athletic director puts him on the athletic director’s executive staff and in the room, with a voice, when athletics decisions are made. Again as Thrasher noted above, many of the current issues can be resolved with this interaction too.
  • 5. Here’s another key point: the new reporting line means the athletic director now has an inherent interest in fundraising.

Rather than standing on the sidelines, “cheering for” Boosters’ fundraising efforts, the AD’s evaluation by the FSUAA will include the fundraising performance.

  • 6. How about this? The Chairman of Seminole Boosters, who is a volunteer each year, will have a seat on the FSUAA, which is a paradigm change for Seminole Boosters and a voice for all Seminole fans. In years past, Seminole Boosters had no seat at the table when it came to athletic decision making. If the AD wanted to hire or fire a coach, schedule an opponent, move a game to another city, change the logo, the AD could do it without ever consulting the Seminole Boosters.

The Boosters job was to raise money without a voice in decisions. It was hard for fans to believe but verified in this new deal.

  • 7. While the Chairman of Seminole Boosters has only one vote, he does have a seat at the table. When issues come before the committee, his voice – which represents the Seminole Booster Board and its members – has a formal forum. The President and CEO of Seminole Boosters will have the opportunity to present ideas to the Board but only his Chairman has a vote.

A voice was a big reason the leaders of Seminole Boosters bought into the agreement.

“I think the FSUAA is a really good opportunity for us because now we are definitely in the room and can bring donor and fan issues to the table that we think are important,” said Miller. “Things like scheduling and pricing, hotel issues in the community, service issues, fan experiences at Florida State University that affect our fundraising program… Facility master planning and priorities is a good opportunity to bring our ideas forward in strategic planning.”

While the Boosters never had a formal voice at the table, they did have an informal voice, which some AD’s listened to more than others, Thrasher noted.

8. And of course this is a two-way street as Seminole Boosters will now be required to present its budgets, plans and fundraising goals to the FSUAA for discussion, debate and approval. Again, the Boosters have been presenting financials all along but this formalizes the reporting and consolidates it with athletics, which will be appear more transparent.

9. Miller complimented the group for seeing the benefits of maintaining the Seminole Boosters as a Direct Support Organization.

“I think we have to always rely upon the entrepreneurial spirit of a group of dedicated individuals who serve on our board who have a lot of good ideas and we have to capture the essence of those ideas and bring them forward,” Miller said. “I think that is a great strength and the President and Chairman Burr could see that is a strength of our organization and allowed us to navigate for the board to participate. I thought that was really good.”

All of the above points are very significant steps in aligning the priorities and mission of the two organizations and in improving communications.

  • 10. The FSUAA provides an opportunity for the relationship to remain sustainable as presidents, athletic directors, Booster presidents continue to come and go.

As a Booster employee for those 19 years, I served under a half dozen university presidents and athletic directors and each time there was a change in Westcott all bets were off. In a public university, we say all university employees, including the athletic director, and the direct support organizations, serve at the pleasure of the president. Typically, when a new president takes office, the winds of change can be swift. This organizational structure will help.

 “You need a structure that no matter who is there that the structure works on behalf of the University and for the student-athletes,” Thrasher concludes. “It’s a complement to Andy and Doug Russell for the leadership they have shown and Chairman Burr for the leadership he has shown, so we can accomplish the great things that FSU is used to accomplishing into the future.”

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