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FSU circus kicking into high gear

Circus, circus
Andy Haggard's comments started a circus at Florida State.
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Thayer Evans

Senior College Football writer Thayer Evans previously wrote for The New York Times and Houston Chronicle, as well as contributed to The Economist, USA Today, The Washington Post and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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It’s appropriate Florida State has a big top tent on its campus.

Because with university officials having carelessly spouted off conflicting messages in recent days about whether the Seminoles are committed to remaining in the Atlantic Coast Conference or interested in joining the Big 12, they have created a three-ring circus to go inside it.

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One that just might be the most embarrassing show in all of college athletics right now.

Not that Florida State should be idle when it comes to the ever-changing landscape of conference realignment. If we have learned anything since Nebraska set off a domino effect nearly two years ago with its decision to jump from the Big 12 to the Big Ten, it’s that you have to be proactive no matter how Utopian everything might appear.

But instead of being smart, Florida State just looks plain dumb these days after a clown named Andy Haggard, chairman of the university’s board of trustees, did what clowns do at a circus — make everyone laugh at him.

He is the one who set off the latest round of conference realignment panic Saturday when he blasted the ACC’s new television deal with ESPN — worth $17 million annually to each member through the 2026-27 academic sports calendar year — and said the university’s board of trustees would be in favor of seeing what the Big 12 could offer the Seminoles. He later backed off his comments in humiliation after it was brought to his attention he had the wrong information about the part of the deal he criticized the most.

Haggard’s debacle, however, has Florida State still trying desperately to clean off the pie he threw in the face of the ACC. It’s made university president Eric Barron a world-class tightrope artist as he first acknowledged the “misinformation” of his boss, Haggard, in a statement late Saturday and continues to maintain that the Seminoles are indeed committed to the ACC and not currently exploring a conference change.

But Barron’s high-wire act hasn’t been helped by his supposed lion tamer, football coach Jimbo Fisher. This is Fisher's pivotal third season, and he is well aware he needs to finally win the conference title this year in the middling ACC.

Otherwise, he will have been at Florida State five years (two as head-coach-in-waiting) and not won a championship in a conference defined by its basketball, despite the Seminoles having one of college football's deepest rosters.

So, like anyone in danger of potentially being mauled, Fisher tried to protect himself by reiterating the sentiment of Haggard, who could have a say in the coach's job sooner than later. Fisher told the Orlando Sentinel, “I think you always have to look out there to see what’s best for Florida State. If that (jumping to the Big 12) is what’s best for Florida State, then that’s what we need to do."

But come Monday, at the annual ACC spring meetings, Fisher also had backed off his comments and declared he was “not a decision-maker” in whether the Seminoles change conferences.

“We’re in the ACC,” Fisher told reporters. “We’re happy to be here. We have a good football conference.”

With all the misinformation and flip-flopping, one would think this circus doesn’t have a ringmaster. It actually does — athletic director Randy Spetman, who told the Sentinel the day before Haggard’s shenanigans that Florida State was “committed to the ACC," though someone apparently took his whip long ago.

At the ACC meetings Tuesday, a red-faced Spetman smartly declined to talk with reporters about Florida State’s conference affiliation. But then on final day of meetings Wednesday, he had to break his silence after strongman Derrick Brooks, a former Seminoles standout linebacker and board of trustees member, joined the circus by stating in a radio interview that the Big 12 had reached out to Florida State.

Both have declined there has been any contact and Spetman told CBSSports.com, "I don't know where Derrick got that."

And just when it seemed Florida State’s circus couldn’t look any more amateur than one held at a flea market, Barron finally tumbled off his tightrope in the midst of it all when he foolishly sent out a knee-jerk email Monday that outlined four points supporting a move to the Big 12 and seven lengthier points that argued against the possibility.

Now, everyone knows Florida State’s conference affiliation pros and cons. The Seminoles’ ace in the hole, unpredictability, is suddenly a lot more predictable these days.


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Instead of sending out the email, Barron should have simply adhered to the words he wrote in it.

“We can't afford to have conference affiliation be governed by emotion — it has to be based on a careful assessment of athletics, finances and academics,” Barron wrote. “I assure you that every aspect of conference affiliation will be looked at by this institution, but it must be a reasoned decision.”

Even if Florida State were to start using such diligence going forward, it’s too late. Its circus is already well under way, and it’s not leaving Tallahassee any time soon.

Tagged: Florida State, Florida

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