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Rising and Falling on Football

When Florida State’s athletic department announced last week that it may have to cut its teams’ recruiting and travel budgets by 10 percent to fill a $2.4-million budget shortfall, the story had a familiar ring. Just six months ago, Maryland said it was eliminating eight sports in response to a $4.7-million budget hole.

While the deficit sizes are considerably different, the root of the problems is the same. Both ACC programs have seen steady declines in football ticket sales and a sharp falloff in booster support. And the way the two athletic departments communicated their problems has caused them even more fallout.

Sagging football attendance is the main reason for Florida State’s budget shortfall. For a program accustomed to competing for national titles, going 26-14 over the past three seasons apparently isn’t cutting it for many fans.

Donations are way off, too. Four years ago, Seminole Boosters reported total revenue of $42.8-million, according to its tax records. In its most recently reported year, it brought in $32.7-million.

And those aren’t the athletic department’s only financial problems. In February, Moody’s Investor Services downgraded the revenue-bond rating of FSU Financial Assistance, a unit of Seminole Boosters, after it had to come up with extra money to prop up the athletics program.

Maryland and Florida State also appeared to communicate their budget difficulties in much the same way, notifying university oversight committees and coaches long after the problems started. That irked some trustees at Maryland, and didn’t sit too well with one powerful former Florida State trustee.

“We have some very, very good coaches here,” Seminole booster Jim Smith, a former chair of the university’s Board of Trustees, told the Tallahassee Democrat. “When they wake up and realize that they have less resources than these schools that are raising [their budgets] 15 to 20 percent a year, then they will be gone.”

At a meeting of the university’s athletics board, Smith pushed Florida State to do a better job of reaching out to donors to help offset the budget shortfall. And he said boosters would come through. “I’ll write a big check myself,” he said, “as long as I know others will, too.”

Of course, many of these problems could go away for Florida State if its much-touted 2012 football recruiting class produces as expected.

But the challenges in both programs are a reminder that even the big boys can stumble, especially when so much is riding on one sport.

(Photo from Florida State)

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