Sun Tzu was on to something when he wrote, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." And there isn’t an enemy is inspires more pure hatred among Florida Gators fans than the Florida State Seminoles, especially here at Alligator Army.
But is adding the Seminoles to the SEC a good idea if you're a Florida Gators fan? On the surface, the answer to that question appears easy. But appearances can be deceiving.
Let's look at some of Florida's concerns about Florida State heading to the SEC: recruiting, wins, television markets/ratings and money.
The first issue I hear when talking Florida State to the SEC is how much more difficult it would be for the Gators to win. Usually, though, that is because of worries about recruiting. When it comes to recruiting between the Seminoles and the Gators, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot of difference. Both teams can recruit the State of Florida. Both teams can go to Georgia and have their pick. And both teams can venture out into other parts of the country and get the players they need to succeed. The one advantage that comes to mind is that Florida is currently in the SEC.
Wouldn’t it be wise to keep that advantage and not allow Florida State into the SEC? That depends. How much of an advantage has it been this year? Or last year, for that matter? Throwing away the Ron Zook years, and the last few years of the Bobby Bowden era, I’d venture to say the teams were recruiting at a fairly even level. No, I haven’t look at the numbers, but the 1990s seemed to be pretty even, too. Sure, the Seminoles won more games, but did you really say to yourself, "Man, those guys are vastly outrecruiting us?" Or "We are smashing them in recruiting because we are in the SEC!" My guess is not at all.
There isn’t really an advantage at all when it comes to conference affiliation and the recruiting being done between Florida State and Florida. And if Florida State happens to join the SEC and is put in the same division as Florida, what changes on the field?
Florida and Florida State already play every year. Playing every year in the same conference means that the rivalry would mean more. Plus, Florida State would presumably have to go through the same teams (for the most part) that the Gators would have to every year. And if Florida just so happens to need another team to lose so that the Gators could win the division, wouldn't you rather have that team play Florida State than say Kentucky or Vanderbilt? I thought you might.
Would adding a team like the Seminoles be worse for the Gators as a whole than adding say a Missouri? If your main concern is television, then maybe. It isn’t as cut and dry as some people think. Sure, the Tallahassee market isn’t all that big when compared to St. Louis or Washington DC. But Florida State tends to appeal more nationally than almost every other program in the country. When Florida State is on television, people tune in to watch.
I’m not saying that if Florida State joins the SEC that ratings will increase on your average game day and ESPN/CBS will offer new contracts to carry the games automatically. I’m merely stating that FSU, despite being in a small market, does better when it comes to ratings than most other schools in larger markets.
Which, of course, brings up the money issue.
One of the biggest advantages Florida has over Florida State is money. But even if Florida State were to join the SEC and the cash payments to the schools were equal, Florida would still rake in more money from merchandise sales, television contracts and individual boosters/donors.
Florida has always brought in more booster/donor money. That is just the way it is. That trend will also more than likely continue into the future as well. Whether you consider the University of Florida to be the state’s flagship university or not, Florida also gets the lion’s share of public state money as well.
So you don't have to worry about Florida State affecting Florida too much in the monetary department. Florida will be fine. A theoretical jump to the SEC would be more of a boost to Florida State's coffers than a hit to Florida's. And even if Florida State gets that increase in money, it isn't a guarantee that the 'Noles will use it correctly.
The bottom line is this: Florida State joining the SEC doesn't really hurt the Florida Gators. In fact, it just might be the opposite; the SEC, by adding Florida State, gets stronger overall. And it isn't just football I'm talking about: Florida State has strong baseball, track and field and basketball teams as well.
This isn't about who needs whom more. A stronger SEC, by virtue of adding Florida State, makes for a stronger Florida.