In his first six months on the job, Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox has negotiated a new contract for his football coach, helmed a program besieged by controversy surrounding its Heisman-winning quarterback and celebrated a football national championship. As the dust settles on a frenetic 2013, we caught up with Wilcox to talk the future of FSU football, the direction of the ACC and some of the biggest issues facing college football.
Here's Part 1 of our two-part conversation.
David Hale: You accepted this job in August, and it's been a whirlwind since then. What have the first six months in Tallahassee been like for you?
Wilcox: We’ve gone through in six months as much as an athletic director might go through in five years, but it’s been great. We’ve been having success on the playing field with women’s soccer, women’s cross-country and obviously football winning the ACC and the national championship. It’s been a great six months on the field. We’ve had a few issues off the field, but we’ve made it through those as well. I’m pretty much very happy with where we’re at right now.
Hale: You were brought in with a mandate not just to embrace the history at Florida State, but to grow the brand. With a BCS title in hand, how do you build off the success of 2013?
Wilcox: Any time you win a national championship, it’s a great opportunity to reach out to as many supporters and benefactors as possible to help you continue to grow. In order to stay in front of the curve, we have to look at our facilities. We have a number of facilities that need some upgrading. In our football stadium, we’re in the process of creating club level seating there. We have to look at the fan experience. How do we create better connectivity within the stadium? We’ve got to look at our concourse area and how to make that more fan-friendly. We just took over the Civic Center, and there’s a number of things there we need to do for basketball.
We’re in the process of creating a five-year strategic plan, and part of that plan includes a master facilities plan where we look at all our facilities and each of our venues and determine what are our wants and needs and try to figure out timelines.
In order for us to continue to be successful, we have to attract the best athletes we possibly can, and student-athletes these days are savvy consumers and they want to see where they’re going to be playing the next four or five years. Every day, you see another university that’s building or doing a campaign to raise money to upgrade a football facility, a basketball facility. We can’t just sit back and think that after we’ve built what we’ve built, it’s all done and finished.
Hale: One of the big knocks on FSU last season was its strength of schedule. That's come even more to the forefront as college football's playoff system begins in 2014, and it's a topic the ACC is debating, too. What's the discussions regarding conference scheduling, and where does Florida State stand in the debate?
Wilcox: We’re still in conversations with that, but what I would say is that as a league, we’re trying to do what’s best to position the league so that we can get teams into the playoff. If you can get more than one -- like this year, we got more than one team in the BCS -- that’s even better. There are conferences that have already decided how they think they’re going to do that. They’re going to nine games. We’re contemplating and discussing what’s going to be the best way, just like the SEC is doing. Each league is considering how best to position the conference from a scheduling perspective without compromising the regular season and the rivalries that have been established. You also want to make sure you have the right inventory you can sell to networks and sell to create channels. And from the ACC perspective, nothing has been decided yet.
From [Florida State’s] perspective, we’re at the point now that we would like to continue to be able to have as many quality home games as we can, potentially take one of those games on the road -- this year, we’re going to Dallas, and we’re looking at Orlando and other cities.* Some of that can be jeopardized depending how the conference ends up. If we had our druthers, we’d like to just keep everything the way they are right now. But I can’t say that’s what’s going to happen.
[*Ed. note: FSU confirms it is in preliminary talks for a neutral-site game in Orlando in 2016 and Atlanta in 2018.]
Hale: Jimbo Fisher has said that it's imperative, financially, to have seven home games, but with an annual nonconference date with Florida and a potential nine-game ACC schedule, that's going to be tough to manage. How do those rivalry games play into the debate?
Wilcox: Whatever we do in the ACC, we have to work around some of those rivalries [vs. the SEC]. Those aren’t going to change, and there’s enough votes in that room to not change those rivalries. We’re not concerned about that.
The concern can be more around the issue of we want to play Clemson every year. We want to play Miami every year. If we go to nine games, will they be able to continue to do that? Also in the room, Miami and Clemson want the same. It’ll be difficult. This is why you see that we haven’t -- it’s a stalemate.
My perspective -- and this is what I push -- I’d like to stay the same, and I’d like to see -- and this is my opinion, and it may not be where we come out -- but it’s just a matter of scheduling up. We already play Florida every year, playing an SEC school. We’re playing Oklahoma State [in 2014]. I think the issue is, if we collectively agree that we’re going to schedule up, we don’t have to come up with a hard rule we have to go to nine games, or everybody has to schedule one game against an SEC school. It’s just a matter of getting everybody to agree to that. If we’re concerned about strength of schedule, then everybody’s got to really schedule so that you have a strong schedule.
Hale: The SEC is widely viewed as the elite conference in college football, but the ACC has the national champion and the Orange Bowl champion. Is it possible for the perception of the ACC to be on par or better than that of the SEC within the next few years?
Wilcox: I would say we’re already perceived that way, and we want to continue to be as competitive. I do think our football has gotten stronger. If you look at Duke, who was really off the grid for a while, [it is] all of a sudden in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, playing in the ACC championship. That tells you how ACC schools are putting resources into football across the board. It’s no longer just viewed as a basketball conference. It’s a football conference that has to be reckoned with.
People want to look at the SEC and call it the flagship conference in football, and I’m not denying that. But what I am saying is that we’re just as good, and we’ve proved that this year, and we’re hopefully going to continue to prove that. We’re going to do our part here at Florida State, and I know that other ACC schools are right there with us.