It’s no secret a successful major college sports team means big business for its university. But when a Florida State University lobbyist earlier this fall suggested to the school’s trustees that a successful football team could mean more money from state lawmakers, eyebrows were raised. But, even those pushing for FSU to get every dollar it can say there’s little chance football – either its scores or its scandals -- will change the school’s appropriation.
These days, it seems the entire state capital is buzzing about the success of the Seminole football team. And FSU has its cheering section in the Florida Legislature, too – 40 current members are alums. So when university lobbyist Kathleen Daly mentioned both the football team and the growing number of Seminoles in the Statehouse in a presentation to the school’s trustees, the connection was pretty clear.
“Probably I should have added to my list of advocacy our number two football ranking cause that seems to have gotten the attention of a lot of folks, particularly downtown,” Daly said.
Tuesday, Daly said she was nervous when she made that comment and wouldn’t do it again.
“I don’t think it was an inappropriate statement for me to make to the trustees, but I do admit to you, now…you know, at the time I just thought I was being cute and funny. I have learned my lesson big time now.”
But state lawmakers were quick to let Daly off the hook.
“I don’t want to say we’re too old, but we’re beyond letting that influence good, sound judgment when it comes to the budget,” says Tallahassee State Senator Bill Montford, who’s the ranking minority member on the Senate’s Education Appropriations Committee – and an FSU alum.
Still, the conversation isn’t unprecedented in Florida. When Florida Gulf Coast University’s men’s basketball team made a surprise run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA basketball tournament in March, there was supposition the small state school could receive extra cash because of it. Reached by e-mail, University Vice President Susan Evans says she heard those calls, but the school didn’t get any extra money because of the hoops team nicknamed “Dunk City.”
FGCU did get increased notoriety, though. And that can translate to additional applications and the ability for the school to be more choosy about the type of student who’s accepted, since it’s pulling from a larger applicant pool. Some people refer to this as the “Butler Bump” – a phenomenon seen at Butler University in Indianapolis after the school of just 5,000 students sent its men’s basketball team to the NCAA championship game in both 2010 and 2011.
“We saw our applications go up 42 percent,” says Butler’s Vice President for Enrollment Management Tom Weede. But he admits the effect is likely more pronounced at a small school like his.
“I don’t know how much that extends to a public university because, for heaven’s sake, Florida State’s been there before," he says. "They’ve certainly had a great track record in football and the question is: how many more people are learning about Florida State because of what’s happening right now?”
Montford took it a step further, saying the whole argument strains credulity.
“That would be a stretch so far that it would break logic,” he says.
But there’s little question public perception of a university affects its bottom line. So what happens if the team’s star quarterback, Jameis Winston, continues to be embroiled in a sexual assault case? Kathleen Daly says: almost nothing.
Florida State received more than $250 million from the state’s general fund for the current fiscal year. Its athletic department will make untold millions from the football team’s success. But even the sports fans in the capitol say never the twain shall meet.