Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Journey into the Heart of Booster Darkness

(Originally posted on ScalpEm.com)

I am not a big fan of the FSU Seminole Booster program. I've "put them on blast" time and time again. I've suggested they be replaced by a stock program, I've begged for their transparency, and I've compared them to a well-funded, influential political lobby group.

Yet, I am in the minority. A lot of people claim the Seminole Booster program is essential. Booster Program CEO Andy Miller was recently quoted as saying "They do not realize that without private contributions, we do not have an athletic program."

Well, in order to prove the "truthiness" of Mr. Miller's claim, I have to put myself in a dangerous mindset. I have to put aside all attachment, memory, and kinship. I have to do away with human feeling. I must become Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now:

ScalpEm Headquarters: Your mission is to proceed up the Suwanee River in a Seminole patrol boat. Pick up the Seminole Boosters' path at the Big Bend, follow it north, and learn what you can along the way. When you find the Boosters, infiltrate them by whatever means available and terminate their command.

Jordi: Terminate the Boosters?

ScalpEm Headquarters: They are out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct. And they are running the athletic program.

Average Fan: Terminate with extreme prejudice.

ScalpEm Headquarters: You understand, Jordi, that this mission does not exist, nor will it ever exist ...

I have to become Captain Willard to the Seminole Boosters.

The first step is to evaluate the Boosters' overall importance to the university. According to its website, "Seminole Boosters, Inc. is the fundraising organization that helps fund the Florida State University Athletic Department budget". Yet, on the university's "about" page, there is only one brief mention of athletics, and that is as a part of the experience.

Although not mentioned, going to Bullwinkles and getting thrown into the Westcott Fountain are also part of the FSU experience. Yet the owner of Bullwinkles doesn't influence university decisions.

(Maybe he does. Maybe he or she is a Booster member. Maybe they have people everywhere like the Masons or the Illuminati. Maybe the Boosters built Doak Campbell Stadium and they have secret maps scattered around the campus, like in National Treasure or The DaVinci Code.)

The next question to ask is: How important are athletics to the overall well-being of the university?

As much as it pains me to say this, I'm going to say "not very". Although I'm not sure how many universities have no sports, there are plenty of establishments of higher learning that do just fine without certain sports. Did you know, for example, in 1975 the University of Tampa board of trustees voted to do away with the football program?

Yet University of Tampa is still alive and well.

(Imagine the fate of the University of South Florida's program if UT still had their team. Would USF be in the same spot they are now, on the cusp of being a legit state power? Or would UT's program had emerged as a competitor?)

So we know universities can survive without football. But what is the value of athletics as a whole? Is it important?

Did you know small, private schools spend 5% of their budgets on athletics? Did you know, according to that same article, there are no boosters at small, private universities? Athletics at these schools are funded by the students.

In some cases, students are voting down increases in their tuition that would earmarked for athletic spending. For these students, the cost of athletics is not worth the increased price of attendance.

(By the way, we have already discussed the university relationship to athletic profit. A few months ago, I attempted to make the assertion that the football team indirectly built or improved the campus and I was raked over the coals. So this time I am assuming the athletic department has no direct financial benefit to the rest of the university. If I am wrong again, let me know.)

Some would say the benefit of a booster program is to take the cost of the athletic program off the students and place it on an outside organization funded by private individuals. This way, students can realize the entire college experience the way it has been for the last hundred or so years, with athletic competitions and all the associated pomp and circumstance, with minimal cost.

But what if the value of athletics is marginal at best to the college experience? Could you put a value on the happiness of a university after a championship? Sure, people are more likely to party, have a good time, and maybe even enjoy the company of the opposite sex after the game, but after the bacchanalia subsides and the kegs are returned, what's left? Do grades go up after championships? Are potential students more likely to attend?

I don't know the answer.

On the flip side, what about the negative impact a few misbehaved athletes have had on our university? How much did the free shoes scandal in the 1990s cost us? What about the academic scandal of a few years ago? What about the negative press we got from Peter Warrick, Ernie Sims, Geno Hayes, Sebastian Janokowski, Preston Parker, etc? Does that have an affect on how people view FSU as a whole? We  could only wish Myron Rolle's greatness wiped away the sins of past athletes like he was a next-generation Jesus.

What if Jesus listened to Ice Cube every time it was a good day?

Can the benefit of sports programs be measured?

If so, then the impact of the Booster program can be measured.

Until then, I can hypothesize, fantasize, eulogize, and feature the Seminole Boosters as George Bailey in the FSU version of "It's a Wonderful Life" until the cows come home.

Nothing is going to change.

Before I sign off, think about this: while the Seminole Boosters want a multi-million dollar indoor training complex for the football team and improvements to athletic student housing, many of the integral academic departments at Florida State University have had their budgets cut, had to lay off teachers, merge with other departments, or had to make other types of sacrifices due to lack of money.

My guess is that Andy Miller sees nothing wrong with this.

The horror, the horror ...