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 ...


NoleCC said...

I think you just won the year with this post. Regardless of whether or not people are going to agree with you, I think you've presented both sides of the argument clearly for us. I love my FSU sports, but I WENT to FSU to get a degree. That is / supposed to be the primary function of the university.

All I ask for is transparency from Seminole Boosters, Inc. and according to the IRS and their non-profit status, they owe us that, but I don't see it out in the open very much. Does anyone?

Also this would be AWESOME. Just Sayin.

"(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.)"

Luvunoles said...

Happy St. Patrick's Day Jordi!
Your imagery is beyond ordinary people!
I wish the Seminole Boosters were as clever and mindful as you! When they built Doak, I am sure they buried all of their secrets in the cement, much like Hoffa in the Meadowlands! Maps? Perhaps the Boosters do not know which direction to take. Do the Seminole Boosters print anything besides promotional fundraising?
Maybe we need to invent a new language so that the Seminole Boosters in power understand what the majority donors want and need. Seminole Boosters speak the language of MONEY but they need to add the languages of INCLUSION & INFORMATION!
Wee little people need to keep the faith (in honor of St. Patrick) hoping enough donors will send them our message of transparency! Just like your nephew and his need for a booster seat, perhaps the view of Booster Management is limited. They only see inside the barrels of cash and avoid the sights, sounds and perils ouside their confined quarters! Lets start poking holes in the barrels but let's make the holes high enough so that anything good does not leak out early!
I trust there is good!

Jordi said...

Thanks for the compliments, guys!

Nole4ever said...

I believe that Seminole Boosters needs to do a much better job then what they currently do. There needs to be more involvement with students during and after they graduate. Boosters is getting better through Student Boosters as well as the reduction in price to join boosters right out of college.

I find it hard to believe you could argue FSU and Tallahassee would be in a better situation without sports. I know I for one would not have even considered FSU if there was not an athletic program. Football helps to support numerous restaurants and hotels that would other wise not be able to stay open if it weren't for football. FSU has roughly 40k students and I find it hard to believe the school would be that large without sports. The main reason I decided to attend FSU was sports and I know many others that did the same. I believe the same could be said for schools such as UF as well(small city but successful university and sports program). When I wear a FSU hat the first thing people bring up is how fun it was to go to football games when they were in college. I feel like I am rambling but have many other points about how sports are important, for entertainment and networking). FSU would be around if it weren't for sports; however, not nearly as large as it is today.

As far as boosters goes, I don't think anyone could possibly argue that at the D-1A level a university can consistently be at the top without a booster program. There is too many advantages that would be lost without a top notch stadium, coaches, and facilities. Without boosters a university can not support the players like other universities that have booster programs can. To address the notion that sports gets so much money and the university is laying off teachers. That would happen whether there was sports or not at FSU. Graduates and non-graduates willfully donate their money to boosters which supports sports financially. In order to not lay off teachers tuition needs to be raised or graduates need to donate to the school directly but thats not the issue at hand.

As far as the image that sports and some individual players give off. FSU football has made FSU more known because of its success. Look at a university such as USF. In tampa it is easy to see how many more people have embraced the school due to the fact that it now has a football team. USF used to be an after thought in tampa to schools like UF, FSU, and MIami. Now USF is at least being mentioned and with continued success in sports will grow into being more recognized across the nation. The players at FSU that you mentioned have given a bad image there is no doubt about that. But what about all of the great role models that have come through our sports program. There is no way Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks, Myron Rolle and Christian Ponder would have ever been noles without football. You can't tell me that those aren't great images for FSU. This is without even mentioning Bobby Bowden and all of the great things him and his coaches such as Mickey Andrews have done over the years. Bobby Bowden and his values as well as success on the field has brought an enormous amount of recognition and pride to FSU.

These are juts some of my thoughts. I just feel strongly about FSU sports as to its the reason I am attending FSU. I can not imagine FSU or Tallahassee being the size it is today or have the recognition it has without sports. Since coming to FSU I have fallen in love with the university itself but that opportunity never would have happened without sports here at FSU. I am going to be graduating in Decemeber and plan on joining boosters and becoming a season ticket holder.

Jordi said...

This was a great comment and very appreciated.

However, if I may counter, here are a few points:

1) You brought up economic impact to Tallahassee businesses - great point and that can not be disputed. However, it is circumstantial. They are capitalizing on the success of the athletic department. When the team went bad, and less people showed up, they couldn't do anything. They have no say to improve the on the field product. And it would be even more scary if they had that voice. The people to really feel bad for is small businesses. Holiday Inn will move to where they have demand. Joe Bob's BBQ Shack who provides pre-game grub can't.

2) Everyone has their own reasons why they went to FSU. Long time Seminole fans probably would want to attend for the sports, academic folks for the classroom teachings, and me - because it was the only school to accept me. Not really a counterpoint, just a statement.

3) Regarding school donations to boosters compared to academic depts: I almost put this in the article. Glad you brought it up. I wish someone would do a study somewhere to see if the percentage of available donations per income per department is less for a school with an athletic department than without. In other words, are the funds people are giving to athletic depts at some schools going to academic depts at other schools? Are funds elastic in that way? Or do contributions to other depts benefit from people donating to athletic depts? Remember, there is only a set number of total dollars to be donated (the possible flexible dollars of people interested in donating). That sounds like an economic (or freakonomic) study waiting to happen.

4) Regarding USF: I was surprised when I moved to Tampa to learn how big USF is. 34K students according to Wikipedia. That would just less than FSU and UF. Not all of those people enrolled since the football program rose to prominence. I am not sure how athletics effects enrollment, but I doubt in USF's case it is that important. Saying USF was an afterthought to UF, FSU, UM, etc might be true for athletes, but not for the general population. What about UCF? I don't think they are athletically dominant in anything, yet people enroll.

5) Congrats on your upcoming graduation.

Nole4ever said...

The study of whether more funds would go to departments without an athletic program would be interesting. But do remember that when we have really good football season and the money is flowing in, many departments benefit. I remember when I first came to FSU one of the people from an academic department(can't see to remember which for the life of me) was saying how they usually look down on athletics bc its a school for high education but she was happy with athletics bc her department was given $200,000 from the BCS money the school received.

As far as USF goes, my point is that before the football program I NEVER saw a USF hat, shirt or anything. The town of Tampa has embraced the school much more then ever before. There are literally billboards everywhere. Every kid from my generation grew up wearing FSU, Miami, and UF gear bc they were the big players in football. I believe in the next 10 years USF will have many more people wanting to stay in Tampa for school bc thats the school they grew up idolizing. My graduating class (from tampa) had roughly 20-25% of the people who attended college go to FSU and the same amount go to UF. I know more people from my graduating class that have gone to UF and FSU then any other school including USF. Nationally when people are asked where USF is most would say somewhere in South Florida and have no idea. If USF were to have the success FSU had in the 90's people would recognize them as people recognize FSU today. I understand boosters doesn't result in wins(i'm sure Michigan has big booster base and they aren't doing well) but having a good booster program surely does increase your chances of winning.

Nole4ever said...

Just to add one more thing. I would like to see a study on how the publicity mainly free helps the university with prospective students. Just about every paper in the state of Florida and I would imagine south Georgia(although not sure) write daily articles on FSU sports. That helps with recognition and is free publicity. Also all of the commercials that are on TV most of which are free. During most FSU football games we see a university commercial and we have all seen the numerous Bobby Bowden commercials. It would be hard to show how all of that recognition turns into future enrollments but one would have to imagine it helps tremendously. When we win the free publicity really starts to roll when companies like ESPN want our coaches for commercials as well as talk about FSU on sportscenter and during other shows. When ESPN comes to Tallahassee to host college gameday or just a regular football game, our university and the city of Tallahassee is on display.

And one more thing(sorry, lots of things running through my head). I can't imagine our sports facilities to be anything they are today without boosters. Our womens soccer and softball facilities have to be some of the nicest in the nation. Not to mention mens baseball and track. Doak as we know it would not exist without boosters funding.

NoleCC said...

Excellent comments all around Jordi and Nole4.

A couple of things to add:

1) It's very tough for any of us to look outside of our own situation and perspective. I was lucky enough to have a few different schools to choose from, but I was most comfortable on the tour at FSU. That's really what it came down to for me, the tour of the campus. FSU was one of a limited set of schools that offered my intended major, so that limited my choices right off the bat. I knew who the Seminoles were, but a good football team didn't affect my decision making when it came to the classroom.

2) I don't think anybody disputes the value of a good Booster organization. My problem lies in the fact that none of it at FSU seems very open or transparent. Case in point, you cannot donate directly to the FSU Athletic Department, it MUST run through Seminole Boosters, Inc. Why?

3) While the soccer and softball facilities are definitely nice, and some of the better local ones. There are much, much nicer ones at other schools. Why? Lots of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with a booster program and everything to do with circumstances. For baseball, Dick Howser Stadium is a great facility, yes, and Tallahassee has some of the better college baseball fans out there, which is why the NCAA is so happy to have FSU host a regional nearly every year.

Nole4ever said...

What circumstances? Who has better facilities with a smaller booster program? I don't believe our facilities are the nicest but they are above average all around. How would we have the facilities today without boosters? I don't know the finer details of the boosters like others do but how does our boosters compare to other programs(i.e. do other programs have donations go directly to athletics)? Are the complaints about Seminole Boosters or booster programs in general? While I'm boosters doesn't open their books wide openly. I'm sure its more transparent then other programs, especially private colleges.

Jordi said...

Personally, I am not a big fan of any booster program. Seminole Boosters is just the one I know and pay attention to. So I hope it doesn't look like I am picking on them unfairly. If I knew more about the rest, I would find something to call them out on as well.

NoleCC said...


I've read that before. It doesn't tell me much at all because it's football centric and at the 50,000 foot level. It doesn't get into specifics like the individual sport clubs or what some of the categories in the Seminole Boosters, Inc. IRS Form 990 actually go to in expenses.

Transparent, to me, is opening up the books and making it easily available to look at the information.

Nole4ever said...

Well i believe I would agree to disagree because I don't think its necessary or beneficial for Seminole Boosters to do that. Or for many organizations to do that in general. What gain is there in opening the books? The people who want to donate will continue to do so and the people who don't will continue to not donate. Opening the books would not change the minds of any to start donating. Other then this website I haven't heard any complaints form people about where money goes. I do thin that there are many things that can be improved though. Seminole Boosters is an organization that wants to work with seminole fans. It seems to me you are just against booster organizations in its concept so you will always have a problem with them no matter what they do.

NoleCC said...


The gain is that we all get to see that our money goes to the spot we intend. I cannot hand Lonnie Alameda a check, nor can I go into the FSU Athletic Department and ask for the routing / account number for the Dugout Club to directly deposit money to the softball team. Why? Because I've been told that I have to go through Seminole Boosters, Inc. I understand that you personally haven't heard complaints before, but I personally have heard complaints and similar stories to my own.

I've been very open about the issues I've had with donations to various individual sport clubs. I've sent money to the softball team in the past, and been sent thank you letters from Mike Martin or Bobby Bowden thanking me for the donation of X dollars, when I didn't donate to their teams. The only confirmation I got that the money was in the right place, was an assurance over the phone that the letters were a mistake and the money had made it to the right place. When I asked if I could have a letter assuring me of that, I was told that Seminole Boosters, Inc. "didn't do that."

In fact, I've asked a few different times about the accounting practices for the individual sport clubs and I never get anything but a generic answer about clubs using the money provided by individual donors. Yes, I know that, but where are the line items? Or is this all one big pot and we're supposed to take someone's word for it?

That's why I want open books. I want to know that the money is being well spent. If it is, then they shouldn't feel the need to hid behind the privacy of incorporation. I'm not "out to get" Seminole Boosters, Inc. I just want to know whether I should bother putting my money into the system because it goes where I intend, or whether I should put it elsewhere in the future.

Luvunoles said...

Unfortunately, experience tells us that NoleCC is correct in asking for transparency.
Humans make mistakes and humans have been known to lie. We are all taught that the handshake and word of an individual is not contractual. Why should an individual or corporation donate money that is not properly documented and audited on a regular basis?
NoleCC should have gotten written documentation from the Booster Organization acknowledging his money was placed in the designated club or sport. Why did they not agree to that simple request? Perhaps money for clubs and sports, other than football, have a designated amount that is budgeted and set each year and NoleCC's donation was being made above and beyond the Booster allowance.
Transparent accounting and auditing would document that the money was released and spent where the donors intended. Transparency would demonstrate the fluctuation of donations to individual sports and clubs based on popularity and success. Transparency would allow donors to decide that a club or sport other than football, may need a boost in any given year and defer their donation accordingly. Transparency might also show that a sport or club was no longer necessary for the budgetary health of the Athletic Program.
Transparency not only brings accounting errors and untruths or misspeaks to the forefront, it also brings more support to the Organization that demonstrates it takes care of the money that is given to them.
PLEASE NOTE: I am not stating that the Seminole Boosters have made any errors in accounting or in language, but perhaps in judgment. Why are the donors left to guess? Inquiring minds want to know.

Nole4ever said...

I do agree that if you want to donate directly to a specific cause you should be able to do so. Although I do think its hard to prove such a transaction. It seems as if Boosters funds all the sports as a whole but I don't know maybe every sport has there own account. These are details I am unaware of. I am unaware of your situation in its entirety so its hard for me to give an informed opinion on your particular case. For instance I'm not even sure what the Dugout Club is. I don't know why there would be such an organization if you can't donate to it. I would say that either directly or indirectly your donation will reach the softball team. I can only imagine that the majority of the money given to softball each year is taken out of the larger pile that is provided through people donating to the greater cause of FSU sports.

I would say the reason I like the boosters is because I feel it is benefiting wherever is best for the overall sports program. As all the spots programs do better the Boosters gain more donations yearly and then can allocate more money to each sport.

Once again I do see your points and see how it is frustrating to not see where your money is going directly. But i do think that Seminole Boosters as a whole is a good organization and EVERY sport is benefiting by their existence.