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Neutral-Site Games Could Become the New Norm

July 2, 2013

Brandon Mellor Brandon Mellor
Seminoles.com Managing Editor
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- In the behind-the-scenes, phone-tag playing world of college-football schedule making, anything is possible. And as an integral part of this closed-door process for the Seminoles, Florida State Senior Associate Athletics Director Monk Bonsasorte understands this reality better than most.

It's why, even though his primary focus is on an impending 2013 season that's set to start in 2 months, Bonasorte remains alert to the rumblings and rumors across the college football landscape. When you are charged with working out the logistics of a 12-game regular-season schedule as far in advance as 2020 (Bonasorte and FSU earlier this year entered into an agreement for a home-and-home series with Boise State in 2019 and 2020), you have to be vigilant to the smallest news and notes from coast to coast. "There is a strategic formula in this thing," Bonasorte said.

That formula entails a rather important balancing act between securing as many elite, put-fans-in-the-seats type of opponents as possible while also scheduling foes that present winnable games.

"You can play yourself into the national championship but you can also play yourself out of a national championship," Bonasorte said. "You can schedule into one and you can schedule out of one. You've got to be careful and there has to be a pretty good mixture and pretty good balance."

Teams like 2015 FSU home opponents Texas State and Tennessee-Chattanooga won't do you any strength-of-schedule favors but they also shouldn't have an impact on the loss column. Still, that fact doesn't douse the flames of Seminoles fans frustrations when it comes to scheduling lower-level opponents -- and Bonasorte fully understands fans' desire to have as many "big" games as possible on the schedule.

As recently as this past season, their perceived strength of schedule -- or lack thereof -- was causing problems for the undefeated 'Noles heading into the middle part of the season. Had FSU finished out the year undefeated, they very well could have been passed over for a national title opportunity by a one-loss team with a more computer-friendly schedule. The reality was that Florida State was being "punished" for playing a program such as Savannah State -- a team that was only on the schedule because West Virginia backed out of its home-and-home agreement with FSU at the 11th hour.

But with a new playoff system being implemented at the conclusion of the 2014 season and upgrades to Atlantic Coast Conference football, a lopsided victory over Texas State or Tennessee-Chattanooga shouldn't have nearly the same negative effect in the future.

"As we look at strength of schedule, we've all sat down and talked about what our possibilities are and where we need to schedule," Bonasorte said. "As we look at the ACC bringing in Louisville and the opportunity to play Notre Dame every three to four to five years or whatever that schedule is, that will definitely enhance and create a better scheduling formula for us."

That's not to say there isn't room for top-level scheduling opportunities. 

The Seminoles will kick off the 2014 season with a showdown against Oklahoma State at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The highly anticipated season-opening neutral-site game could be a sign of things to come for the 'Noles, as its more likely that future elite-opponent scheduling will be in professional venues rather than on either team's campus.

By scheduling neutral-site games in areas that are convenient for FSU's alumni and booster bases, Bonasorte and the Seminoles' decision makers give 'Noles fans opportunities to see their favorite team in person that they might not have had if they had been in Tallahassee and not in an Orlando, or an Atlanta, or a Houston, or perhaps a Tampa or Jacksonville. Scheduling neutral-site games also benefits recruiting and it helps avoid the myriad of complexities associated with scheduling a home-and-home series in the future.

This direction of scheduling could potentially lead to an FSU game against an SEC school, for instance, in the yearly Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. This year's version of that contest pits Alabama against Virginia Tech.

"We are looking at every option," Bonasorte said. "That's pretty much not in our hands; that's pretty much we negotiate with the Chick-fil-A Bowl or Jerry Jones' stadium or with ESPN and they are the ones that get the opponents. We make suggestions who we want to play. I can foresee us still trying to work in some pretty big opponents. LSU Is big in those games [and] Alabama is big into playing those type of early-season games. 

"We are going to continue to play for those games."

If Florida State fans want to see more games featuring the 'Noles versus the SEC (and not just the yearly tussle with rival Florida), it's probably more likely that a lucrative neutral-site game will take place rather than a home-and-home agreement. SEC schools typically aren't in the business of scheduling out-of-conference home-and-home games and the possibility of that league going to nine games in the future would effectively end virtually all talk of elite out-of-conference scheduling.

In FSU's case, Bonasorte will continue to do whatever is necessary to establish the best schedule for the 'Noles that takes into account each of these many factors.

That means making calls and gauging interest in potential opponents, finding schools that are willing to take on an ever-improving FSU team and then actually working out an agreement with all the legal language necessary to officially stamp it on a future schedule.

"I don't know if teams are going to want to play us ... we have struggled to try to get some teams that will play us," Bonasorte said. "This is not a one day phone call where you call someone up and they say, 'OK, we'll schedule the game.' This takes months and months to try and figure out the schedule and work on it."


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