FSU privatizing its athletics department is so shady, not even Seminoles fans should support it

college football Seminoles (Large)
What could go wrong? Well, another Jameis Winston situation, for starters ...

Florida State University is embarking on perhaps the darkest chapter in its athletics department’s history, which is significant for a program that has endured a massive cheating scandal, multiple Jameis Winston controversies, and whatever the heck that was that the Noles put on the football field in 2018.

Is this over-the-top outrage for the school creating a private booster organization to run its athletics department? Especially when a pair of other universities in the state already have the same arrangement?

Depends on whom you ask … and how much you value transparency.

If you’re the win-at-all-costs type who roots for your team regardless of how many criminals they place on the field or how many booster bucks flow into their pockets … I guess there’s no need to read any further.

But if you’re a taxpayer who cares about how your money is spent, or you’re simply a human being who believes sunlight and transparency are the best disinfectants, then FSU’s move to convert its athletics department into a private direct service organization (DSO), thus exempting it from state public records laws, should be extremely concerning.

The Sunshine State has a rich tradition of transparency and accountability in government, and FSU’s end-around on those values couldn’t be more obvious.

Yet, somehow, it seems none of the officials tasked with looking out for Floridians seem to be concerned.

For what it’s worth, FSU President John Thrasher told The Washington Post’s Will Hobson the restructuring had nothing to do with avoiding public records and more to do with streamlining fundraising and athletics/booster relations.

Thrasher said the Seminoles would continue to provide access to public records like emails, text messages, and financials — just as the University of Florida has done through its DSO.

But these schools will only provide full access to these records until the day they decide not to.

Hobson’s story detailed how the University of Central Florida used its DSO to avoid turning over George O’Leary‘s contract, which would have otherwise been a public record.

And similar setups have helped shield records from the public at the University of Georgia, Pittsburgh, and Penn State. (yes, that Penn State).

Ask yourself — the next time a Joe Paterno-type of scandal comes up or a Jameis Winston kind of controversy rocks an athletics program — do you want mandatory transparency or optional transparency?

Ask yourself — do we want the relationship between boosters and administrators/coaches to be even closer and even more secretive? FSU was already using booster relationships to shield some public records related to construction of public facilities.

And former UCF Athletics Director Keith Tribble even admitted — during a deposition related to the death of football player Erick Plancher — the DSO allowed the athletics department to conduct business “without having it, you know, be public.

The university successfully argued, in that case, the DSO, while operating as a private entity, should still enjoy the benefits of a public one, as a $10 million wrongful death judgment to Plancher’s family was reduced to just $200,000, the maximum a plaintiff can win against a public entity in Florida.

Regardless, “all the other teams are doing it” is not a sufficient reason to exempt an organization from Florida laws.

Imitation is not a form of flattery here — its an embarrassing sort of shadiness that even the win-at-all-cost types should recognize as a giant risk with no tangible benefit to your teams.

Florida State doesn’t want to have to answer to the public, and the program — which collected more than $10 million last year from student fees and university financial assistance — doesn’t want to be obligated to tell you how they’re spending it.

If you’re a ‘Noles fan defending your program this week, it may be worth reexamining your values.

The DSO loophole is not a good thing for Florida, and it’s ultimately one that lawmakers should reexamine, too. Of course, given their typically reliable loyalty to their alma maters, none of us should hold our breath.

Noah Pransky

Noah Pransky is a multiple award-winning investigative reporter, most recently with the CBS affiliate in Tampa. He’s uncovered major stories such as uncovering backroom deals in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium and other political investigations. Pransky also ran a blog called Shadow of the Stadium, giving readers a deep dive into the details of potential financial deals and other happenings involving the Tampa Bay- area sports business.


  • Ray Blacklidge

    June 19, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    OK, even this Division I, SIU Alumni understands that Boosters provide Florida State fans with the opportunity to be involved, be engaged and to make an impact. Boosters contribute individual amounts from tens of millions of dollars to hundreds of dollars. These funds go to facility projects like academic support offices, the athletic training and rehab center and playing fields/stadiums are funded through facility gifts. Athletic scholarships for all student-athletes who compete in 20 sports are funded through two ways, a scholarship endowment gift or a recurring Annual Fund gift. Or, a restricted gift to the Coaches Clubs provides funding for the team of the Boosters choice. There is an involvement or gifting opportunity for every passionate FSU fan. These Boosters give a lot of money, voluntarily, and subject to strenuous National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) guidelines. If you are that concerned with how this money is spent, join the Boosters or just check out there website. $60 million – Football Operations Building
    The new stand-alone home for Seminole Football will be located adjacent to the Dunlap Practice Fields and Dunlap Athletic Training Facility and attached to the indoor complex.

    $9 million – New Student-Athlete Scholarship Endowments
    In support of student-athlete scholarships and long-term sustainability.

    $8 million – Nicklaus Redesign of the Don Veller Golf Course
    Transformation of the Don Veller Seminole Golf Course to a Nicklaus Legacy Course.

    $8 million – Coyle E. Moore Athletic Center Renovation
    Redevelopment of the Coyle E. Moore Athletic Center to include expanded student-athlete dining, training and strength and conditioning access as well as growing academic space.

    $6 million – Dick Howser Stadium Renovations
    Investments to improve the infrastructure and fan experience at Howser Stadium including team weight room, new team building and permanent grandstands in left field.

    $5 million – 50th Anniversary of Women’s Athletics
    Commitments in support of priorities for women’s athletics and in honor of 50 years of success for women in FSU athletics.

    $4 million – Phase II of the Donald L. Tucker Center Renovations
    Continuation of renovations at the Tucker Center including new team lounges for men’s and women’s basketball.

  • Bryan J Smith

    June 19, 2019 at 4:20 pm

    As an UCFAA, Inc. donor, I think the sports media is doing a great disservice by not differentiating between the four (4) types of funding. It’s everything.

    0) Taxpayer funds via the University
    1) Academic donations collected via the University
    2) Athletic fees collected via the University
    3) Athletic revenue collected via Athletics
    4) Athletic donations collect via Athletics

    The biggest focus should be #0. These are taxpayer funds being diverted for athletics, especially if they go into a Direct Support Organization (DSO).

    Also of concern is #1. This is when a general Academic or University fund, even though not taxpayer dollars, is being used by the University to pay for Athletics. This is especially the case when the ‘income tax’ aspects may work differently for when someone donates to education versus athletics.

    Now, #2 gets less concerning, but still needs to be pointed out. This is where the University collects specific Athletic fees for the Athletics from students. Because it is specifically earmarked for Athletics, federal grants and various, federally backed loans, among others, cannot be used. So students have to pay out-of-pocket.

    Getting to #3, let alone #4, now we’re talking specific revenue by, of and for the Athletic division, including donations that are specifically for Athletics. In my opinion, DSOs should have no need to disclose these funds.

    Which brings me to UCFAA, Inc.

    UCFAA, Inc. currently runs a budget over $60M, over $40M of that is #3/#4 revenue, not including TV which is also #3. The rest is more than made up by nearly $20M in Athletic fees, #2, which is why UCFAA, Inc. is running a surplus now (and will get another kick next year with the 3-4x increase in TV).

    At no point does UCF use #0 (taxpayer dollars) or #1. The only employee on-staff at UCFAA, Inc. that is paid by the taxpayer is its Athletic Director itself, because he is bound as an officer (VP) of the University to represent its interests, even if that’s just a minority of his compensation (UCFAA, Inc. pays the supermajority of it).

    That’s unlike a lot of G5s.

    For a lot of G5s, not only are Athletic fees (#2) dominating, but because #3 and #4 are not remotely enough, but they dip into #1, general funds that are not taxed well for non-academic purposes, but often when #0 — public taxpayer dollars — are not enough. E.g., USF started dipping into #1 (8 figures/year) after the Big East became the AAC, and the TV contract and other revenue dropped off, and it was already using #0 (also 8 figures/year) of taxpayer funds for athletics.

    And that’s just one example.

    So the ‘line needs to be drawn’ somewhere on DSOs.

    E.g., I’m fine with DSOs being entitled to #3 and #4. But never #0 and #1 should get almost as more scrutiny too. The big question is #2, the Athletic fees collected by the University, even though public funds and many scholarships cannot be used for them.

  • Bryan J Smith

    June 19, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    Correction, that read …

    the be four (4) types of ‘non-taxpayer’ funding (#1-4), in addition to taxpayer funding (#0).

  • Frank Mirabella

    June 19, 2019 at 4:35 pm

    DSO or no DSO, the Seminole Boosters succeeded in giving a $30 million contract to a football coach without doing a national search. As a result, our national collegiate football program is disintegrating. It looks to me, that this can still happen again, under the new system. Just what is it, that they are fixing? President Thrasher, won’t you please step up?

Comments are closed.


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