Florida State coach Bobby Bowden didn't sound particularly optimistic, or even particularly enthusiastic, about scheduling ever-improving USF as recently as last summer.
"You usually try to find somebody that you've got a chance to win (against) instead of getting your nose bloodied," he said in July.
Although still a relatively upstart football program, USF had proved it could do the latter. Ask Auburn.
And Bowden realized that if his tradition-rich team lost to USF, it could mean a precipitous fall in the polls and a rise in stature for an opponent trying to make inroads on his recruiting turf.
No upside there.
A lower-level Division I-A team or a I-AA team made more sense as the Seminoles, like most other top-shelf teams in BCS conferences, mix and match opponents to strike a competitively balanced schedule.
But FSU reversed field this month, finalizing a home-and-home series with the Bulls that begins Sept. 26 in Tallahassee and culminates Sept. 29, 2012, in Tampa.
"The big plus is this: They'll fill the stadium," Bowden said of the Bulls. "We bring in Western Carolina, we bring in Chattanooga, and we can't fill our stadium. We can't pay the bills like that."
In the recently concluded season, FSU averaged an announced crowd of 77,968 at Doak Campbell Stadium, its lowest since 1997's 74,400. Capacity was 80,000 at that time. It's now 82,300.
FSU had just one sellout in 2008: Florida. And even then, the stands weren't full.
"We had several games where there were more empty seats than we ever hope to see in our stadium," said FSU athletic director Randy Spetman, hired in February to replace Dave Hart.
Some of that had to do with a team that hasn't been as successful in recent years.
Some had to do with it facing I-AA Western Carolina and Chattanooga to open the season. Some — perhaps much of it — had to do with a sagging economy exacerbated by high gas prices and Tallahassee hotels commanding upward of $250 a night, with a two-night minimum. All that meant less revenue from the athletic department's main economic engine.
"I need to recoup that and figure out how to encourage those fans to come back next year," Spetman said.
Looking for a 12th game, he knew he would need about $1 million to lure a lower-level I-A team to Tallahassee. And even I-AA opponents receive a nice payday. (FSU wrote $460,000 checks to Western Carolina and Chattanooga.)
Even if Spetman wasn't coming off a tough financial year, those kinds of financial arrangements would be problematic. He has been mandated to trim the athletic department budget by 10 percent (roughly $5 million) for the 2009-10 school year.
That's why he was amiable to rethinking the Sudoku-like puzzle that is scheduling when it came to USF.
The proximity of the schools will minimize travel expenses, leading to a relatively bargain-basement guarantee of $300,000. Had FSU been able to go to Tampa in 2010, there wouldn't have been a guarantee at all. USF athletic director Doug Woolard, who wouldn't have settled for a one-shot road game, said fans also will face less expensive trips.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see more regionalization in scheduling because of the economy," he said, crediting the cooperation of Indiana and Michigan State in juggling their scheduled games with USF to allow it to add FSU.
As for the Seminoles' apprehension about the relative national perception of the two programs and what a loss could mean to them, well, that's no longer a one-way street.
"There was at one time some question about whether we should be playing them back and forth," Spetman said. "But that is definitely a program that has gained national recognition over the past couple of years. So I think it brings credibility to our program playing them."
"This is a game our fans will appreciate and a game, I think, that places our football program on a national platform," Woolard said. "It's important for us to be able to do that. I think it's important for our fans."
All of which makes plenty of sense. And dollars and cents.
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347.