SVG College Sports Summit: Florida State’s Seminole Productions Reflects on Championship Season

On the final play of the 2014 BCS Championship Game, Auburn made a last-ditch attempt — and several lateral passes — to come from behind against the Florida State. But a tackle sealed the Tigers’ fate and crowned the Seminoles college football’s National Champion, the culmination of a season marked by unexpected victories — and controversies.

At SVG College Sports Summit in Atlanta, members of Florida State University and FSU’s Seminole Productions reflected on the highs and lows of the school’s championship season during a second-day keynote conversation.

“We knew there was a lot of talent on the team,” said Mark Rodin, director, Seminole Productions. “The big question mark is, you have a new quarterback, and any time you have a new quarterback, you don’t know what to expect. … If [Jameis Winston] did well, there’s a chance that they could have a really good season. [We] just didn’t expect it to go the way it did.”

Heading into January’s BCS Championship Game at Rose Bowl Stadium, FSU knew it had something special on its hands. That’s why, prior to the game, Seminole Productions solicited the help of fans through e-mail blasts and social media: take video of yourselves, of each other, celebrating Florida State’s big plays and, hopefully, a win.

The resulting clips poured in — fans in restaurants, at home, and, in one touching clip, a hospital room where FSU fans had just welcomed a new baby — and a montage of FSU fans from across the country was played during February’s National Championship celebration.

“Because of the way the game ended, the way the buildup [happened], especially in the fourth quarter, I wanted to do something that kind of showcased everybody’s reaction and our fans’ experience during that night,” said Eric Frey, live event coordinator, Seminole Productions. “We had a really good response: over 100 e-mails from people sending their home videos; I couldn’t use them all. So it turned out well.”

This year’s championship marks the third national title for FSU, its first since 1999. The panelists were quick to note how far their workflows had come in the past 15 years.

“[In 1999], you really kind of had to be, in my personal opinion, a video enthusiast to be shooting video at things like this,” said Jim Garbarino, associate director, Seminole Productions. “Now that it’s on everybody’s phone, the first thing they’re doing is pulling out and [taking] pictures, selfies, and videos.”

Of course, chronicling FSU’s championship season did not begin at Rose Bowl Stadium. Months earlier, the team had improbably defeated Clemson on the road, catapulting FSU into the national spotlight. And quarterback Winston was clearly the breakout star.

“At that point, ESPN comes in, and, because we’re an ESPN partner school, we have a direct connection to ESPN through fiber,” explained Rodin. “Jameis did [a press conference] every Wednesday, and ESPN asked if they could take that one live. … We thought we were feeding it to them live and they’d cut it up and use it, [but] they were putting it on ESPN live when it was happening, which we didn’t expect. I turned on ESPN, and there’s Jameis doing his press conference. Because he got put in the spotlight early, it escalated to the point where he was now a national story.”

However, the next month, Winston found himself in the national spotlight for a far different reason, and Seminole Productions was forced to deal with an onslaught of media requests and off-field drama that overshadowed the on-field action. The crew treated the situation the best they could.

“For our staff, it was just business as normal,” says Scott Kotick, director of digital media, Florida State University. “Act like nothing is going on, act like your team’s trying to compete for a National Championship, trying just to get to Charlotte for the ACC Championship. Just act like it’s business as usual, and I think, when you have that mentality, you’re not really going to get swayed by the outside world, whatever they might be saying, be it positive or negative.”

Rodin, a part of FSU’s three National Championship runs, reflected on the ups and downs of a championship season and offered the audience advice on how to deal with challenges, both expected and unexpected.

“Be careful what you wish for,” he advised, “because, once you get to the top, everyone is just trying to tear you down. Of course, Jameis doesn’t help with what he does, but, again, everybody’s looking for the negativity. … I mean, there’s obviously a lot of great that comes with it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful feeling as you can see from the video, but be prepared for the negative as well.”