AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — Seven ACC schools have done their homework, but none are confident they could break granting league rights to join other conferences — and subsequently spark the next wave realignment of the conference.
Their secret revealed, conference athletic directors and commissioner Jim Phillips left the first day of their annual spring meetings at the swanky Ritz-Carlton resort here Monday night in silence.
Conference realignment rumors are front and center for the third straight summer, and for the first time the ACC is front and center. But this is nothing new. The sports world remembered this month-long soap opera on Monday. The realignment and unease among top dogs, particularly Florida State and Clemson, was nothing new, but more clarity was provided when Action Network’s Brett McMurphy revealed the seven secret universities that looked into the league rights-licensing agreement, which provides the conference with all television broadcasting. rights for those schools through 2036. More importantly, it makes it seemingly impossible to break the contract and join a rival conference as realignment swirls in the background at the other four Power Five conferences this year.
These schools are led by Clemson, Florida State and Miami, which have worked together in recent months to develop and introduce a new revenue distribution model for the league that would reward teams for playoff success. North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia and Virginia Tech join these bluebloods.
The question is whether their grand exploration will lead to a grand migration out of the conference.
For now, we are waiting to find out if the unified silence turns into a unified message. The 14 athletic directors and commissioner Jim Phillips emerged at 7:06 p.m. from the double doors of a conference room and walked quickly past a contingent of media. Their meeting lasted 66 minutes beyond the scheduled time. Phillips left the meeting and returned an hour later, minutes before it concluded. Sporting directors have been ordered not to speak to journalists. Clemson athletic director Graham Neff smiled declining to comment and said he was “starving”. Head down, NC State athletic director Boo Corrigan sighed as he passed the reporters.
Behind the scenes, attorneys and administrators representing these schools explored the possibilities for several months, and many traveled to conference headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina, to examine the perceived ironclad language in the grant. Rights.
Leaving the conference isn’t as easy as paying a $120 million buyout and phoning the SEC and the Big Ten for a new home. Legal challenges and more payments over the life of the contract could total nearly $500 million, industry sources say, making it nearly impossible for even the wealthiest universities to leave.
However, Monday’s identification of those seven schools was yet another jab through the ACC’s arc. It’s possible – but not yet assured – if more than 50% of conference members leave en masse, the granting of rights dissolves and the financial penalties disappear. The ACC would certainly fight that argument in court rather than sink into obscurity if eight schools left and FSU and Clemson formed their own conference or applied for membership in the SEC.
For now, the threat of ACC departures looms in the background like a hypothetical built atop a rocky hill of hypotheticals. The first step on the road to appeasing these seven schools is the promotion of a new revenue distribution model in the ACC. FSU, Clemson, and Miami explored several variations of a weighted distribution model that would reward schools with a larger percentage of ACC revenue based on playoff success.
In other words, a playoff-bound FSU would get more money than Duke in the Mayo Bowl.
The element that has not yet been discussed is how television revenues would be included in the unequal sharing model. A few extra million dollars each year via playoff revenue (bowls, playoffs, and NCAA tournament appearances) wouldn’t significantly offset the disparity between the top school in the ACC and, say, Vanderbilt in the SEC (potentially up to to $30 million a year). The big money is the ESPN deal, which pays out $36.1 million a year to each ACC school. More than other conference attendees, the state of Florida wants a bigger slice of that pie.
For what? Clemson and FSU are by far the most attractive ACC brands on network television. FSU’s regular season games between 2014 and 2021 drew more viewers than any ACC school with an average of 3.1 million viewers.
Eighteen ACC football games drew more than 3 million viewers in 2022, but only one conference game did not involve Clemson or Florida State, according to data compiled by Sports Media Watch. North Carolina-NC State averaged 3.61 million viewers, ranking fourth in most-watched conference games and 10th overall among games involving an ACC team.
There is also another problem: the ACC has not devoted much time during its spring meetings to discussing what seems to be problem number 1. A 30-minute window was included in the program on Wednesday to discuss the revenue split, a source told 247Sports.
The call for a change in the ACC’s revenue model emerged last spring, as conference realignment rumbled across the country again with USC and UCLA preparing to leave the Pac- 12 for the Big Ten and Oklahoma and Texas bolting the Big 12 for the SEC in 2024 Florida State has aggressively pursued a new pattern in the ACC as rumors of discontent – and eyes flirtatious for a more advantageous place within the SEC – floated in the industry.
The FSU estimates that it contributes up to 15% of the value of the ACC’s media rights, but receives only 7% of the revenue. Alford cited the raw numbers at a February FSU board meeting, prompting an administrator to ask if the university could leave the ACC despite granting the rights.
For now, the ACC is the only Power Five conference not directly impacted by the latest wave of realignment. The Big 12 is getting bigger and shrinking in 2023 and 2024. The Pac-12 is shrinking – and could get bigger again – in 2024. The SEC is getting bigger. The Big Ten overtook the SEC as the top moneymaker with USC and UCLA joining the league.
The ACC neighborhood has remained quiet and safe through its long grant of rights, but not all homes are built on flat land. The CAC will change, forcibly, as money takes center stage. Whether or not it’s with Clemson and Florida State is the $120 million question.
Brandon Marcello is a national college football reporter for 247Sports. You can follow him on Twitter (@bmarcello).