College football has been turned on its ear in recent years by the playoff system, conference realignment, the transfer portal and big dollar name, image and likeness (NIL) deals. As the sport moves boldly into the unknown, conventional wisdom has held that Clemson University – a perennial national championship contender in football – would at some point depart the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
According to reporter Gene Sapakoff of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier, that “point” could be coming far sooner than anyone anticipated.
Sapakoff published a story this week detailing plants by Tiger administrators to “bolt” from the ACC imminently.
“Sooner rather than later,” one of Sapakoff’s sources, a “senior administrator” at the school, said.
Sooner … as in 2023.
“Stay very tuned,” the source added.
What’s the rush for the Tigers? Duh. Money.
The Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference (SEC) doled out $58.8 million and $49.9 million, respectively, to member institutions in 2021-2022, according to data compiled by USA Today. Meanwhile, the ACC paid out anywhere between $38 million and $41 million per school.
Worse for ACC schools, the immediate gap in revenue is expected to widen over the next decade-and-a-half as the SEC and Big Ten begin new television deals while the ACC remains stuck in its long-term deal with ESPN – which runs through 2036. ACC teams are also cut out of broadcast revenue via a “grant-of-rights” they signed back in 2012-2013 when the conference was making its last big expansion.
The “grant-of-rights” deal gave the conference the exclusive ability to televise member schools’ home games. Along with hefty exit fees, its goal was to keep the expanded ACC intact.
Back in May, sportswriter Brett McMurphy noted that the ACC’s “magnificent seven” – Clemson, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech – were meeting with lawyers about the grant-of-rights deal in order to “determine just how unbreakable it is.”
Are they making progress?
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Sapakoff’s Clemson sources cited “strength in numbers” in connection with their imminent departure talk, which would seem to indicate the answer to that question is “yes.”
Assuming they can break the ACC’s “grant-of-rights” stranglehold … where would Clemson go?
South Carolina has made it clear it doesn’t want the Tigers in the SEC – and SEC leaders have hinted they are content with the conference’s latest expansion, which will bring Oklahoma and Texas into the fold next year.
That would make the Big Ten the most logical landing spot for Clemson – and possibly North Carolina and Florida State as well. However, the SEC covets the Tar Heels, too – and would likely consider another expansion if they were in the mix.
The ACC was founded in 1953 with Clemson and South Carolina among its founding members. South Carolina left in 1971, however, and Maryland – another founding member – left in 2014. The conference is set to absorb California, Stanford and Southern Methodist in 2024.
Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina all voted against those conference additions, incidentally – signaling the growing rift within the conference.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.
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