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Clemson Sues The ACC

“Collegiate athletics is at a crossroads …”

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Clemson University sued the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) this week over what it claims are “exorbitant” exit fees – paving the way for the potential implosion of one of college athletics’ most iconic organizations.

According to a lawsuit (.pdf) filed in Pickens County, South Carolina on Tuesday (March 19, 2024), Clemson cited “erroneous assertions” made by the conference regarding an “unconscionable” and “unenforceable” $140 million penalty the school would purportedly be forced to pay were it to leave the ACC. The lawsuit also made a separate allegation regarding the ACC’s presumption of owning “media rights” to Clemson home games played through 2036.

“Collegiate athletics is at a crossroads,” the suit noted. “Without clarity as to its legal rights and obligations, Clemson cannot protect and advance its interests, or the interests of its student-athletes, in current and ongoing negotiations within the conference, with the conference’s existing media partner ESPN, and in collegiate athletics more generally.”

In filing the civil action, Clemson is seeking a “declaration of its rights” regarding the ACC’s media claim – which it insists would end the moment Clemson “ceases to be a member of the ACC.” It also asked for a ruling regarding the enforceability of the “withdrawal penalty” the conference would seek to impose upon it in the event it does leave.

Finally, the lawsuit also asks the court to declare the “non-existence” of any fiduciary duties owed to the conference in connection with the filing of the lawsuit.

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While the future of the relationship between Clemson and the ACC is clearly ominous, a statement from the school made clear “Clemson has not given notice that it is exiting the ACC and remains a member of the conference.”

Clemson is the second member of the ACC to file suit against the conference. Last December, Florida State filed a similar lawsuit in Leon County circuit court in Florida citing a “draconian” $572 million price tag purportedly imposed upon the institution by the ACC in the event it were to leave.

The Seminoles’ filing (.pdf) slammed the conference for “years of failures” culminating in the “stunning exclusion of the ACC’s undefeated football champion from the 2023-2024 college football playoff.”

“Through chronic fiduciary mismanagement and bad faith, the ACC has persistently undermined its members’ revenue opportunities including by locking them into a deteriorating media rights agreement that will soon result in a vast annual financial gap between the ACC and other Power Five (soon to be Power Four) conferences,” the Florida State lawsuit alleged.

“Today we’ve reached a crossroad in our relationship with the ACC,” the school’s board chairman, Peter Collins, said at the time.

(Click to View)

Florida State defensive back Azareye’h Thomas (20) gets pressure on Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik (2) during second-half action in Clemson, S.C. on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. (Travis Bell/SIDELINE CAROLINA)

The ACC responded with a countersuit filed in Mecklenburg County (N.C.) superior court – which has jurisdiction over the city of Charlotte, N.C., where the conference is headquartered. According to the countersuit (.pdf), Florida State committed “serial breaches of critical legal promises and obligations which it made over the last thirteen years to the ACC.”

“Florida State has chosen to breach its contractual obligations,” the countersuit alleged. “Florida State takes the position that it is bound by a contract only so long as it chooses.”

Clemson’s filing comes just three days before a judge in Mecklenburg County was set to rule on a motion by Florida State to dismiss the ACC countersuit. Meanwhile, Leon County judge John C. Cooper is scheduled to hear the ACC’s motion to dismiss the Florida State lawsuit on April 9, 2024.

No court dates have been scheduled in connection with Clemson’s lawsuit.

Clemson has been a member of the ACC since its inception in 1953 – along with Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, South Carolina, Wake Forest and Virginia. South Carolina left the ACC in 1971, while Maryland departed the conference in 2014.

In 1991, Florida State became the second school to join the ACC following Georgia Tech in 1979. Since then, Miami (2004), Boston College (2005), Notre Dame (2013), Pitt (2013), Syracuse (2013) and Louisville (2014) have all joined.

The ACC is set to welcome California, Stanford and Southern Methodist in 2024.

Clemson and Florida State are the conference’s two dominant football programs. Florida State has won 16 ACC football championships and three national titles since joining the ACC. Clemson has won 21 conference titles and three national championships during its tenure in the conference – including the 2016 and 2018 titles.

Here is the Clemson filing …

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THE LAWSUIT …

(S.C. Thirteenth Judicial Circuit)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

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 and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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3 comments

Allaboutme March 19, 2024 at 3:01 pm

The Trumpification of College Sports. Contracts are meant to be broken, commitments are fluid, loyalty ends when you no longer need the other party, and always try to get out of paying your debts.

Reply
Good Ole Boy March 19, 2024 at 5:01 pm

Sounds like Clemson is royally F**ked to me! They agreed to these terms, did they not?

Reply
CongareeCatfish Top fan March 20, 2024 at 11:07 am

This is just sour grapes, butthurt whining by two schools who placed football over basketball, and found out over time that the ACC is pretty much only a basketball conference and always will be, and now they want out by means of being rescued from their contracts…. that they probably had some of the highest paid lawyers in the state to negotiate on their behalf. Somebody call the waaahmbulance.
PS: what ever became of that lawsuit against Clemson about the composition of their Board of Trustees per their charter violating state law? Seems like that could have been ruled upon in summary judgment in about three months time but here we are approaching 12 months from filing…..

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