You might be surprised to learn that I have in fact been wrong before. It tends to happen a lot, unfortunately.
But after seeing Brett McMurphy and Ross Dellenger’s reporting on dissension within the ACC’s member schools, I think I nailed this one squarely on the head — the ACC is sinking into the oceanic abyss of college athletics.
Dellenger, one of the most clued-in reporters in all of sports media, informed all of us on Monday that seven ACC schools — revealed by McMurphy to be Clemson, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech — have met with teams of lawyers multiple times in recent months, examining the ACC’s Grant of Rights deal, which extends through 2036.
I’m not the only one to have seen this iceberg coming from a mile away. Anyone paying attention sees what lay ahead— the ACC is falling further and further behind their conference colleagues and the Grant of Rights severely impacts the schools’ abilities to keep pace with their competitive counterparts.
Unsurprisingly, a four-hour meeting Monday between ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips and ACC athletic directors ended in radio silence.
There are two takeaways from this, one being that those in charge have finally accepted that the current situation is untenable. The ACC cannot continue to lag far behind other conferences in terms of revenue distributions, at least not if the ACC wants to remain competitive.
But more disturbingly, the second takeaway is that there are no good options to fix this.
Dellenger writes in his column that the ACC schools have essentially three options — negotiate for more money from ESPN, leave the ACC individually or leave as one large group in hopes of forming a new conference.
These options range from total junk to legally dubious. ESPN, in the middle of deep layoffs and cost cutting, likely isn’t willing to come to the table. ESPN just locked up the Big Ten’s media rights and per Dellenger, is negotiating with the Pac-12 and UFC/WWE. And leaving the ACC, together or separate, is a legal challenge that must face the “airtight” Grant of Rights.
As it turned out, all that security and stability that John Swofford supposedly created for the ACC back in 2016 has resulted in the exact opposite.
Mr. Dave, the sage of Hokies Twitter and Monarch of DullesDistrict.Com, always advises me to offer solutions to the problems I pose in my writing. I generally try to do that, but I’m not sure that my mind can solve this dilemma.
As nasty as it will be, it seems like the schools’ best chance is to take the ACC head-on in court and hope for the best. Waiting another 13 years before a new media rights deal will signal the death of the conference as we know it. Outside of Clemson and Florida State, I don’t believe any of the schools in the ACC can afford the $120 million exit fee associated with breaking the Grant of Rights agreement.
Litigation seems like the only option.
Ineffective and reactionary leadership has left the ACC locked in a prison that they built. As important as these “Magnificent 7” schools may feel, that feeling may be fleeting.
I sincerely hope I’m wrong and this column ends up being a big waste of time. Virginia Tech has enough obstacles to overcome on the road to greatness and sailing on a sinking ship doesn’t need to be one of them.
The schools of the ACC need to find a lifeboat and they need to find it fast. And as nice as it would be to bring along like-minded institutions, not every other school may be so caring.
I find this while situation sad & depressing. I’ve read all the reasons why Swofford & the schools made their deal with ESPN but still can’t fathom how so many “smart” people misread the CFB landscape. As a VT alumni I am scared for our future in the current model. Call me a pessimist but I don’t see us landing anywhere good despite being part of the “magnificent seven.” I place all the blame for our decline in football on Sands & Babcock. They were too slow to react, definitely not forward thinking, and in some cases totally indifferent to the importance of our program.
For all of the grief I gave former ACC Commissioner John Swofford through the years for being a total & complete UNC centric guy mirroring the wishes of his alma mater, it would probably surprise many that Swofford's first job was at the University of Virginia where he was hired by legendary UVA AD Gene Corrigan (who passed in Charlottesville in 2020) before Corrigan became Notre Dame AD, then ACC Commissioner and finally NCAA President. That hire was made by Corrigan in 1973 where Swofford served as UVA Ticket Manager and Assistant Director of Athletic Facilities.
I don't have an answer for the powerful sports conferences becoming more powerful. As we all know, most ACC schools are at a severe disadvantage when recruiting due to the high academic standards of most and the high standards of the ACC. As much as I'd like to see ACC football be on a par with those power conferences, I do not want to see OUR schools give up their academic prestige where most athletes don't "graduate" with a PE degree and are able to conduct a literate interview without resorting to "You Know, you know" uttered dozens of times.
On a side note, I'm guessing that Dave Scarangella realizes that those titles of "Sage" & "Monarch" are primarily reserved for our more elderly sports folks.
BTW, interesting to note that John Swofford's birthplace was North Wilkesboro, NC where NASCAR racing returns this weekend after a lengthy absence thanks to NC taxpayers and Governor Roy.