A relationship built on trust and faith, and not a signed document, shockingly meant nothing when the Big Ten added USC and UCLA. While the Alliance may have fizzled out, it appears an alliance between the Pac-12 and Big 12 isn’t in the cards either.
ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported Monday night that talks between the Big 12 and Pac-12 have officially come to an end after weeks of back-and-forth dialogue, primarily over Zoom between the leagues’ top officials. Additionally, Thamel reported that the Big 12 broke off the talks of a potential partnership.
It’s an interesting turn of events considering the current landscape of college football. The SEC and Big Ten, with the SEC poaching Texas and Oklahoma last summer and the Big Ten poaching UCLA and USC this summer, have laid the foundation for the rise of superconferences in college football. If that isn’t what both conferences already are even in the early phases.
The Big 12 rebounded last summer by adding BYU, Cincinnati, UCF and Houston, and while that bolsters numbers and adds interesting dynamics in football and basketball, it remains to be seen what sort of TV deal can be struck when the current deal expires in 2025.
The Pac 12, which has expressed statements of solidarity, is in the same precarious situation that the Big 12 faced last season. There aren’t any major movers left in the conference, with Oregon and Washington offering the greatest potential difference makers, but with the Big 12 reportedly out on expansion, that could open the door for the ACC.
However, due to the ACC’s current TV deal with ESPN, the league is ultimately in a bind of its own. With 14 years remaining on a deal that runs to 2036, it will be tough for any program to exit the conference because of complicated grant of rights — any TV deal revenue belongs to ESPN through the duration of the deal, regardless of an exit — and exit fees in place. In the event a program exits the ACC, a buyout fee (which is upwards of $120 million) will need to be met, and the grant of rights will take away all TV deal revenue during the duration of the deal — 14 years currently. ESPN literally owns TV rights, so it would be very, very hard to get out of that.
The exit fee and grant of rights equate to well over hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention ESPN’s chokehold over any potential broadcasting rights and the court battle that would have to ensue to escape such a situation.
But, under the current deal, the ACC’s annual revenue will continue to fall further and further behind the Big Ten and SEC, and it may come down to whether individual programs decide its worth it to fight out of the conference before the end of the deal for bigger potential pay days.
ESPN will be paying $300 million a year to exclusively broadcast SEC games, an astronomical jump from the $55 million CBS paid per year, and the Big Ten will likely secure in excess of $1 billion per year in a new deal. That’s… a lot of money. And it will only help make those schools richer and richer, with annual revenue upwards of $100 million.
Of course, it also comes down to what the SEC and Big Ten decide to do. If they’re content to sit pat and see what happens, let the current grant of rights deals expire for their respective additions, the ACC will likely do the same. It doesn’t appear that the ACC is destined for any expansion in the near future anyway.
But if either conference looks to grow to 20 or 24 members, build true superconferences, the ACC is in trouble. Clemson, Florida State and Miami could get SEC looks, and North Carolina, Duke and Virginia could get Big Ten looks. In the event of two 24-team conferences, the ACC has a lot of intriguing programs, Pitt included.
However, it seems very unlikely that the ACC will lose any member schools in the immediate future, or even in the near future. ACC schools, for better or worse, are locked into the conference. A lot can and will change in the days, weeks, months and years ahead, but the ACC seems to be pretty set in stone as of now.
It would still make sense to look to add schools like Oregon and Washington out west though. If the ACC wants to attempt to keep up, even from just the standpoint of building a brand, it’s a necessity to expand.