It appears that Colorado’s move to the Big 12 is once again setting the conference realignment talk back on the forefront.
While it’s the Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten that have been in the rumor mills lately, with just nine Pac-12 schools currently slated to begin the 2024 season, the ACC is appearing on the fringes of increased discussions.
ACC commissioner Jim Phillips has been against the idea of ACC expansion in the past, but it appears that he’s changed his tune. In an interview with ESPN’s David Hale, Phillips was not against the idea of adding to the conference.
“The ACC has been and remains highly engaged in looking at anything that makes us a better and stronger conference,” Phillips told ESPN. “We’ve spent considerable time on expansion to see if there is anything that fits. We have a tremendous group of institutions but if there was something that made us better, we would absolutely be open to it.”
It would be very difficult for the ACC to do much of anything right now, in terms of adding or subtracting, as the current grant-of-rights agreement is very iron-clad — and expensive.
The current ESPN TV deals runs through the 2036 season, and ESPN has a very tight hold on revenue even in the event of an exit. It would take a costly legal battle to get out of the ACC at this point.
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 the deal, 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 owns the 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 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 paydays.
If the ACC does decide to jump into the expansion realm, 247Sports’ Brandon Marcello reported that there are two teams that are the ACC’s most viable options.
“SMU and West Virginia appear to be the most viable options should the conference become serious about expansion, industry sources told 247Sports,” Marcello wrote. “SMU expressed interest in joining the ACC and explored a realignment partnership with Rice as recently as 2021, another source said.”