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Clemson Sues ACC Over Grant of Rights Agreement, Eyeing Exit



The ACC Tournament semifinals on Friday, March 15, 2024 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

It feels more serious now that Clemson has joined the battle against the ACC.

It wasn’t much of a surprise when Florida State sued the ACC in December over the details surrounding a potential exit. The FSU officials hinted — loudly — for months that the Seminoles at least wanted to explore leaving the conference. Clemson, a power in the ACC over the last decade, wasn’t nearly as loud.

Actions speak louder than words. Clemson filed a claim Tuesday against the ACC in a Pickens County, South Carolina court. Like the Seminoles, it centers around the grant-of-rights agreement holding the conference together.

According to a report by Ross Dellenger of Yahoo!, the Clemson legal filing argues that the ACC does not control its broadcast rights if the university leaves the conference, and the ACC cannot enforce a $140 million exit fee if the university leaves the conference — which are the two biggest holdups to buying out of the conference.

The ACC’s current TV deal with ESPN is the hold-up. With 12 years remaining on a deal that runs to 2036, the thought process was that it would be very difficult for a university to exit the conference due to the complicated grant of rights agreement. As it stands, if 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. So, Florida State and Clemson are challenging it.

The almighty dollar is the name of the game in college football, and as the ACC is falling behind the SEC and Big Ten in CFP revenue sharing, the conference is certainly on the outside looking in when it comes to a potential Power Two conference in the future.

The ACC, of course, is going to fight both Clemson and Florida State the whole way. Jim Ryan, Chair of the ACC Board of Directors, and Jim Phillips, the ACC Commissioner, released a statement Tuesday following the filing:

“The ACC remains confident that its agreements with all its members will be affirmed by the courts. Clemson, along with all ACC members, voluntarily signed and re-signed the 2013 and 2016 Grant of Rights, which is binding through 2036. In addition, Clemson agreed to the process and procedures for withdrawal. The Conference’s legal counsel will vigorously enforce the agreement and bylaws in the best interests of the ACC’s current and incoming members.”

It seemed like there was virtually no chance that the grant of rights would be broken even just a few months ago, but with Clemson and Florida State (the biggest football brands in the conference) taking action, and the potential for more to eventually join, there is some uncertainty surrounding the conference now.

Regardless, the drama is far from over, and there will likely be more in the near future. Oh, and Cal, Stanford and SMU join the conference this season.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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2 months ago

seems like a waste of time and money. unless the agreement was flawed in its legal structure or Clemson, or other, participants somehow were duped into signing it or involuntarily forced to sign it, how can you abrogate the terms ? what will this mean for contract law going forward ? basically, a “we have the money to sue you and waste your resources, so we will force you to let us out”. great partners.

2 months ago
Reply to  TJ

The law is VERY ambiguous and can be interpreted many ways. One judge can determine a lot. Look at the recent Trump case.

Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge
2 months ago

ESPN will not pick up the option in February ’25, and that will get FSU, Clemson & others out of the conference.

The ACC will rebrand with leftovers while adding UConn, East Carolina, etc.

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