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Can ACC avoid conference realignment by helping FSU, Miami and Clemson?

Commissioner Jim Phillips believes the ACC can still have success, despite the financial gap with the SEC, Big Ten.
 
ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said the conference is healthy, despite realignment rumblings about Florida State, Miami, Clemson and North Carolina.
ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said the conference is healthy, despite realignment rumblings about Florida State, Miami, Clemson and North Carolina. [ NELL REDMOND | Courtesy of ACC ]
Published July 25, 2023|Updated July 25, 2023

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The future of Florida State football, the Miami Hurricanes and the entire ACC boils down to the questions commissioner Jim Phillips posed Tuesday morning at the conference’s football kickoff.

Are teams after the largest conference payday, or are they after success?

“If you are chasing a number, it takes you down a different path,” Phillips said. “If you are chasing success competitively in football and basketball and all of our sports, then I think every institution has an idea of what they need.”

Phillips suggested the ACC can meet that threshold for success. In the College Football Playoff era, only the SEC has more national titles and playoff appearances than the ACC.

“I think that equates in modern-day football to having success,” Phillips said.

The problem is that there’s no guarantee those results continue. Which leads to the other option Phillips laid out.

How many more big wins will Florida State be celebrating in the ACC?
How many more big wins will Florida State be celebrating in the ACC? [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL | Orlando Sentinel (2022) ]

Some of the ACC’s power programs spent the offseason grumbling about money, so much so that one of FSU’s trustees asked if it was financially feasible for the Seminoles to leave the league. Athletic director Michael Alford showed a $30 million annual gap between what FSU will receive from the ACC and what teams will make from the Big Ten and SEC.

Phillips said the league and its schools are working together to close the gap with solutions such as:

• An eight-point plan with marketing group FishBait Solutions to create new revenue.

• Being “completely motivated together” with ESPN to “generate additional dollars.”

• Weighing future payouts more toward schools that perform better in revenue sports.

• Growing from more exposure and “elevated production value and innovative creative approaches” from ESPN. A new TV distribution deal with The CW will help, too.

Phillips also vaguely referenced “some other things that we’re working on I can’t address with this group,” for whatever that’s worth. Add them up, and Phillips described the league as healthy and third in conference revenue.

“Third is certainly a good position,” Phillips said, “but we want to gain and gain traction financially in order to close the gap with obviously the SEC and the Big Ten, who have leapfrogged everyone.”

Then-commissioner John Swofford celebrated the launch of the ACC Network at the conference's football kickoff in 2016.
Then-commissioner John Swofford celebrated the launch of the ACC Network at the conference's football kickoff in 2016. [ AP (2016) ]
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That sounds fine. But his predecessor, John Swofford, said almost the same thing in the same ballroom at the same hotel (The Westin Charlotte) at the same event seven years ago. Swofford said the money and exposure from the upcoming launch of the ACC Network would put his league in the “upper echelon of the Power Five conferences” financially, and the 20-year grant-of-rights contract would take the ACC “out of any kind of conversation” regarding conference realignment.

Or not.

The grant of rights has become the duct tape holding the conference together, making it financially difficult, if not impossible, for FSU, Clemson or Miami to leave. Instead, they’re trying to nickel and dime their way to success as the ACC tries to scrounge together a few million here and there.

“I think that’s the right approach to make it,” Phillips said. “Instead of trying to get a number, trying to bridge it as far as you can.”

Will it be enough for the ‘Noles and ‘Canes to challenge Georgia and Ohio State and to keep the ACC together so it can be kicking off the season in this ballroom in 2033 and ‘43? That depends on how the schools view Phillips’ dichotomy between chasing money and chasing success — and whether there’s a difference between the two at all.

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