Florida State ramped up its rhetoric around conference realignment Wednesday when the school president and trustees said the Seminoles must leave the ACC unless their paydays quickly and massively improve.
“Unless something drastic changes on the revenue side at the ACC, it’s not a matter of if we leave,” said Drew Weatherford, a trustee and former FSU quarterback. “It’s a matter of how and when we leave.”
The Seminoles’ concern centers on the $30 million gap between what FSU gets from the ACC and what the Big Ten and SEC give its members. Worse, that figure will extend, if not grow, from now until 2036 when the ACC’s media-rights deal expires.
Trustee Justin Roth called it “death by a thousand cuts — and each cut is a $30 million cut over the next 13 years.”
FSU’s fear is that those cuts will collectively hack away its ability to compete for championships in football and all other sports. How can FSU beat Florida and Ohio State on the field or in recruiting with an eight-figure annual shortfall?
After studying the issue for a year, the Seminoles’ conclusion: They can’t.
“I believe that FSU will have to at some point consider very seriously leaving the ACC unless there were a radical change to the revenue distribution,” president Richard McCullough said. “I don’t think this is anything that anybody hasn’t necessarily thought of.”
Indeed, a trustee asked about the financial feasibility of exiting the ACC at the board’s February meeting, after athletic director Michael Alford presented the grim figures. But it’s one thing to ask about leaving. It’s another to talk about it as openly and solemnly as the trustees did Wednesday.
“We’ve got to fight for ourselves,” chairperson Peter Collins said.
“We don’t want to have to do this,” trustee Deborah Sargeant said, “but we have to do what it takes to compete.”
The ACC has tried to give FSU, Miami, Clemson and its other power programs what they need. Commissioner Jim Phillips said at last week’s football kickoff that “revenue generation continues to be a priority.” The league is changing its financial model to give schools different paydays based on success and has an eight-point plan with a marketing firm. The league, he said, only trails the Big Ten and SEC financially.
“Third is certainly a good position…” Phillips said.
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But apparently not good enough for the Seminoles. Though McCullough said FSU loves the ACC and wants to stay in its home for the past three decades, the revenue gap has become something of an “existential crisis” for the ‘Noles.
Trustees made it sound as if a split was inevitable, even if there was no discussion on how to make it happen. One issue is the exit fee — about $120 million, FSU general counsel Carolyn Egan said earlier this year.
Another is the grant of rights. That’s the contract in which schools grant the TV rights to their games to the conference, which then distributes the money back to the programs. It’s unclear how FSU might challenge that contract, which runs until 2036.
If those two issues are resolved, FSU will still have to find a new home —presumably the Big Ten or SEC. Expansion has not been under consideration in the SEC, other than the addition of Texas and Oklahoma next year.
Yahoo Sports reported Wednesday the Big Ten is evaluating Washington, Oregon, Cal and Stanford in case the Pac-12 implodes. That’s possible; Colorado is already leaving that league to join the Big 12, and Arizona, Arizona State and Utah might soon follow. Those dominoes, however they fall, will affect FSU’s options. Would a Big Twenty have room for the Seminoles?
The answer might not be far off.
Roth said it would be “ideal” if FSU can identify and execute an exit strategy before Aug. 15 — the deadline for schools to leave the ACC for the 2024 season. If that’s not possible, he said, FSU should act within a year.
Collins didn’t put a timetable on action but ended the meeting with a telling message to his fellow trustees.
“We’ll be back to you,” Collins said, “perhaps sooner rather than later.”
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