Column | Save the ACC through expansion


Diedra Laird//The Charlotte Observer via AP, File

Crews prepare the field at Bank of America Stadium for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game, Friday, Dec. 1, 2017.

By Brian Sherry, Sports Editor

To put it bluntly — the future of the ACC looks turbulent at best and downright bleak at worst.

Earlier this month, reports came out that seven member schools — Clemson, Florida State, North Carolina, Miami, NC State, Virginia Tech and Virginia — were meeting with lawyers to discuss possible ways around the ACC’s grant of rights in an attempt to leave the conference. 

The grant of rights deal — which was formed in 2013 and extended in 2016 — is a complicated issue. To put it simply, by agreeing to the grant of rights deal, each ACC member school sold off its home game broadcasting rights to the conference in exchange for a roughly equal yearly payout to each member. 

The issue is that, by signing the agreement, each school forfeited their broadcasting rights until the end of the agreement. This means that if a school leaves the conference, it would forfeit its broadcasting revenue until the contract expires.

Now, the contract does not expire until 2036 — making it virtually impossible for a school to leave the ACC for over a decade. 

Yet this has not stopped athletic programs from trying. 

For now, it seems the “magnificent seven” schools have failed in their attempts to leave the ACC for greener pastures. Nonetheless, it has become apparent that the conference itself needs to do more to secure its future in the ever-changing world of college athletics. 

This could take multiple forms. Florida State athletic director Michael Alford suggested changing the ACC’s equal revenue sharing policy to favor larger, more profitable programs is necessary.

But ultimately, turning the ACC into a cesspool of inequality won’t save the conference. The only way for the conference to compete with its largest competitors  — the SEC and Big Ten — is to fight fire with fire and begin aggressively expanding. 

Currently, the SEC and Big Ten are poaching profitable teams from smaller conferences at an alarming rate. In just one year, Oklahoma and Texas will join the SEC, while USC and UCLA will join the Big Ten. At this current rate, the industry of college athletics is headed towards a monopoly dominated by the two giants in the North and South. 

The revenue inequality between the ACC and the two mega-conferences is already troubling, but it’s only going to get worse. The ACC ranks third among the Power Five conferences in terms of revenue, earning around $617 million for the 2022 fiscal year. This equates to around $37.9-$41.3 million in revenue payout per school. 

But, comparatively, the Big Ten and SEC already blow the ACC out of the water in revenue. The Big Ten ranks first in the nation in revenue, earning $845.6 million overall and $58.8 million per team. The SEC lags slightly behind, earning $802 million overall and $49.9 million per team. Ultimately, this disparity will only get worse once Oklahoma, Texas, UCLA and USC switch conferences in 2024. 

But it doesn’t have to end like this. The ACC is in a perfect position to at least compete with the SEC and Big Ten. It just needs to start expanding on its own. 

It seems that the leadership among some member schools wants to see expansion too. ESPN’s David Hale reported that some member administrators are “frustrated” that the conference hasn’t done more to expand. 

Hale also reported that the ACC considered a few expansion options — mainly Oregon, Washington, SMU and West Virginia — but it ultimately fell through. 

But why? Adding at least some of these schools would go a long way in saving the conference. 

Take, for instance, Washington and Oregon. While it might not make much geographical sense, these two schools would bring major revenue to the conference. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington and Oregon football programs respectively rank 19th and 21st in the country in value, which is higher than any other ACC school. Plus, adding these two giants would give the ACC near-complete domination over the Pacific Northwest media market. 

And what about West Virginia? It makes perfect geographical sense, and the reunion with Pitt would garner significant attention. 

Of course, other factors may have caused the ACC to back down from pursuing these schools. But the fact is that the ACC needs to do more to successfully bring in more programs to compete in this new world of college athletics. 

And I haven’t even mentioned the most important chip of them all — Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish already compete in the ACC in every sport except football. Yet, the possibility of Notre Dame fully joining the conference grows slimmer everyday

There are also other possibilities for expansion the conference could pursue. What if the conference embraced its identity as college basketball’s powerhouse and began pursuing schools like Kansas and Villanova for expansion? This is, of course, a hypothetical, but the prospect of seeing several blue-blood programs compete for a conference title every year is certainly enticing for fans. 

All in all, the ACC is seriously lagging behind the SEC and Big Ten in expansion, which will ultimately lead to greater revenue disparity between the conferences. If the ACC wants to at least try to survive, then expansion is the only way forward.

Will the ACC ultimately expand and compete with the Big Ten and SEC? Probably not. The future of college athletics looks bleak at the moment, as it is heading towards a world of monopolies and greed. Nonetheless, the ACC should at least try to save itself and attempt to expand.