When it was over, they all came out, held hands and sang Kumbaya.

Those ominous clouds that have been hanging over Amelia Island all week?


They were replaced by sunshine and rainbows Wednesday as the entire ACC put its differences behind it and emerged from the league’s annual spring meetings as one big, happy family.

“What I’ve been told is we’re all in this together,” commissioner Jim Phillips said. “Emphatically.”

Even Florida State athletic director Michael Alford, the Che Guevara of the self-proclaimed “Magnificent 7” and the budding insurrection that sparked rumors of the ACC’s imminent demise, put a happy face on the proceedings by saying, “We’re very thrilled to be in this league and we want to stay.”

He’s not lying. 

The Seminoles and the other 6 league members that have banded together to explore their options really are committed to remaining members of the conference for the foreseeable future.

But not necessarily of their own free will.

With their lawyers unable to find a way out of the ACC’s ironclad grant of media rights, even after spending the past few months pouring over it like a beachcomber searching for valuables in the sand with a metal detector, they have no other choice than to find ways of making the best of the situation.

For better or for worse. At least until the document binding them expires in 2036.

To that end, the presumably heated discussions that have gone on behind closed doors over the past few days may finally have produced some substantive action in the effort to bridge the growing financial gap between the ACC and the rival SEC and Big Ten.

It’s a plan that resembles the long-rumored weighted revenue distribution model being pushed by football brand names FSU, Clemson and Miami.

Only with a twist.

Instead of simply giving a bigger piece of the financial pie to the Seminoles, Tigers, Hurricanes and others that perceive themselves to be at the top of the food chain just because they think they deserve it — a proposal that would never have garnered enough votes to be approved — the merit-based compromise gives everyone an equal opportunity to cash in.

The extra incentive money to reward football and basketball success will come from the anticipated income generated by the newly expanded College Football Playoff and will not affect the amount each school receives annually from the ACC’s television contract with ESPN.

There are still details that need to be worked out. Once they are, the finished product will have to pass muster from at least 10 of the league’s university presidents to be enacted.

But at least there’s a framework in place everyone appears able to live with.

“These are schools that are under a lot of stress and a lot of pressure, and I understand that,” Phillips said at the closing of the meetings Wednesday. “The reality is that our conference is 3rd in the country in distribution. And as we look at the projections, at least in this decade, we’re going to continue to be there.

“We want to close the gap. We need to close the gap between the top 2 conferences that have started to run away from us.”

The ACC generated $578.3 million in revenue for the fiscal year 2021, with payouts of just under $40 million to each school. 

That’s a lot of money by any standards.

It’s just a pittance, however, compared to the money being taken in by the SEC and Big Ten. Those leagues distributed about $50 million per school in 2021-22. The gap is as wide as the one Secretariat had on the rest of the field coming down the home stretch in the 1973 Belmont.

With the numbers continuing to rise annually, estimates have the ACC running up $30 million behind its rivals in the near future.

While the boost from the newly proposed incentive-based distribution plan would help stem the tide somewhat while Phillips and the league’s consulting firm search for new potential sources of income, the increase won’t come close to solving the ACC’s financial crisis.

Or preserve the harmony its overly optimistic commissioner would like us to believe exists among his “really connected group” of programs.

It’s true they’re all in this together. 

But that togetherness, as Clemson AD Graham Neff told 247Sports, will only continue as long as the grant of rights holds.

“We’re going to continue to do what’s best for Clemson,” he said. “That means strengthening and supporting the ACC and being a proud member, but also just making sure that we’re very connected in doing what’s best for Clemson.”

The problem is that what’s best for Clemson – or Florida State, Miami, North Carolina or anyone else, for that matter – isn’t always what’s best for the ACC.

It’s a precarious balance. One break in the ranks or 1 undiscovered loophole in the grant of rights and it’s every school for itself.

Such a scenario wouldn’t just cast a dark cloud over the sunshine being projected by the league over Amelia Island on Wednesday.

It would end the ACC as we know it.