As expansion rumors fly, a word of advice: Don't sign anything yet
This is where we are in college football expansion: Above all else, don’t sign anything.
At least not yet.
A lifeboat may be on the way before you know it.
Case in point: a potential agreement between the ACC and Pac-12 to stay alive and strong amid the rapidly changing college football landscape.
According to Sports Illustrated, the ACC in considering a plan to double down on yet another Alliance — this time joining hands with the Pac-12 and ESPN to develop a broadcast Alliance that would move Pac-12 content to the ESPN-owned ACC Network.
While it sounds good in theory — and could work if the Big Ten and SEC don’t further expand — it may unwittingly be a way for unhappy ACC programs to exit the conference and a nearly unbreakable media rights deal.
It may be what Clemson, Miami, Florida State and North Carolina need to find a new conference home.
“Any legal arguments to exit (the ACC) will be extremely difficult, with so many different hurdles to clear,” an industry source told SDS. “But every argument begins and ends with the plaintiff proving damaging change in the original agreement.”
The damaging change: The media rights deal isn’t what the ACC schools agreed to when they signed to give away their rights to the conference until 2036 — a current deal that leaves ACC schools trailing the Big Ten and SEC by an estimated $50-60 million per school annually.
The original deal was based around the formation of the ACC Network, a network that televised ACC programming — not Pac-12 programming.
The formation of this new Alliance doesn’t just rely on all parties in the ACC joining the deal. The Pac-12 is far from walking in lockstep.
Industry sources say four Pac-12 schools — Washington, Oregon, Stanford and Cal — have no interest in signing media rights deals (this new Alliance, or a new Pac-12 deal to replace the current expiring deal in 2024) because they’re prime candidates for potential further Big Ten expansion.
Clemson, Miami, Florida State and North Carolina are in a similar situation in the ACC, with an eye toward potential further SEC expansion.
But unlike the Pac-12 schools, the ACC 4 must prove any new media rights “Alliance” with the Pac-12 changes the original intent of the deal signed through 2036.
“If the new deal, for instance, incudes made-for games between the conferences, that’s a significant change in the original deal,” an industry source said. “It’s, ‘We’re not flying 2,000 miles to play a regular-season game, to the detriment of our student-athletes.’ They could argue brand damage because the new deal minimizes the ACC. There are any number of avenues. But will they hold up in front of a judge?”
All things being stable in the SEC and Big Ten for the foreseeable future, this potential deal would give the Pac-12 a cable home for its games (the Pac-12 Network was a disaster) and stability for its remaining 10 teams. It would give the ACC more revenue (from ESPN) for housing the games, and give ESPN a foothold of sorts on the West Coast — with the Big Ten’s new media rights deal expected to be dominated by Fox Sports.
The problem with that pollyanna plan is all things most certainly have not been stable in the SEC and Big Ten. Notre Dame, the biggest property left on the expansion board, could change everything if it chooses to join the Big Ten or SEC.
A move by Notre Dame to the Big Ten or SEC would be another legal argument opportunity for ACC schools who want to leave the conference. Notre Dame would no longer play as many as 6 games against ACC teams — high-value games for ACC members — and that, too, can be argued as a change in the original agreement.
“We have no idea where this is headed, or how beneficial it will be to member institutions,” an ACC athletic director told Saturday Road on Thursday night. “Everyone is searching for stability, for a safe spot.”
Just don’t sign anything. At least not yet.