Hayes: Magnificent 7 vs. ACC? One side has a grand hope, but the other has all the leverage
The irony, everyone, is as beautiful as it is sickening.
So let’s pull back the curtain on ACC schools gathering this week at the swanky Ritz Carlton in Amelia Island, Fla., for their annual spring meetings, and the argument over — I know this is going to shock everyone — money.
Florida State, Clemson, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia, Virginia Tech to the rest of the ACC: “We want a percentage of your media rights money.”
The remaining 7 ACC schools: “No.”
This is where the bluff ends, everyone.
Because if the “Magnificent 7″ of the ACC had the leverage to affect the rest of the ACC beyond hyperbolic words, they already would have.
There is no leverage, no plan to secede, no “or else” demands.
While the “Magnificent 7” has theory on its side — the ACC would be a shell of a itself without them — the rest of the ACC has a legal agreement through 2036. A clear, unambiguous and unbreakable legal agreement.
The ACC’s Grant of Rights deal gives the conference exclusive control over each school’s media rights until 2036. If any of the 14 teams leaves before the end of the contract, their specific media rights stay with the conference.
The easiest way to explain this: If FSU left for the Big Ten in 2024, all money FSU earned from the Big Ten’s media rights deal — each of the 16 Big Ten teams will receive about $80 million annually (double what the ACC will earn) — would be given to the ACC.
Over the 12 years until the ACC Grant of Rights is complete, FSU would forfeit nearly a billion dollars to the ACC. And let’s just say, the Big Ten isn’t in the business of financially supplementing another conference — which it would be doing.
To say nothing of FSU going 12 years without an influx of media rights cash, and essentially playing all sports for free.
Or as 1 industry source told me Monday, “If they could legally get out of (the GOR), they’d already be in another conference.”
If Texas and Oklahoma could have legally gotten out of their GOR to the Big 12 when they first announced in July 2021 that they were leaving for the SEC, they would have, too. These things are legally unbreakable for a reason.
So what are the options for the Magnificent 7? Outside of Boston College, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Duke and Louisville agreeing to a significant decrease in annual media rights revenue, the only non-revenue sharing move is finding a majority of ACC schools (more than 7) that want to disband the conference.
But at that point, the Magnificent 7 becomes all 14 schools looking out for themselves. And no one outside of Florida State, Miami and Clemson (and maybe Duke and North Carolina) want that.
There’s no guarantee that the SEC and/or Big Ten would be interested. On the surface, it clearly looks like a handful of schools would be attractive to the 2 super conferences, but is there value in such moves?
The SEC and Big Ten won’t add schools unless they increase media rights value. There’s no sense in each of the now 16-team leagues becoming more unwieldy (scheduling, administratively) unless it’s financially beneficial.
If the Magnificent 7 of the ACC think revenue distribution is a problem now, wait until the new Playoff contract is complete and the payout of the estimated $1.5 billion annually is favorable to the Big Ten and the SEC.
Because the Big Ten and SEC actually have leverage. They don’t need the rest of college football to have a Playoff. They can have their own, much like the NFC and AFC in the NFL.
So this brings us all the way back to the Magnificent 7, and their current state of flux. Any idea(s) for revenue sharing must be more carrot than stick.
Especially when you don’t really hold a stick.
Instead of just a flat rate for the Magnificent 7 schools, and a flat, lower rate for the others, there has to be a merit-based equation to any deal. And it has to weigh heavily in favor of those not so Magnificent.
In other words, when Pittsburgh (or any other not so Magnificent school) wins the ACC, its annual revenue take (for that specific season) must increase so significantly and well above the Magnificent 7, that it’s in Pitt’s best interest to agree to the overall change in flat rate.
That’s only 1 metric possibility. There can be many others to sweeten the pot for the not so Magnificent.
These moves take leadership and vision and the fortitude to execute something so unique, it has the ability to hold together a fractured conference over the next 13 years. It will take out of the box thinking, and each side of the argument betting on themselves.
Or the Magnificent 7 can keep waving that imaginary stick, threatening to walk away when everyone involved knows they can’t and won’t.
Start with a carrot. And a Zoom meeting.
Pocket the cash saved from the week in paradise. You’re going to need it.