Amelia Island, Fla. — When the annual ACC spring meetings begin on Monday, there will be no avoiding what has become the story dominating the conference: its long-term future.

The ACC, Clemson and Florida State are embroiled in a lawsuit over the approval of a rights agreement that apparently keeps ACC schools in a TV contract through 2036 — a deal that the two schools argue is no longer financially competitive and includes their fans, according to a FOIA request made by ESPN. Demand they leave the league.

Clemson and Florida State will be at the meeting, participating in the league agenda. That agenda is expected to include discussions about an expanded College Football Playoff and the resulting revenue distribution, a pending $2.7 billion settlement in an antitrust case involving the NCAA and ways to increase revenue streams for the ACC.

The agenda is not expected to include discussion of the case. After all, Clemson and Florida State remain ACC members and have consistently been on league calls and zooms since their lawsuits were filed. They have all tried to operate as if it were business as usual, but nothing has been normal in the last 18 months.

It was revealed during the spring meetings last year that seven schools — including Clemson and Florida State — have studied granting rights and discussed possible exit strategies to determine a path forward. That puts the league on notice. Seven months later, the ACC and Florida State sued each other. Clemson and ACC went to court last March.

Ahead of this year’s meeting, let’s look at how we got here and what comes next.


ESPN filed a public records request with Florida State seeking emails and texts between Dec. 3 and Dec. 22 to determine how and when school officials decided to proceed with legal action. What came back were emails from angry fans pleading with Florida State athletic director Michael Alford and university president Richard McCullough to do something.

The first emails began arriving on Dec. 3, the same day the Seminoles became the first undefeated Power 5 school to be eliminated from the four-team College Football Playoff since 2014. For months, Florida State expressed its displeasure with the ACC. With an impending revenue gap with the SEC and Big Ten, Alford’s estimated gap would reach $30 million annually.

The previous August, the Florida State Board of Trustees met to discuss its long-term future. Trustee Justin Roth asked for an exit plan to leave ACC by August 2024. Lawyers for the state of Florida began coming up with a legal strategy to challenge the rights grant, which would transfer ownership of media rights from the school to the ACC and run through 2036. .

The playoff snub seems to crystallize what needs to be done. Less than an hour after the playoff announcement, a Florida State fan wrote in an email to Alford, “We must get out of the ACC or we are officially dead as a college football program… The time is now. We have to do whatever it takes. From this. We are begging you to end this charade.”

Another email arrived at roughly the same time, subject line “Quit ACC Now”:

“We get no respect in this conference

We do not receive any money for this conference

Why are we still here?”

On December 4, a Seminole booster, whose name was redacted, wrote to Alford in response to a distribution list email in which he asked fans to redirect their “passion and support” and attend the Orange Bowl against Georgia.

“Really? Move on like nothing happened. Spend thousands of dollars more after just being slapped in the face … An incompetent, low football IQ committee? No thanks. … We’re stuck with FSU through a 2015-2020 losing streak. Gone is just humiliating our players, coaches, boosters, administration and fans in front of the entire country. You and the FSU president need to stand up more publicly and find a way to get us out of the ACC. The costs of moving are huge but the long-term costs of not moving sooner can be even greater and permanent.”

Through a FOIA request, the only email returned between Alford, McCullough and Board of Trustees Chair Peter Collins regarding future plans for the school was dated Dec. 21. Earlier that day, Florida State announced it would hold a special board meeting in December. 22 to discuss legal matters related to the athletic department.

In two emails on Dec. 21, Alford sent Collins a list of questions that could be asked at the board meeting. Alford wrote:

How confident should we be about this when there are no known legal challenges to the granting of rights?

Why should we be confident in the correct results?

Have we truly exhausted every avenue possible to negotiate a viable solution short of legal action?

On December 22, the Florida State Board voted to sue ACC in Leon County, Florida, seeking to void the lien and revocation fees as “an unreasonable obstruction of commerce in the State of Florida and wholly unenforceable against the State of Florida.” “

In his comments to the board, Collins and McCullough told the board they felt they had, in fact, exhausted every possible option and had no choice but to sue. “These things are timely and you can’t hope and expect them to be fixed in the next two, three, four, five years. By then, I don’t think we’ll be competitive,” McCullough said.

On the same day, it became public knowledge that the ACC decided on December 21 to first file a lawsuit in North Carolina to protect the rights and concessions of league members.

At the time, there was widespread speculation that Clemson would side with the file. Both schools were described as “in lockstep” with each other, with a conference sharing similar concerns about their long-term futures that may not continue financially. The main difference between the two, as one person close to the situation described it, was the playoff snub.

Clemson finally filed suit in South Carolina three months later in March. As a result, the ACC sued Clemson in North Carolina, arguing in its lawsuit that Clemson had indicated its “willingness to work with the conference” regarding its own membership and “requested confidentiality and protection that the ACC would not sue it.”

Since then, Clemson has filed an amended complaint seeking damages, as the school accuses the league of “defamation of title,” arguing that the ACC was able to strengthen its position by awarding rights to Clemson while diminishing them.

Two other schools, Miami and North Carolina, were actively looking at granting rights with the same urgency as Clemson and Florida State at this time last year. But at this point, Miami has no plans to pursue the same legal strategy. “Here at the University of Miami we are incredibly committed to the ACC,” athletic director Dan Radakovich told a local radio station several months ago.

North Carolina is in a tricky situation. UNC Board Chairman John Pryor has expressed a willingness to consider all options, but no action has been taken. It should be noted that an interim chancellor of UNC, Lee H. Roberts, which makes taking action more challenging Complicating matters, the UNC System Board of Governors passed a policy in February that requires its public schools to get approval from the board and the UNC System president to move conferences.

Where do all the cases stand?

A total of five lawsuits are ongoing: ACC v. Clemson; ACC vs. Florida State; Clemson vs. ACC; Florida State v. ACC, plus a lawsuit Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody filed against the ACC in April, as part of Florida State’s lawsuit to reveal the ESPN-ACC television deal.

The judge in Clemson’s case in South Carolina ruled this month that the ACC must provide Clemson with an unredacted copy of the ESPN contract, although it will remain confidential and can only be used as part of the lawsuit.

In North Carolina, the next court hearing in the ACC’s case against Clemson is scheduled for July 2. Clemson recently filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In the ACC’s case against Florida State, Judge Louis Bledsoe denied his motion to dismiss. Florida State said it will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, and no court date has been set.

In South Carolina, the ACC filed a motion to dismiss the case on May 7. In Florida, Cooper referred the ACC and the state of Florida to mediate. The two sides couldn’t agree on a mediator, so Cooper granted an extension until May 31 to choose one.

The bottom line is that all parties expected a protracted legal battle to end itself, and there was no incentive — at least at the moment — to negotiate a settlement or solution.

So what about this year’s meeting?

There were fireworks on the first day of last year’s spring meeting after it was revealed publicly that the seven schools had discussed the conference’s future. Those not involved in the discussion felt blindsided. So did ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips. One ED described the tenor as a “preach of complaint”.

Once they cleared the air, they were able to come to an agreement on a “success initiative” to reward success on the field and on the court — originally pushed by Alford as a way to acknowledge the state of Florida’s concerns about the growing income gap. Phillips presented a united front as the meetings concluded, believing that, “we’re all in this together.”

Now, a year later, Clemson, Florida State and the ACC are fighting for their own long-term futures. No one knows how their legal battle will end, but they still have to find a way to work together. Phillips pledged to continue to fully support Clemson and Florida State athletes as long as they remain members of the conference.

With the impending antitrust case settlement and a possible framework for a new collegiate model that would share revenue with student-athletes, finding more revenue streams for the ACC is more important than ever. This is especially true after the recent news that payments from the newly expanded CFP will not be distributed equally, leaving the ACC behind the SEC and Big Ten again — further proving that a “Power 2” exists.

Adding to the dynamic will be the presence of new members Stanford, Cal and SMU — three schools added last fall to help propel the ACC long term. The league will continue to discuss league business and celebrate this athletic season’s success stories and team championships during a reception Tuesday night — though uncertainty hangs in the background.


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