May 25, 2024

No bad blood at conference’s spring meetings, but divorce between ACC, Florida State and Clemson still likely


AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — It’s business as usual in the ACC for Florida State and Clemson at the conference’s annual spring meetings, even if the schools continue to quarrel with the conference inside the courtroom.

The ACC is a battleground, with Florida State and Clemson locked in multiple legal disputes as they challenge the league’s grant of rights and contemplate a departure from the conference. The catalyst for this upheaval is the growing disparity in revenue between the ACC and the more financially robust Power 2 conferences (Big Ten and SEC), which could amount to as much as $40 million per year for their members.

For now, everyone is acting professionally, even if it seems inevitable Clemson and Florida State’s marriage with the ACC is nearing an end. Clemson and Florida State administrators were not excluded from meetings this week at the conference’s spring get-together and the lawsuits — FSU v. ACC, ACC v. FSU, Clemson v. ACC and ACC v. Clemson — were not a topic. Athletic directors were cordial and professional. Florida State AD Michael Alford joked with colleagues. Wake Forest AD John Currie even elicited a laugh from Alford as he hunched behind his colleague during an impromptu gathering with the media. 

And no one spoke in hushed tones in the hallways of the Ritz-Carlton as meetings stretched into the evening Tuesday.

Still, the silent question lingered: is this marriage salvageable?

“We’ll just wait for that to play out,” Alford said Tuesday. “We have great partners in this conference, great relationships, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to do what’s best for Florida State and look at the changing environment of collegiate athletics and make sure we’re there to be successful.”

Alford maintains there is “no ill will inside the room” in conference meetings. Money, however, steers everything — and it can sour relationships, no matter how strong. One year ago here, Florida State and Clemson successfully pushed for new “success initiatives” that would reward schools in the ACC for their on-field success. Those revenue structures are still being tweaked, Alford said. 

It was also here one year ago that news leaked seven schools in the ACC had explored potential exits from the conference after studying the league’s ironclad grant of rights. Such an exit before the expiration of the media deal with ESPN (2036) could cost schools more than $500 million apiece. 

Since then, Florida State’s Board of Trustees has held multiple meetings to discuss the university’s future in the ACC. In August, trustee Justin Roth asked Alford and university president Richard McCullough for an exit plan by August 2024.

“If you go back to the president and myself, we’ve never come out and said, ‘Hey, we want to leave the conference,'” Alford said. “We’re letting the court proceedings play out. What our job is to make sure, with all the changes in college athletics — and I’ve said this the last two years — is to make sure Florida State is in the best position possible to be successful.”

Clemson athletics director Graham Neff declined to comment when reached by CBS Sports. 

Developments within college athletics have also loosened the ACC’s grip as a power player. Undefeated Florida State was excluded from the College Football Playoff in December, perhaps hastening FSU to file suit against the ACC. Earlier this year, the CFP opted to provide the ACC 17% of revenue shares starting in 2026, which amounts to about $8 million less than colleagues in the Big Ten and SEC. Meanwhile, the collegiate athletics model is ticking toward implosion as the House v. NCAA case could be settled as soon as May 23, according to CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. The settlement will likely put schools on the hook for a new revenue-sharing model with players that will cost between $15 million and $25 million per year.

Meanwhile, unrest continues in the ACC. North Carolina trustees this week voiced frustration with the widening revenue gap and openly criticized longtime athletics director Bubba Cunningham Monday for an expected $17 million deficit in the school’s athletics budget. 

“I really don’t have any reaction,” Cunningham said Monday after exiting a meeting of the ACC’s athletics directors. “I haven’t talked to anybody. You know I’ve been here the whole time.” 

UNC’s board of trustees will meet Thursday, and Cunningham will attend that meeting to address those concerns.

The landscape has shifted and will continue to shift. The Pac-12 has all but dissolved — only Oregon State and Washington State remain. The Big Ten is expanding and so is the ACC, which has shattered geographical lines with the additions of Cal and Stanford, plus SMU. The SEC is adding Oklahoma and Texas. The Big 12 has added eight schools in the span of a calendar year. 

In the ACC, Clemson and Florida State might just be the linchpin from another round of chaos. 

“We’re looking at two institutions that want success and see the changing environment in collegiate sports and want programs to compete at the very top level and understand that to compete at that top level, we need to have our options available,” Alford said. “And I’m speaking, really, for Florida State that we need to have our options, but I’d assume that Clemson is also looking at the same model that’s going on in the collegiate landscape and want their programs to compete at a national level, at an elite national level.”





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