It’s that time of the year: conference realignment talking season. Like most programs who aren’t in the SEC or the Big Ten, much of the talk for Clemson Football centers on what is the best case scenario for them.
Given the widening gulf between revenues drawn by the members of the SEC and Big Ten compared to the other conferences, schools are exploring all their options, including ‘outside the box’ ideas.
There is one option that has been executed in the past that might be an option for Clemson and some of their ACC peers: Could some schools break away from the ACC to form a new conference?
There could be a benefit to such a move considering the hurdles that must be leapt to exit the ACC.
Obviously, the Tigers would love to be invited to join the SEC. They likely would also welcome an invitation to the Big Ten. That’s a dream at this moment because of the ACC’s Grant of Rights that ties up Clemson’s media rights through 2036.
If the year was 2033, the buyout for the GOR wouldn’t be that bad. As it is, it’s a high price tag. Just leaving the conference doesn’t appear to be an easy option.
There is already speculation about whether schools like Clemson or Florida State could somehow finance a buyout. Another question being asked is how many schools would it take to vote to nullify the GOR so that schools could leave.
There is no language about nullification in the GOR itself.
The only mention of changes to the contract say all parties involved would have to sign off, which would require unanimous agreement. Any bylaws allowing a vote to nullify the GOR or dissolve the conference would be in the ACC handbook.
Eight schools has been floated as the threshold under which the conference could possibly dissolve. This is based on the ACC being a non-profit in the state of North Carolina, where only a majority of voting parties is required to dissolve a non-profit. This scenario would include Notre Dame, even though they aren’t a full member.
That doesn’t sound too daunting. Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Duke, Virginia and Georgia Tech have all been mentioned at some point as potential candidates for SEC or Big Ten expansion.
If Notre Dame wanted to leave the GOR, then that would be ten total schools that could combine in some way to get the eight votes needed to dissolve.
The trick here is that being mentioned by the press or talking heads as candidates for the SEC or Big Ten isn’t the same as having an official invite to join one of those two conferences. We all know discussions can be conducted behind the scenes, but just because one or two of those schools has a handshake agreement to join one of the Power 2 conferences doesn’t mean the other six will vote to dissolve on the hopes that they will find a new home.
Use Coach Swinney’s logic this off-season: he didn’t dismiss Brandon Streeter until he knew Garrett Riley was onboard. ACC teams won’t vote to dissolve the conference until they know they have a new home.
The compromise position for those schools could be to leave to form a new conference, the same way the Mountain West was formed in 1999.
In the mid-90s, the Western Athletic Conference expanded from a ten team conference to sixteen teams, adding schools cast off from the demises of the Southwest and Big West conferences. The original members of the WAC learned quickly that bigger wasn’t always better. More teams doesn’t always result in a better bottom line. Just a few years later, seven of the original ten WAC teams broke away from the conference, along with one of the newer members, to create an eight team league that was more financially stable and fruitful. They figured out that each school was in a better position with a smaller conference.
Clemson Football must explore all options to better their revenue situation
A slice of a big pie cut sixteen ways might not be as large as a slice from a smaller pie cut eight ways.
Even if the schools of the ACC who might vote for dissolution don’t have agreements to join another conference, they could form a pact to create a separate conference. If the most marketable teams from the ACC rejoin in a new alignment, they can potentially form a conference that would bring in more revenue per team than they would have as part of a conference with fourteen full members and one associate member.
Is this realistic? Yes, but not probable. If the eight most marketable teams were to realign, they might see more revenue per team, but it still wouldn’t compare to the SEC or Big Ten. If those two power conferences wanted to add the former ACC schools, then suddenly 2-4 of the ACC teams who voted to dissolve wouldn’t be forming a new conference after all, and the others would be left to join or form another conference with members that weren’t as marketable.
This scenario only works if the SEC and Big Ten decide they are done expanding or they aren’t interested in adding ACC teams for the foreseeable future, but it might also be the only option that could get enough schools to agree to dissolve the ACC.
At the very least, it is a means for the league members to get out of a very unfavorable television deal with ESPN. Ironically, John Swofford created this deal with ESPN to preserve the conference for the long-term. Swofford’s last big act as commissioner could be what hastens the end of the conference.