One Quick Thing: ACC should let Clemson Football leave, but it won’t

Jul 25, 2023; Charlotte, NC, USA; ACC commissioner James Phillips speaks to the media during ACC Media Days at The Westin Charlotte. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 25, 2023; Charlotte, NC, USA; ACC commissioner James Phillips speaks to the media during ACC Media Days at The Westin Charlotte. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /

Most of the members of the Atlantic Coast Conference were in favor of adding Stanford, California, and SMU to the league, but a minority, including Clemson Football, were against it.

On the eve of the first major college football Saturday of the season, the ACC has voted to add the three programs to the league.

Clemson, Florida State, and North Carolina were opposed to the additions. That means NC State was the school that changed its vote from no to yes. That flip allowed the league to reach the twelve votes needed to expand.

Many voices that support Clemson have expressed their dissatisfaction with the outcome of the ACC’s Friday meeting.

For the record, I have nothing against Stanford, California, or SMU. The two California schools are among the best academically in the nation. While I have always been unimpressed with the way their fan bases seem to ignore football, their dedication to other sports has been admirable. This particularly applies to Stanford.

As for SMU, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for them. I was a kid when I heard they received the ‘death penalty’, which certainly seemed harsh. I was far too young to understand what was going on at the time, but I have pulled for them through the years.

I say these things so everyone understands that this situation has little to do with respect for those programs. I like SMU and have nothing against Stanford or Cal. In the end, this decision had little to do with which teams entered the conference, their intrinsic value or their distance from most of the league’s members.

The bottom line is that the other schools of the Atlantic Coast Conference made this decision because they suspect Clemson, Florida State, and North Carolina will eventually leave, and they wanted to protect themselves against a loss of revenue.

This expansion is to prevent the league’s main television partner, ESPN, from taking advantage of a clause in their contract that allows the network to renegotiate the long-term television deal. If the ACC falls below fourteen full members, ESPN can lower its payout.

If schools like Clemson, Florida State, and North Carolina leave, the value of the league’s sports properties, most notably football, would decline.

The nature of the ESPN contract and the Grant of Rights that all league members signed makes it hard to know the timetable for which any school may attempt to leave the ACC. It could be sometime next year. It could be two or three years from now.

The one thing that seems clear is that teams will no doubt leave the ACC at some point before the current deal and GOR ends in 2036, and a majority of the members want to make sure their revenue is maintained.

I can’t blame schools like Boston College, Duke, Wake Forest, or Georgia Tech for wanting to protect their current situation. It illustrates for me, however, just how far apart their priorities are from the priorities of a school like Clemson, and why the ACC just doesn’t make sense for the Tigers.

Now that the other schools have their safety net and are guaranteed to not lose revenue from departures, the ACC should be willing to negotiate exits for the schools that want to leave, but they probably won’t.

I understand the business side of the conference. Schools like Clemson, Florida State, and North Carolina have value, and it is fair for the ACC to expect a buyout. Many estimate the current buyout for a program to be nearly $500 million, which is an untenable amount for most.

The priorities of Clemson Football no longer fit with the priorities of the ACC

I do not know what makes sense as a buyout amount, but what I do know is that many Clemson fans want out of the ACC. I know many Florida State fans want out of the ACC. I suspect that many in the Tar Heel fanbase want out as well.

It isn’t in the best interest of the league to keep members around who don’t want to be part of the league. It will create dysfunction for years to come.

The one obvious caveat for the ACC is that some schools, such as NC State, Miami, and Virginia Tech, might still want to exit the league as well, even though they voted yes. If they see a school like Clemson negotiating an exit, they might be inspired to do the same.

For that reason, the ACC will stick to its guns and make sure that any exit comes with a painful cost. They don’t want every school to think they can just up and leave.

I think the reality for such programs is that they know they don’t have as many options as the others right now. Otherwise, they would have been against expansion.

The ACC has the safety in numbers now that the PAC-12 didn’t have, and they have the contract that maintains their revenue for years to come. Even if they are willing to sit down at the bargaining table with Clemson, Florida State, and North Carolina, they won’t let it be known publicly. They will still make this a long, drawn-out process.

Next. Clemson Football: ACC votes to add Stanford, California and SMU. dark