Florida State will soon begin the long-discussed divorce process from the ACC, multiple sources told Yahoo Sports.
The Seminoles’ conference affiliation is at the center of Friday’s scheduled meeting of the FSU Board of Trustees, and the meeting could result in a formal legal filing that many describe as the first step toward exiting the ACC’s bond grant. -Ownership agreement.
The FSU Board of Trustees announced Thursday that, in compliance with the state’s open-meetings law, members must give the public 24 hours notice before convening. Multiple sources with knowledge of FSU’s potential plans spoke to Yahoo Sports for this story on condition of anonymity.
Details of the specific legal action FSU leaders plan to take are unclear, but legal experts say the school may seek what’s called a “declaratory judgment action” in an effort to get a judge to rule that the school is not in compliance. Agreement with ACC.
The purpose of the legal action is to grant the rights, a legal document between the ACC, its members and TV partner ESPN that binds the parties to each other through the 2035-36 school year. Any filing will be made in the local court that is in the best interest of the school.
The maneuver comes less than a month after FSU became the first undefeated major conference champion to be eliminated from the College Football Playoff, which rattled those in Tallahassee and hastened the school’s planned exit strategy.
This week’s potential legal move is not expected to serve as a departure notice for the ACC. Any departure from the ACC would last at least a year. However, such a legal effort could set the stage for more ACC programs to follow suit, challenging the league and its franchises.
At the heart of the debates is the Convention’s provision of rights. A rights grant is a somewhat common measure used by conferences to legally bind their member schools to a long-term commitment as a way to secure a media rights agreement. The ACC agreed to its current deal with ESPN in 2016.
Although the 20-year deal was viewed as a positive, the length of the deal caused uproar within the ACC as other power conferences, namely the Big Ten and the SEC, signed new, more lucrative media rights deals. Over the next decade, SEC and Big Ten schools are projected to earn significantly more in revenue distribution — twice as much as in the ACC — statistics ranking ACC members, none more so than Florida State.
For a year now, FSU officials have publicly issued threats to leave the conference, with the school’s own president, Richard McCullough, saying in August that FSU should consider the move “very seriously.”
At the same meeting, former FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford, a member of the board of trustees, said, “In my opinion, it’s not a matter of us leaving. It’s a matter of who and when we leave.
Speech, perhaps, turns into action.
FSU’s CFP snub wasn’t the only factor that accelerated the school’s listed curriculum toward ACC elimination.
In the recent wave of restructuring, Despite an aggressive backlog within the conference, the ACC got Cal, Stanford and SMU. FSU, North Carolina and Clemson voted against the addition. The league added three programs, while its power conference mates added Oregon and Washington (Big Ten); and Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State (Big 12). The SEC will add Oklahoma and Texas next year.
The ACC’s expansion campaign split the league into private and public programs. The league, considering the potential departures of a handful of programs, pushed through expansion as a way to preserve the conference long-term.
During the spring, officials from the seven ACC schools met several times to explore ways to leave the conference, even considering disbanding the league entirely. Those discussions largely died down after they became public in May. Still, FSU’s desire — and others — to break free from the league has been constant for months.
FSU attorneys and those from Clemson have spent the past several months exploring ways to realistically get rid of the rights issue. While many believe that the rights offering cannot be broken, some believe that schools will try to find a way out.
In signing the rights grant, schools receive the rights to televise their home games to the league and partner ESPN. Florida State’s home games won’t belong to the school, but to the league for the next 13 years — if they don’t find a way out of it.
There is precedent for a solution. This year, the Big 12 and its TV partners agreed to a settlement to give Oklahoma and Texas the rights to pay each school $50 million in fines a year earlier.
The ACC grant rights include similar language in that document. However, FSU will exit with 10 years remaining on the contract. If the ACC and ESPN agree to any settlement, violating the rights grant would come at a significant cost, estimated at $500 million.
That would be in addition to the $120 million owed to the league in a separate exit fee. It’s no secret in college athletics that Florida State and other ACC programs have looked deeply into securing future funding through private equity channels. Unless leaving the ACC, schools must notify the conference of their departure at least one year in advance. For example, FSU is guaranteed to compete in the ACC next academic year and must declare to the conference by August 15, 2024 if the school wants to leave in time to compete elsewhere in the 2025 football season.
There’s also this question: Where does Florida State and other departing ACC schools land?
The SEC and Big Ten, their most attractive options, have shown reluctance to add additional members, but similar statements have been made before. Big Ten school leaders publicly pushed for another round of expansion before adding Oregon and Washington.
The changing environment in college athletics creates an unpredictable landscape moving forward, creating potential exits from ACC programs. For example, a new administrative structure is likely to come in. NCAA President Charlie Baker has proposed creating a new FBS subdivision around direct school compensation for athletes.