ACC football coaches weigh-in on impact of conference realignment
Conference realignment is changing the landscape of college sports. The driving factor is big money from football TV contracts, and it could impact the North Carolina-based Atlantic Coast Conference.
Earlier this month, USC and UCLA — two flagship schools of the Pac-12 conference — announced that they would leave for the Big Ten in 2024. The incentive for two schools based in California to join a league made up of schools mostly situated in the Midwest seems to be revenue from TV deals driven by football.
Multiple reports and estimations indicate that the Big Ten will net between $65 and $100 million per-school annually from TV revenue beginning in 2024. That money is enticing — especially when compared to ACC schools, which made about half of that figure in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
Members of the Southeastern Conference — which features the likes of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina — made about $55 million per-school from TV revenue in the previous fiscal year. Texas and Oklahoma are leaving the Big 12 to join the SEC by 2025.
That move was announced last year, and set off a reaction of events across the sport. Even schools like UNC-Charlotte and North Carolina A&T State switched conferences as a result of Texas and Oklahoma switching conferences. Charlotte was invited to the American Athletic Conference after three of its members left to fill vacancies in the Big 12. And N.C. A&T filled an opening in the Colonial Athletic Association after James Madison jumped to the Sun Belt.
But schools in the ACC — such as Duke, N.C. State, Wake Forest and UNC-Chapel Hill — can’t bolt as easily their counterparts in the Pac-12 and Big 12 did, due to a grant-of-rights agreement each school signed-on to in 2013. That contractual obligation runs through 2036 — or, at least, until it’s challenged in court. Because of this, if an ACC school decides to leave the conference, not only would it have to pay a nine-figure exit fee, but it would also forfeit its TV revenue through the end of the grant-of-rights agreement.
“Everything is on the table,” ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said Wednesday in Charlotte. “We understand what that means. We understand what that revenue means moving forward, but I will also say — as I look at the next few years — I like where we're going. But, again, the window is through 2036. So, we're going to have to address it, no question.”
As the landscape in college sports shifts, the ACC shouldn’t have to worry about its schools leaving, but as the revenue gap between it and other conferences grows wider, anxiety about being left behind figures to build among folks at its member institutions.
This past week, football coaches from around the conference convened at the Westin hotel in Charlotte for the ACC Kickoff — a two-day-long media event to build hype around the upcoming season.
Coaches of the teams at schools in North Carolina weighed-in on the impact that conference realignment could have not just on their schools, but on the ACC and college football as a whole.
Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
“If you want to get philosophical about it, we need to have a commissioner or a leadership group that looks out for the betterment of college football… I don't think anybody is necessarily doing anything wrong. The problem is there's no oversight or no leadership that's doing what's best for the whole game. They’re eliminating people and they’re going to be denying access. And I don't think that's good for the health overall of college football. So, it would just be nice if at some point that we had a commissioner, or we had a leadership board that was making decisions that's good to grow the entire game of college football and not just have it isolated to a handful of conferences or a handful of institutions.”
Dave Doeren, N.C. State
“We have total faith in (Jim Phillips). He’s done a great job since he’s been here. But the league’s changing. Where it’s going is driven by television and network things. With our grant-of-rights being protected, I think we’re in a really strong position as far as not worrying about teams leaving."
"It’s a concern. I mean, obviously if one school is getting $30 million more than another school, they can do more things with that money.”
Mack Brown, UNC-Chapel Hill
“I'm letting our chancellor and our athletics director deal with all that stuff. If they asked my opinion, I'm going to give it to them. I'm really not concerned about (realignment), because North Carolina is going to be one of those schools that, if something happened, they would be very valuable to other (conferences).”
“I don’t think it’s best for college football to have two mega conferences and 50 teams. There’s so many great programs that will not be able to compete at the same level they are now. And when that happens, their fans are going to be really disappointed and they're going to lose revenue. It will hurt football all the way down to FCS to Division II to Division III.”
“I was really surprised when I heard that USC and UCLA were going to the Big Ten. I would have bet my life that would never happen.”
Mike Elko, Duke
“We need to make sure that college football stays the way it is. We need to make sure that it stays inclusive and provides opportunities. That's what it was founded for. That's what we all love about it. And that's not to say that I have strong opinions on this conference realignment and those types of things, because those are things that people got to handle in different ways. We just better make sure that as we're having all these conversations about chasing money, that we don't lose sight of what this game and this experience is supposed to be about. And that we keep that in the back of our mind, that we keep making sure college football and opportunities in college football stay strong across America.”