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ACC sues Clemson in North Carolina, day after school filed lawsuit in South Carolina against league

A towel lays in front of a bench seat with the ACC logo on it at the Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournament in Washington, D.C. on
Mitchell Northam
A towel lays in front of a bench seat with the ACC logo on it at the Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournament in Washington, D.C. on March 15, 2024.

A day after Clemson sued the Atlantic Coast Conference, the ACC filed a lawsuit against the school in a North Carolina court, saying the school is breaking its agreements with the league by challenging its exit fees and contract that binds members through their media rights.

The ACC's claim was filed Wednesday in Mecklenburg County, the same court where it preemptively sued Florida State in December, the day before FSU became the first school to try to sue its way out of the conference.

The ACC's latest suit begins with a quote from Clemson's president from a 2016 ESPN article about the conference's extended media rights deal with the network and the amended grant of rights that is now being attacked by the schools.

“The ACC is a great conference, and this increases the national exposure, brings in additional revenue and offers greater opportunity for student athletes. . . . For us and the Florida States and others, it stabilizes the conference long term,” Clemson President James Clements was quoted as saying.

The ACC's current media rights deal with ESPN runs through 2036 and leaves the conference lagging far behind the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference in annual revenue.

2024 ACC Women's Basketball Tournament
Mitchell Northam
ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips at the 2024 ACC women's basketball tournament in Greensboro, N.C.

Clemson's lawsuit — filed in South Carolina — claims the ACC's $140 million exit fee is “unconscionably high" and “unenforceable.” The school also says the grant of rights only applies if Clemson is part of the conference and that if a school exits the league it retains control of the media rights to its home sporting events.

“In so doing, Clemson breached its agreement to not ‘take any action, or permit any action to be taken by others subject to its control. ... that would affect the validity and enforcement’ of the Grant of Rights,” the ACC said in its filing.

Florida State has said in its lawsuit that it would cost $572 million dollars to leave the ACC right now.

Clemson says the exit fee and grant of rights hanging over the school is prohibiting it from exploring other conference options.

The first court hearing in any of these suits is schedule for Friday in North Carolina, when officials from the ACC and Florida State are scheduled to appear in Mecklenburg County.

Clemson and Florida State are trying to free themselves from the ACC because the schools believe the revenue gap between them and schools in the Big Ten and SEC — which they say will soon grow to between $40 million and $50 million in annual distribution — will leave them at a competitive disadvantage.

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