7 Steps ACC Can Take to Prevent Being Carved Up by SEC
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In realignment, the unexpected loss of a core team can easily breed panic, which makes for more losses.
The Big Ten, in taking Maryland, a seemingly loyal member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, appears to have shaken the ACC membership. The leaderships at several member schools have publicly expressed concern for the future of the conference.
The ACC had been riding high with the admission of Notre Dame. As just under one-fourth of the American public identify themselves as Catholic, including significant populations in Chicago, New York, and a number of very large and valuable Northeastern Designated Market Areas, the ACC membership was looking forward to their TV deal eventually reflecting that value change.
Now the ACC membership (and the rest of the college football world) have to look at the likely end results of the Big Ten's addition of Rutgers and Maryland—TV payouts from the Big Ten network that may be in the $30-40 million range per team annually—and wonder how they can retain their members.
The Southeastern Conference lurks
The SEC is a conference headed by extremely proud people. They will probably be looking at per team annual payouts in the $24-28 million range once the value of Texas A&M and Missouri are reflected in their TV deal. It seems very unlikely the SEC will be content to see the Big Ten schools making up to $16 million more than their schools make.
There was a thought at one point that the SEC might view adding North Carolina and Duke as optimal expansions as it would eliminate the spectre of poor academics in the SEC and add new territory in North Carolina, among other concerns.
The thought was the SEC might be willing to wait for UNC and Duke to tire of running their own conference against strong realignment headwinds.
Now that seems to no longer represent enough TV value. The SEC is looking hungrily at the states of Virginia and North Carolina.
And that should be a major concern for the ACC and it's core—The University of Virginia and the North Carolina schools.
An ACC school looking favorably on a Big Ten invite does not reflect dissatisfaction with the ACC
It should be understood that if the Big Ten waves upwards of $35 million annually in front of almost any school, that school is probably gone.
The Big Ten is the premiere FBS conference in terms of academics, research budgets, and TV athletic payouts. It really isn't close.
Given those attributes, they could probably land any school they want, except for the most valuable schools by far on their want list—Notre Dame and the University of Texas—who have their own goals and enough leverage to resist.
Despite the fact that Rutgers and Maryland represent a great financial move for the Big Ten and likely do not represent anything beyond a financial decision, the standoff between the Irish and the Big Ten leadership appears beyond personal.
The Big Ten schools may be perfectly willing to wait in order to land Notre Dame on the their terms. No one really knows.
While the reports that the Big Ten was talking to Georgia Tech are probably true, it may be unlikely they would try to add Georgia Tech and Florida State today as that would get their membership to 16 schools.
Thoughts of the Big Ten adding Virginia and North Carolina may also be valid rumors of potential plans for the Big Ten, but it may also be unlikely the Big Ten membership wants to consider those moves before they add Notre Dame. There is also the reality that it will would be very hard to convince Virginia and UNC to leave Duke behind.
The Big Ten membership may hope to land Notre Dame in a 16 team setup to maximize profits.
The Big Ten probably hopes the addition of Maryland destabilizes the ACC enough to allow the SEC to pull some schools, weakening the conference further. From there, maybe the Big Ten could add Notre Dame and say Virginia or Georgia Tech.
It is unlikely the Big Ten adds Georgia Tech to get to 15 prior to securing Notre Dame as that could create a situation where they are stuck with 15 members indefinitely.
It seems likely that the Big Ten is hoping for a raid perpetrated by the SEC or Big 12.
When you are thinking about "flight risks"—schools that may be unhappy with aspects of the ACC—I think it is sound to limit one's thinking to schools that would take a relatively minor financial upgrade to get into a much lesser academic conference (the SEC or Big 12).
The ACC appears to have 3 notable flight risks.
Florida State has sought SEC inclusion on and off for decades. Earlier this year, a member of the Florida State Board of Regents publicly stated he was eager to hear what the Big 12 had to offer.
In response to that media storm, FSU's president spelled out the much greater academic prestige of the ACC in a seemingly stilted, allegedly "leaked" public letter, putting the idea of a conference change on the back burner for now. While FSU is a football first school, they have developed into quite a good academic school. Now there is also an academic faction pulling to stay in the ACC.
If FSU would go with them, Clemson would probably leave for the Big 12 today—if an offer came. Clemson does not seem to offer enough added value to merit serious consideration by the SEC.
Also there is rumored to be an alliance between Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina to work together to block the admission of their in-state rivals Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Clemson.
Virginia Tech's administrators have winked at the SEC (and denied it) since almost the moment they finagled their way into the ACC. There was a tweet recently saying that the AD at Virginia Tech would entertain an SEC offer...He quickly denied saying that.
Put bluntly, these schools are cultural oddballs in the ACC. Unlike their fellow members, they appear to value football as much or more than they value the academic prestige of the ACC. It means more to significant groups among their fans and leadership to be in a better football conference than a better academic conference. This is unusual in the ACC.
Should Virginia Tech jump, adding a state of 10 million to the SEC footprint, some suspect it could potentially push SEC payouts to almost $30 million per school. Should the ACC still be at $17 million annual TV payouts at that point, it might be pretty tough to prevent a second very valuable ACC school from going with the Hokies.
The Big Ten can add a school from the ACC at will. It doesn't mean they will.
The Big 12 and SEC are not as nearly as compelling because their academic reputations are lacking. Their appeal to an ACC school (outside of Clemson) appears to be reliant on having a significant edge in TV payouts over ACC payouts.
Given that no one has jumped to the Big 12, $3 million plus a couple million in recouped third-tier rights does not seem sufficient to entice an ACC school to jump.
Putting a number to the cost required for an ACC school to endure a lesser academic conference may be something north of $5 million a year. Keep in mind that the ACC should also have a significant edge in basketball payouts now that will level some of the playing field from their TV shortfalls.
To keep the current ACC schools, the ACC has to buy time until probably around 2017 or so when the first instance of the escalator clause in their ESPN contract is due to hit. This clause is designed to ensure the ACC contract is reflecting market value.
The ACC clearly has a great TV footprint—it's actually quite good compared to most of the other contract conferences (and it might get even better soon).
Their basketball conference looks to be the undisputed best in the US for the foreseeable future as soon as the new teams begin play.
Florida State football appears to be once more be becoming a program capable of putting together another run of top 10 seasons. Virginia, North Carolina, NC State, and Virginia Tech, with their assets, are all capable of suddenly emerging as consistent top 15 programs. (Plus Miami can't be on probation forever can they?)
The ACC just needs to keep their membership together for a few years.
So what steps could the ACC take to stave off a raid by the SEC and buy time?
I have seven things the ACC could do that would help protect them from predator conferences. Some are admittedly fairly radical and far-fetched, but I hope you find them all enjoyable.
Sign the EXACT Same Rights Deal the Big 12 Signed and Talk to the Pac-12
The last thing Bevo wants to see...
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It is important to note what may be happening behind the scenes and how the main players think.
The Real Dude of West Virginia has developed quite a following for his alleged insider information. Here's what he says is really going on.
"Here's the latest that I know but keep in mind this comes from (sources at) WVU and I have zero info from the target schools.
The Big 12 knew about the B1G's (Big Ten's) impending moves and so did the SEC. The Big Ten could invite UMD, RU, GT & UVA. Miami could be in their mix if UVA says no.
The SEC will likely wait until the ACC adds UCONN to replace UMD and then invite VT & UNC/NC ST after fallout of adding another basketball school in the East resonates with FSU & Clemson. The SEC could offer FSU if the signals from UNC/NCST are negative.
Then it gets interesting for the Big 12.
UL will be offered from the Big East and then its a FSU-Clemson package plus either NC State or Miami.
That's 7 schools from the ACC and the buyout goes away.
The idea is that the Big Ten makes the first move and the SEC makes it impossible for anyone to tell the Big 12 no."
Collusion between the Big Ten, SEC, and Big 12?
The Big Ten using their financial strength as a wrecking ball on the validity of the ACC as a conference?
The Big Ten's sudden move to add Rutgers and Maryland is in character.
When they were trying to target UT in 2010, emails from Ohio State's President E. Gordon Gee to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney laid out their realignment philosophy pretty clearly. Gee wrote he was "of the mind that we control our destiny at the moment, but the window will soon close on us. Agility and swiftness of foot is our friend."
If this is the Big Ten's plan, that sentiment is even more true today. An aware ACC can certainly make it much tougher to execute this plan.
I had strongly suspected collusion between the SEC and the Big Ten when this latest move was made, so I don't find this all too far-fetched. UT is seen as a peer by the powers in the Big Ten, so the idea that the Big Ten and SEC may favor wanting to torch the basketball-focused ACC as a contract conference to prop up the Big 12 is not that far-fetched.
The Maryland departure may strip the ACC of any protection
The ACC's $50 million dollar exit fee may prove unenforceable, leaving a bewildered conference suddenly totally unprotected from predator conferences.
The fact that the ACC schools voted for this implies they like the footprint and the rivalries. In less than five years their product should dramatically improve and their payouts should too.
The question for at risk ACC schools is do they want to walk out on the footprint, academics and rivalries for possibly only a short term gain in athletic TV revenue.
The assets and the footprint of the ACC is well suited to eventually rival Big Ten TV payouts. The academics are comparable to the best contract conferences (although research totals lag).
Really the big hurdle the ACC faces was the mistake of signing over tier three rights in football and basketball to ESPN.
If the ACC can work around the tier three problem and no more ACC schools leave, it creates a road block for the SEC and Big 12. Without ACC schools, the money in the SEC or the Big 12 won't move up anywhere near the Big Ten's "stupid money" range.
Plus the only way for the Big Ten to hit their eventual jackpot in that scenario would be to pull schools from their alleged allies (Kansas from the Big 12 and Missouri from the SEC would be the most likely candidates).
Shy of that, the Big Ten would be stuck at 14 waiting for Godot (Notre Dame).
Should the ACC schools stay and the tier three problem be worked out, the ACC could potentially catch the SEC and Big 12 payouts and likely surpass them.
If those members like being in the ACC, the member schools should be able to tolerate the Big Ten members making more money than them for now, as long as the other contract conferences' members remain peers.
How to block this plan
The way to stop this is to sign the EXACT same deal that the Big 12 members signed to turn over their rights to their conference.
And then call the Pac-12.
I think the enforceability and/or uniformity of consequences of the Big 12 contract is also suspect. Does it really bind all of the Big 12 schools together or simply bind everyone else to UT? In theory UT is really the main flight risk in that conference.
If the ACC schools sign an identical deal and another conference manages to steal a school, it reveals the Big 12 deal—upon which all of the Big 12's stability is based—is toothless.
At which point a prepared Pac-12 can step in and immediately add Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, forcing UT to eventually concede the Big 12 is nonviable and carry Texas Tech into the Pac-12.
The Big 12 collapses and the ACC survives as Contract Conference No. 4.
Should the contract successfully deny predators, the Big Ten stays at 14 and the ACC survives to see their contract reflect market value more accurately (sometime around 2017).
Add UConn, Cincinnati, and Louisville
Is the ACC considering adding 3 Big East football schools?
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Inviting Louisville, Cincinnati and UConn may actually be one of the more likely plans the ACC might employ.
Brian Miller of the Tallahassee Democrat tweeted that this might be the ACC's plan—and then the tweet was curiously removed.
Infamous lawyer turned realignment editorialist, Frank the Tank, deconstructed the implications of such a move.
"Whether it’s right or wrong, the widespread perception is that Louisville would be the “football smart” move for the ACC and anything other than that could lead to Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and/or others bolting to the warm arms of Texas and the Big 12. As I’ve stated elsewhere, I don’t believe that Florida State would leave for the Big 12 all, but the ACC obviously can’t take any chances with its most important football member."
Brian Miller reports on FSU football. If this is what FSU and the football-focused schools of the ACC needs to resist becoming a distant outlier in other conferences, then it is a sensible move for the ACC.
Given what may be going on behind the scenes, the longer the ACC waits to invite Louisville, the more likely the Big 12 jumps in and invites the Cardinals as team No. 11. Eleven is a perfectly workable number for a division-less conference—it simply hasn't been in Texas and Oklahoma's interest to invite Louisville up to this point. That may have changed.
Barry Trammel, beat writer on OU football for the Oklahoman, made the case to invite Louisville last week.
Putting this three-team proposal into perspective
This is the thing. Adding these schools may please the football-focused members, but they aren't going to lift the ACC's TV contract to Big Ten or SEC (with Texas A&M's value figured in) levels in the immediate future.
Additionally, the Big 12 with FSU may be able to offer more money now than the ACC with FSU and these schools.
Even if the basketball-focused schools go along with this, there is nothing preventing the Big Ten, SEC or Big 12 from offering and landing FSU, Georgia Tech or any other school—which is why this may not have happened yet.
The ACC doesn't have time to argue obtusely about the fact there is no commitment in this strategy. If this is what needs to happen to keep the football schools on hand, Louisville and the others need to be invited now.
Cut a Deal with the SEC
SEC commissioner Mike Slive... the ACC's best friend?
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This one is the most far-fetched of my suggestions because it is based on the premise of conferences working on what fans would consider "logical" rather than just chasing every dollar as hard as they can.
We haven't seen that in a while in the FBS world.
But it might be possible given the situations of the ACC, Big 12 and SEC right now.
It also has some element of risk.
Let's say the ACC agrees to some kind of new penalty system that seems very tough for the SEC to get around.
If the ACC approached the SEC with a deal to circumvent its new protection, would the SEC sell out the Big Ten? I think it might.
Culturally, Virginia Tech is an SEC school. Its fans think like SEC fans. Its military background makes it gravitate to the conservative schools in the SEC like a fly to a bug zapper.
Its leadership may legitimately not want to leave the ACC, but that seems like a minority opinion. That doesn't bode well over time.
Virginia Tech is very likely to eventually break the ACC's heart. If everyone is honest and respectful about it, maybe Virgina Tech doesn't have to break the ACC when the Hokies do leave.
The SEC may not have a realistic option to catch the Big Ten's payouts (since it appears hugely unlikely that either The University of Texas or Notre Dame will ever consider joining the SEC), but SEC pride will certainly demand they are a strong No. 2 in TV payouts.
The SEC isn't going to stop thinking about Virginia Tech.
What if the ACC agreed to waive the exit fee on Virginia Tech and allow them to join the SEC in return for deals with both Virginia Tech and the SEC?
If the ACC's $50 Million exit fee stands (or more fees that are tougher to dodge legally are implemented) either Virginia Tech or the SEC would ultimately have to pay some or all of them to allow a move to the SEC. That is an expense, a delay and a hassle. A deal would make the transaction quick and easy.
The ACC could offer Virginia Tech a "get-out-of-the-ACC-for-free" card if Virginia Tech agreed to abide by the exit terms. If the leadership there accepts the deal, the deal gets publicized to make it politically very hard for the Hokies or the SEC to back out.
The ACC could then work a deal with the SEC. If the SEC agrees:
- to sign a deal stating it won't talk to or invite another ACC school in the next 15 years.
- to land West Virginia as team No. 15.
In return, they get Virginia Tech as soon as they want them—no strings attached.
Why West Virginia? Why would the SEC be interested in this deal?
West Virginia and Virginia Tech would get the SEC to 16. That is a good stopping point that should help the SEC membership be a lot more comfortable about stopping expansion. Schools like Florida, Georgia and South Carolina might be happy to reach a natural stopping without their in-state rivals in the fold.
West Virginia is another school with SEC sensibilities. The SEC passed on it because the SEC didn't see enough added media value in tiny population West Virginia, not because its schools didn't appreciate what West Virginia brings to the table.
The Big 12 admission has shown that West Virginia has much greater fan support than just in the small population state of West Virginia. Its fanbase spills over strongly into Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania and Southeastern Ohio. Its media support is much bigger than credited last year.
That area also happens to be conservative and a great recruiting area for the Big Ten—specifically Big Ten powers Penn State and Ohio State.
The SEC adding West Virginia can deliver media attention in Big Ten territory as well hurt some Big Ten powers. West Virginia could become the SEC marker in liberal Big Ten country. It can act as a recruiting gateway for the SEC in the north.
The Big Ten was alleged to have been talking to Georgia Tech recently. The thought was Georgia Tech, (located in Atlanta) would give Big Ten sports a great media platform in the south.
Adding West Virginia is exactly the kind of response that might be well received by SEC leadership right now.
Adding West Virginia and Virginia Tech would also get the SEC to 16 without having to try to force in a school that an SEC member may have the votes to block.
Also crippling the ACC could force good schools into the Big 12, turning the Big 12 into a serious media competitor to the SEC. For the SEC, a strong argument can be made for not favoring one conference over the other.
But what about the Big 12 and its TV deal?
Let's be frank here. For the Big 12, West Virginia is not an ideal candidate and frankly a replaceable one. San Diego State, BYU or Louisville would easily replace WVU.
In fact, it is alleged the Big 12 approached Louisville first. Louisville felt the Big East's 27-month exit clause was binding and could not accept.
The Big 12 then approached West Virginia. The Mountaineer's lawyers wrote the clause and they decided they could get away with breaking it.
At best, in media terms both schools are considered peers.
Prior to this, the ACC schools passed on admitting West Virginia. Having West Virginia in the Big 12 doesn't make the conference any more appealing to schools they may target in the ACC—should that time come.
The Big 12 feels it has a secure setup today with all the member schools committing its media rights to the conference for the length of the TV deal.
So the question devolves to: Where would the Big 12 schools rather fly, to Louisville or to Morgantown?
That is a question the Big 12 membership frankly may have already answered if it approached Louisville first.
OU and UT want to stay at 10 members. They don't see a reason to expand to 12 members with BYU and Louisville out there, which implies those schools don't add enough value to offset an allegedly easier trip to the national title game.
The argument against adding another bowl level team to the Big 12 as an 11th member is that it creates another opportunity for an upset.
The Big 12 could simply go with nine schools and release West Virginia to join the SEC. Or it could invite Louisville, San Diego State or BYU, and when one of them accepts and commits its rights to the Big 12, the Big 12 could release WVU.
OK that addresses the mechanics, but why would the Big 12 do that?
Because the SEC asked and it is in the Big 12's best interest to allow it. It would be a little more complex than that, but that is the nuts and bolts of it.
The Big 12 is largely as stable as it is because the SEC chose to do the "Champions Bowl" agreement with it instead of the ACC. Staying in its good graces is probably smart in case UT football stays in the tank and Florida State football takes off again.
Getting the SEC to 16 is a good thing for the Big 12 too.
Faith in the nature of the Big 12 media rights deal makes the Big 12 solid today. Would it stand up to a raid attempt by the SEC? Would the Big 12 schools want to risk having their agreement invalidated by an eager to jump West Virginia?
It isn't like West Virginia doesn't have a history of saying to hell with supposedly binding agreements.
The rest of the Big 12 membership is not so secure in its position that it couldn't imagine a very poor ending to that scenario.
Giving the SEC something that works for it and might again stop realignment within the contract conferences could make a lot of sense to TCU, Texas Tech, Kansas, Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State. It could make a lot of sense to the Oklahomas, too.
Plus given geography, it is highly unlikely the other Big 12 schools would be able to pull any significant talent from that West Virginia region. In many ways, as strong of a program as WVU is, it is just a number for the Big 12 because they it is so distant.
The SEC could recruit strongly in the rustbelt via West Virginia. National titles generate revenue. Anything a conference can do to compromise a couple of elites in a contract conference is worth considering.
If Ohio State and Penn State are weaker, UT and OU should have better chances at winning the national title game.
This kind of change should reduce the talent in the Big Ten, helping offset the competitive edge its financial advantage is likely to provide in the coming years.
What is not to like?
OK that makes a crazy kind of sense, but why would the ACC agree to just let a valuable asset like Virginia Tech go?
Well, because Virginia Tech was not its first choice either. Remember the ACC was going to invite Syracuse before Virginia politics shuffled the deck.
The ACC can let Virginia Tech go and still have great media coverage in Virginia. That is why Virginia Tech was not one of its initial targets.
It is entirely possible that the valuation of the ACC offering surprisingly would not change dramatically without it. The Big East could then stay at 12 football members rather than adding a school it may not be sold on (UConn).
Virginia Tech may be the most expendable top asset in the ACC.
Having the SEC recruiting Virginia is not the end of the world. Tennessee has been doing it for years. Having the SEC also owning Florida recruiting (adding FSU) or being in North Carolina too (adding NC State) would be devastating for the ACC competitively.
Far better to cut a deal today to erase those possibilities.
Steering Florida, Alabama and LSU to recruit in Ohio effectively would also amount to a measure of revenge for the ACC's core schools on the Big Ten.
Crazy hand-holding hippy talk!
Conferences talking to each other frankly and working together? Schools who really want to be somewhere else going where they want to go? Conferences treating each other fairly? Conferences looking for new members who share? Conferences looking at geographic continuity? Conferences looking for schools that have no interest in ever leaving?
I know. Madness.
I told you it was far-fetched.
Consider Adding Georgetown, St. John's, and Villanova
Villanova, St. John's and Georgetown would give the ACC a shot in the arm in the big markets of the Northeast.
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The current conventional wisdom is that the ACC will add UConn (a good academic candidate) or Louisville to balance the football divisions at 14 again. Given what is out there, conventional wisdom may be wrong. Still, let's start there.
UConn has good academics. Much of the state of Connecticut is in the NYC DMA although not the university itself. That offers good value.
And it plays FBS football. (I would suggest to require UConn to expand its stadium by at least 10,000 seats as it appears to be an unnecessary bottleneck on its attendance today that paints it as a less deserving candidate for a contract conference.)
The ACC has always been a conference that has valued having only FBS playing, all-sports members.
It may be time to change that thought process.
Notre Dame is already a non-football member in this conference. (It just happens to also have a football scheduling alliance with the ACC.) Adding one-to-three northeastern non-football schools with the expected UConn addition could create sensible balanced divisions in basketball.
Georgetown is a national basketball power headed by a top NCAA tourney coach. It draws large crowds. It has strong support in the Washington DC DMA and is a nationally respected brand. It would do a lot to replace Maryland.
St John's would give the ACC a team actually located in the NYC DMA, which would probably help support the negotiation position of ACC schools UConn, Notre Dame and Syracuse in that DMA. They are also a well-known basketball brand.
The Big Ten is obviously going to get a lot of media exposure in the NYC DMA now. Adding a native team from the NYC DMA now makes a lot of sense as it allows locals in that key DMA to also regularly see the ACC's top brands in person.
Villanova offers strong support, a good coach and a relatively wealthy fanbase. It is a strong brand in the Philadelphia DMA.*
Adding well supported basketball brands in the NYC DMA (No. 1), Philadelphia DMA (No. 4) and Washington DC DMA (No. 9) would be about the strongest additions that could be made with non-football schools.
To my line of thinking, the media value this trio brings will more than be able to match Olympic TV value with the average ACC school.
Additionally, they would reinforce the ACC as a northeastern brand in valuable northeastern markets. That would probably drive up viewership numbers for ACC football and cause ESPN to raise the payouts for football schools.
Having strong support in NYC and Boston with decent support in Philadelphia and Washington DC is really an optimal position for the ACC in the northeast in media terms.
Could such a move net an additional $1-3 million per school? Very Possibly.
(*Should the ACC cut a deal to let Virginia Tech walk, there are plenty of reasonable candidates in the Big East including Temple, Cincinnati and Louisville.)
How Much Would Duke Be Willing to Do to to Save the Conference They "own"?
Tough theoretical: If it was the only way to save the ACC as an elite basketball conference, would Duke and Wake Forest pull their football teams from the ACC?
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Duke and North Carolina are schools with which the leaderships at Virginia, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest want to be affiliated.
That dynamic gives Duke and UNC a lot of extra influence in the conference—some fans and even reportedly some member schools feel "too much" influence.
Well the ACC could fall apart. If it should fall apart, the gravy train would probably be over for Duke.
With that in mind, would Duke make some concessions to help keep the conference intact?
A deal Duke leadership and fans may not like, but could help save the conference
Every conference has deadwood. Schools that don't provide the required value to merit their inclusion.
Duke and Wake Forest football don't cut muster in the ACC.
Not on the field, mind you. Both have done well on the field recently. Wake forest won a division title recently and Duke has been very good this year.
The trouble is attendance and number of schools in a state.
Duke drew 24,393 per game last season and Wake Forest drew an average of 31,967. If we are honest, these numbers represent about as well as these schools can do attendance wise. They are small private schools.
In football terms, not enough people care about these programs. And it won't ever change in the ACC.
The average attendance in the ACC last year was 51,406. If you added UConn and dropped out Wake and Duke, the average football attendance in the ACC would have been 53,632. That would put it ahead of the Pac-12, which would be a better position to be in in terms of negotiating with bowls and TV networks.
Bowls would be a little more excited about agreements with the ACC knowing they would not get Duke or Wake Forest, who, if we are honest, might have trouble selling out a large bowl.
The ACC has four schools in the state of North Carolina. North Carolina and NC State both are large schools who draw pretty well Either school has a statewide fanbase and could in theory deliver media relevance for a conference. Two schools represent some acceptable overlap. Four schools in a state of 10 million is just stupid in media terms.
It is very conceivable that Duke and Wake Forest removing their football from the ACC's offerings would not amount to much or any real loss in value to the total value of the ACC TV deal.
If Duke and Wake Forrest were earning say $7 million a year as Olympic only members, the other schools could possibly net about an additional $2 million per football school.
Raising those numbers closer to the SEC payouts would do a lot to discourage possible jumpers.
And much of the money could be recouped by the two North Carolina privates.
Let's say the privates cooked up a deal with the publics to take Duke and Wake Forest's football programs out of the ACC—perhaps even getting the state legislatures in both North Carolina and Virginia to bless it and commit to keep their public schools in the ACC long term in return for that financial concession
It could be a very good deal for both privates.
Let's say Duke and Wake Forest brought in Villanova football and started offering that trio of football programs as football only members to the Big East and conference USA?
Neither conference has representation in the Philadelphia DMA (No. 4), Raleigh-Durham DMA or Winston Salem DMAs (No. 46). Additionally all three schools are very prestigious and would help draw better candidates.
If Conference USA bit, the schools might yield a football only TV payout of about $1.3-1.5 Million.
Contract conferences often pay $1M or more for "body bag games" against FBS opponents. ACC schools usually pay for some body-bag games. Why not pay Duke and Wake Forest instead?
That offers some opportunity to recoup some lost cash with out of conference play.
A combination of home and home, neutral site/split revenue, and body bag games between the two privates and Miami, Georgia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech could net a very attractive schedule not all that different from a fan's perspective than the private's current schedule. (And frankly, it might be seen as better.)
It is very possible that body bag games could recover an additional $3 million a year, recovering $4.5 million a year of the $10 million the schools would be surrendering to leave the ACC in football.
In Conference USA, a conference with much tighter finances, the two schools would likely be football powers, maybe Tulsa-level and possibly even Boise State-level football powers.
That actually offers both schools far better chances to maintain or build upon their current good play.
And if they don't see it that way, they could always quietly insist on a clause that allows them to bring their football back in 10 years when the crises has passed.
Trigger a Renegotiation with ESPN Via the Composition Clause and Use Notre Dame
It might be very smart to have the Irish lead the charge in renegotiations.
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The ACC has a "composition clause" in their ESPN contract, per ESPN Vice President Burke Magnus. The clause allows a renegotiation of parts of their deal with ESPN if its membership changes by a certain number of schools.
The clause was triggered once before when the ACC added two schools, Syracuse and Pitt (at the direction of ESPN, according to BC's athletic director), to go to 14 members. (It has been speculated for months that both adds were designed to make the ACC more attractive to the team ESPN and the ACC was desperate to capture—Notre Dame.)
That renegotiation raised the per team payout about $4 Million to $17.1 Million.
Triggering that clause again would force ESPN back to the negotiating table for a limited renegotiation designed to better reflect current market value. Per Magnus in the above link, "...It is not an 'out clause' nor does it trigger a complete renegotiation of the entire agreement..."
Current market value would reflect the addition of Notre Dame and its national fanbase.
Notre Dame is probably the most popular FBS school in the NYC and Chicago DMAs. Those are respectively the first- and third-largest DMA's in the country and combined represent almost 10 percent of the nation's TV sets. The NYC DMA alone accounts for 6.5 percent of the nation's TV sets.
Notre Dame and fellow ACC member Boston College are the only two Catholic universities that play football at the FBS level.
Notre Dame brings great value to ACC broadcasts on a national broadcaster like ESPN.
The ACC already has statewide support in a lot of large states.
With Syracuse just outside the NYC DMA, Notre Dame's fans, and potentially UConn and St. John's in the fold, the ACC could easily have the strongest support in the NYC DMA of any conference.
The ACC was making $17.1 Million annually per football school. The presence of Notre Dame should yield a significant increase to its payouts.
As would bringing Notre Dame to the negotiating table...
The ACC doesn't just need a fair deal. To keep its payouts close to the SEC's and discourage "lateral" movements by its schools to the Big 12 or SEC, the ACC needs a deal that borders on generous.
The biggest complaint about the leadership of the ACC from fans is a seeming inability to convert strong assets into a strong TV deal. There is a thought that the ACC leadership is too close to ESPN and consistently gives away too much (third-tier rights) and gets too little in return.
The ACC needs a big shift in their ESPN contract terms. Not only does it need more money, but it also needs ESPN to release some of its third-tier rights in football and basketball—just enough to bring it in line with other conferences like the Big 12.
As Forbes covered in great clarity, the loss of third-tier media rights puts the ACC in the weakest competitive position vs. the rest of the contract conferences. It could potentially doom the conference.
Recovering those rights would diminish much of the appeal for Florida State to join the Big 12 and would allow the ACC the possibility of launching some third-tier networks (in the model of the Pac-12's).
That may be more than the composition clause dictates can be renegotiated, so ESPN will need to feel some motivation.
That is why sending Notre Dame to the negotiating table makes sense. Notre Dame was apparently one of the main voices who told the Big East schools to reject ESPN's $11 million per school offer and go to the open market.
As NBC was allegedly offering a rebuilt Big East $10 million per school as a starting point not to sign with ESPN, this seemed like solid advice.
Notre Dame knows its value better than anyone. It knows its value applied to the ACC's footprint.
It has told ESPN, "No, your offer is not good enough." and walked away before. Having that on your side is a great asset in negotiations.
If Notre Dame feels the ACC won't get fair value, the Irish could walk away from ESPN, costing ESPN everything it has worked for in the ACC.
Go Nuclear on ESPN
It may come to thinking about nuking ESPN.
Another advantage of involving Notre Dame deeply in a re-negotiation process is that if ESPN does not work with the ACC to save the conference, Notre Dame will have even more influence in the conference.
If Notre Dame—a relative outsider with a proven history in media negotiations—reports "ESPN wants the ACC to be picked apart", that will carry immense weight with the ACC membership.
Should that message be delivered, what is to prevent the majority of the ACC membership from voting to cancel any exit fees and leaving the conference en masse to form a new conference? It is no different from a school leaving one conference for another.
More to the point, this kind of schism has happened before. It happened in the WAC.
Should such a thing happen, the stragglers can always be invited to the new conference in a few months.
Call the new conference the Atlantic Athletic Conference (the AAC) and retain the same membership and there would be almost no period of awkward loss of name recognition.
What would that conference's sports offerings draw on the open market? The ACC content fills a lot of hours on ESPN.
What would NBC pay to partner the ACC with its Notre Dame football broadcasts and fill out its broadcast schedules?
Today's ACC is the best basketball conference in America. The loss of an automatic bid is irrelevant for this group of schools, so there doesn't appear to be any real NCAA backlash.
ESPN could try to keep them out of the major bowls, but even for ESPN that might be problematic when you think of legal actions and legislative influence that could come into play.
It seems much easier to throw out a few more millions from ESPN's apparently bottomless bucket of cash and surrender the ACC's football and basketball tier-three rights.