Bradley’s Buzz: So Clemson wants out of the ACC, too

Clemson has now joined Florida State as programs looking to exit the Atlantic Coast Conference. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Clemson has now joined Florida State as programs looking to exit the Atlantic Coast Conference. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images/TNS)

The other shoe just dropped. Clemson is also suing the ACC over the conference’s exit fees. Clemson hasn’t joined Florida State’s lawsuit – this is a separate filing in a different state – but it has the same effect. The league’s two best football-playing schools want to play football elsewhere.

We stipulate that such litigation could come to nothing. It’s possible no court will grant Clemson and FSU any relief. Both signed contracts granting their media rights to the ACC through 2036, which might as well be 3036 for those casting longing looks at the difference, money-wise, between this conference and those that matter.

ESPN reports that the nine remaining FBS leagues – the Power 4 plus the lesser Group of 5 – have reached an agreement with the ever-expanding College Football Playoff, which will be broadcast by, ahem, ESPN. Per the Worldwide Leader, “Big Ten and SEC schools will each be making more than $21 million, up from the nearly $5.5 million that schools in Power 5 conferences are currently being paid.”

How much, you ask, will ACC schools earn? ESPN again: “More than $13 million annually.” This new CFP deal is expected to run from 2026 through 2032. Over six years, the difference between being, say, Florida and, say, Florida State would be $48M. And that’s just the payout from the CFP. That’s not counting TV money for regular-season games.

The Big Ten and the SEC have newish media deals that will earn each member $50-60M per annum. The ACC’s never-ending contract pays each longstanding member $23M. (New recruits Cal, Stanford and SMU will make less.) Florida State and now Clemson surveyed the landscape and reached the same conclusion: We gotta get out of this place. Still unclear: Where do they go?

The final four-team playoff didn’t just skip over Florida State, undefeated champ of a Power 5 league. It also included one team from the Big Ten, one from the SEC – and two teams about to join those conferences. The Big Ten will have 18 teams next season, the SEC 16. How much bigger can even the biggest leagues get?

The Big Ten has outgrown its midwestern roots – it will soon reach from the Atlantic to the Pacific – but has shown no inclination to embrace the Deep South. The SEC has made one exception to its practice of adding only flagship universities from states without an SEC member. The exception was Texas, which is so immense it has its own ESPN-affiliated network. Neither Clemson nor FSU is Texas.

Notre Dame can go it alone, at least in football. (The Irish have long had a network, that being NBC.) Neither Clemson nor FSU is Notre Dame, either. Maybe the ACC expats could join Pac-12 remnants Oregon State and Washington State in the farthest-flung four-team alliance ever. Maybe the Big-12 will welcome two more newcomers, but who leaves the third-biggest league for the fourth-biggest?

Sometimes we wonder how college coaches can ditch School A for School B despite being under long-term contract to School A. The answer: It’s never good business practice to keep high-profile workers who make it known they’d rather work elsewhere. Also, schools have gotten savvy enough to include buyouts for coaches wanting to leave.

The ACC’s grant of rights is the equivalent of a buyout: “Feel free to leave, but it’ll cost an arm and two legs.” It was John Swofford’s way of keeping his league, which a decade ago appeared the most apt to splinter, intact. Swofford has retired, leaving his successor in a world of trouble. Jim Phillips inherited a terrible TV contract. His unbeaten champ – did we mention this? – just got snubbed. Now this.

Over 25 years of the BCS and the CFP, the ACC won four national titles. (Miami took the BCS when based in the Big East.) The schools responsible for all four are suing the ACC. It won’t look good if they’re allowed to leave. It might be worse if they’re made to stay.

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