Florida State’s athletic director sounded the latest alarm, telling the school’s board of directors “something has to change” regarding ACC revenue – meaning TV money – or else he, Michael Alford, will be sad. A sad AD can become an AD mad enough to explore other options, meaning other conferences.
Alford piped up near the end of February. We’re barely into March, and college sports is a-dither over another round of conference realignment, though there’s little left to realign. Colorado’s board of regents called a special Zoom meeting for Wednesday to discuss “legal advice on a specific matter,” presumably its affiliation with the Pac-12.
Having lost USC and UCLA to the not-exactly-neighboring Big Ten, the Pac-12 is in disarray. The Big Ten and the SEC mint money. The Big 12 convinced Fox and ESPN to sign a $2.2 billion contract extension over six seasons. Why is a league that’s losing Texas and Oklahoma worth so much? Well, a Big 12 school just played for the football national title – lost by 58 points, but still – and there’s value in being the nation’s best basketball league.
The past two NCAA champs: Baylor and Kansas. In Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, seven Big 12 teams are among the top 25. One is outbound Texas, but the other six aren’t going anywhere. High-profile hoops can see a network through a lot of winter weeknights. (The ACC has no team in KenPom’s top 30, FYI.)
The SEC and the Big Ten are 1-2 – or 2-1, depending on how you interpret the “more” in It Just Means More – as TV properties. The Big 12′s extension made it No. 3. That leaves the ACC, where FSU is sad/mad, and the Pac-12, which is in the throes of a nervous breakdown.
On Feb. 13, the conference tweeted a statement: “The 10 Pac-12 universities look forward to consummating successful media rights deal(s) in the very near future.” Beyond leading with the reminder that the Pac-12 is down to 10 members, it conceded the league has no “successful media rights deal(s)” in hand, the absence of which could leave the Pac-12 looking at single figures, membership-wise.
Colorado is believed to be eyeing the Big 12. That’s amusing, seeing as how it was, not long ago, among the Big 12. As ESPN’s pithy Pete Thamel writes, “The chances of the Pac-12 ending up in (the Big 12′s financial) neighborhood are unlikely, mostly because nobody can understand where the money would come from.”
Pac-12 remnants are terrified at the prospect of having nowhere to go but a streaming service. Thamel reports “at least minimal contact between the Big 12 and … Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado.” He notes Oregon and Washington are keeping mighty quiet. Too quiet?
The Pac-12 is staging its basketball tournament in Las Vegas. UCLA and USC will participate, though they’ll be Big Ten members come August 2024. Colorado is holding an emergency meeting. Don’t touch that dial, folks. (Or the Roku remote, as the case may be.)
Back to Florida State. Alford told ESPN: “We cannot compete nationally being $30 million behind every year. It’s not one year. It’s $30 million being compounded year after year.” What can FSU do about this? Glad you asked.
It could leave, although the Big Ten doesn’t seem a great fit – not that fit matters, the Midwestern league having enfolded Los Angeles – and the SEC mightn’t want to tick off Florida by adding an in-state school, although that didn’t stop it from welcoming Texas A&M’s snooty neighbor. Also, it would cost FSU a fortune to leave.
The ACC’s contract with ESPN runs through 2036. When that contract was signed, all ACC members agreed to a grant of rights. If Florida State jumps, its newfound TV money would be banked by the league it just left – through 2036.
As sure as the swallows return to Capistrano, some ACC member – if not FSU, maybe Clemson – will take the conference to court over the grant of rights. It’s unclear what grounds for breaking the deal will be offered: “We were silly to sign this, so please don’t hold our ignorance against us, even though we are an institute of higher learning”?
Alford has made noises about FSU deserving a bigger share of league revenue. Thirteen other schools will go nuts if that happens, but you can’t blame the Seminoles for trying. Forget pledges of allegiance. Check the map. Texas and Oklahoma are headed for the SEC. USC and UCLA are bound for the Big 10. Colorado’s looking to get back where it once belonged.
There are no allegiances. There’s only money, and money changes everything.
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