The Grant of Rights put in place by the ACC does not stop expansiopocolypse. It does, however, severely slow it down and minimize it. The movement in the next five to ten years will almost entirely be by conferences and programs below the Big Five.
Oh, sure, it’s possible at some point that the Big 12 feels it has no choice but to actually go to 12, at which time it goes for Cinci and BYU or some other team from the Mountain West (Boise St.). And it is conceivable that the Big Ten could go to Mizzou and say, yeah, come into our playground — since the SEC does not have any exit fees or penalties.
And, yes, there is always a chance that some program locked into a Grant of Rights might mount a legal challenge. But unlike a challenge to an exit fee like Maryland is engaged, losing the challenge to a Grant of Rights contract is much bigger. Even if a challenge to the ACC Grant of Rights came with five years left (2023), the potential loss by the school challenging is $100 million. Not many schools are going to make that gamble.
But that is about it. Things are relatively locked in right now. There will be no easy way for the major conferences to poach teams from each other while the Grant of Rights (GoR) are in place. The Big 12 is at 10. The Big Ten will be 14.
As usual there is more to the story than mere stability.
There’s considering how we got to this point. The ACC went from wobbly to more solid and stable than the Big 12. The GoR made that obvious to everyone, but it happened well before yesterday’s announcement.
As a college football fan and one who has seen the Notre Dame take advantage of its position as an independent affiliated with the Big East, my initial feelings towards the lifeline by the ACC to the Domers was of annoyance and a little anger. The details, however, made it almost a beneficial arrangement. Notre Dame doesn’t get the free cut it got in the Big East. It has to play everyone in the ACC. It has to play five ACC games every year. All home-and-home. It gives ever program a marquee, national game every three years. It satisfies programs like FSU, VT, GT and Clemson that balked at the 9-game conference schedule.
It also ticked off the Big Ten as the dissolution of the Big East was probably their best chance to finally force ND into their sphere. Now that window has closed for another ten years or so. A point where ND giving up its GoR revenue from basketball would be tolerable and near the point where their latest NBC contract would be getting to an end. ND really is the Big Ten’s Brigadoon.
The loss of Maryland was an emotional loss for the ACC. A founding member. A program that was near the center of the conference. Pitt fans found it especially disconcerting because there was a sense among a significant number that Maryland could become Pitt’s ACC rival. Instead Maryland along with Rutgers may be cashing big checks in a couple years but will be in a division that has Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State. Good luck with relevance in football and even basketball.
But the move to take Louisville was an especially shrewd move. The athletic programs more than make up for any loss of Maryland. By doing so, they cut out one of the most obvious future members of the Big 12. Plus, UConn remains floating out in limbo as a back-up if ever needed.
The other thing the GoR does, brings in more money.
The deal runs through 2027, which is concurrent with the league’s contract with ESPN. The ACC and ESPN reached a new deal before the 2012 season that pays each school an estimated $17 million annually. With the addition of Notre Dame to the conference this summer in all sports but football, that number could creep even higher.
ND coming early helps, but a jump to $20 million starting this year doesn’t happen just from that.
“There are three things that FSU is keenly interested in,” [FSU President Eric] Barron added. “One is stability, a second is that we have revenues that are competitive and a third is to have what will be an ACC Network that helps further our brand and also adds resources.
“So from my perspective, the discussions with ESPN, these three things all fit together.”
There is speculation that the grant of media rights deal is just a precursor to an ACC cable network that will be operated in part by ESPN. The ACC Network would mirror what the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 have with other cable entities.
Back in January, the idea of the ACC Network first began to receive its vetting.
The ACC has formed a committee of athletic directors and hired Wasserman Media Group to explore the financial benefits of launching its own conference network.
While its media rights are tied up with ESPN for the next 15 years, that hasn’t stopped the conference from beginning the process of deciding whether such a channel is feasible. It hasn’t had formal talks with ESPN, which would have to play a big role in any ACC channel since the network controls the league’s rights.
But ACC Commissioner John Swofford has quietly been exploring a branded channel and began floating the idea for it in the fall, around the time that Notre Dame joined the league in all sports but football.
Any ACC Network needs the blessing of ESPN. The ACC has all of its TV rights tied up with ESPN, so launching a channel this decade needs ESPN as a partner.
What’s interesting in the comments from Barron — and what others seem to be implying — is that ESPN has gotten a little sick of the whole expansiopocolypse. In no small part because the realignment of conferences reopens the media deals. It means more payouts and contracts not getting to run their course. By having the ACC also get a GoR, suddenly all five major conferences are in a forced stability for most of the contracts.
Getting that stability still comes at a price for ESPN. In this case it appears to be helping to launch the ACC Network. Which also makes sense for how FSU, Clemson and GT — programs considered most willing to leave the ACC — suddenly are willing to lock themselves into the ACC for 15 years. That doesn’t happen unless they know the ACC pie is going to be getting bigger.