There is that famous scene in the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman" where the Richard Gere character is told to quit and then asked why he won't and he answers "because I got no where to go."
I thought of that line as I watched and read what ADs at FSU and Clemson said this past weekend regarding their feeling of the state of the ACC and the revenue gap between their league and the SEC and Big Ten.
On Friday, FSU's Michael Alford spoke to his school's board of trustees and explained his concern about how his teams will compete with their rivals(like Florida) when they are making significantly less. He laid out the difference in money being paid to the Power 5 leagues and showed how the ACC lags behind and why they won't close that gap. He was asked and answered questions from trustees about how much a buyout from the ACC would be($120M) and then addressed an issue that is apparently being discussed within the conference- unequal revenue distribution. He pointed out that while FSU gets 7% of league revenue, the Seminoles value is more like 15%. He painted a grim financial picture and hinted that change was needed or they will continue to fall further behind.
Meanwhile, Clemson AD Graham Neff was singing the same tune on Saturday when he was asked about Alford's comments. He echoed the need for the conference to look at unequal revenue shares and despite spending big and winning big in the College Football Playoff era that the financial difference of the ACC to the Big 2 was concerning.
But here's the question to FSU and Clemson, where are you going? Before we answer that, how about we look at why their fellow members would even consider allowing the two of them and anyone else in the league make more.
First, I said at least five years ago that the model of evenly splitting money within a league was bound to change. I used Alabama's dynasty run as my example, At some point, the Tide could ask why Vanderbilt was making the same when they could go winless for a decade and know the pie was evenly split. For Ohio State and Michigan, why equally share money when their two brands are the most valuable in the league? I thought at some point power brands would demand more and get more. We may be closer to that but it is still challenging.
While Clemson and FSU can claim they are the two biggest football brands and Clemson can highlight TV ratings over the years to show they draw the biggest audience, why would North Carolina- a massive brand that might actually be the biggest in the ACC, agree to give the Noles and Tigers more money? Wake Forest is one of the smallest schools in the ACC, but they have won more games over the last five seasons than FSU.
Then there are some who think Miami is in the FSU and Clemson position? Really? While the Canes once dominated college football and the second year hype for Mario Cristobal's team is high, who else in the league would give a thumbs up to the U to give them more money? Same question, where are they going?
Life is sometimes about leverage and what leverage does FSU and Clemson have? The real is answer is none.
The ACC is locked into a TV deal with ESPN through 2036 and it comes with a Grant of Rights, which means FSU's media rights are owned by the ACC- no matter where they play. Then there is the buyout which Alford admitted was in the range of $120M. FSU doesn't have that kind of money sitting around. And before you say "well, I am sure they can negotiate down the price" again, I will ask where are they going?
Before you answer the SEC, who says the SEC is looking to expand again and so soon? And the real question is, ESPN owns the ACC and SEC rights now and why would they want to spend another $100M per year to pay Clemson and FSU when they get them for much less now?
While the SEC has rival schools from a state in the league(Alabama/Auburn, Ole Miss/Miss State, Tennessee/Vandy and soon again Texas/Texas A&M) why do you think South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Kentucky want their state rival to take away the financial advantage they already have?
Look, I think the SEC will have more than 16 teams by 2036 but how and who is to be determined.
So let's get back to asking for unequal revenue within the ACC. My idea for all conferences is a base pay equal for all schools and a pool of bonus money based on everything from success in football on the field and also in TV ratings. If Alabama makes the playoff every year and getting the league's biggest ratings, it should be rewarded for that and Vanderbilt not benefit by going 0-9 in the league.
But in the ACC, what does FSU tell North Carolina why they are worth more? I am not sure they are worth more. So while the ACC may be talking internally about changing the revenue model the votes for a new system may not be so easy.
I've reported that I think the ACC is studying everything to grow revenue. That has included asking ESPN for more money and was turned down. I have talked about and written how they have tried to pitch Notre Dame about full membership and have had no progress there. And I also believe ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips has had talks with Pac 12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff on everything from a form of a merger to flat out targeting schools who may not like the media deal they are presented.
But adding 2-4 Pac 12 schools may add a few dollars to the ACC media deal, it won't close the gap significantly to the SEC and Big Ten. The ACC will more likely remain on par with the new Big 12 media deal and likely a little ahead of a new Pac 12 deal that is likely more about streaming.
So what can Clemson and FSU do? When you let the frustration of Mike Alford and Graham Neff settle down it comes back to leverage of lack there of. Never say never when it comes to legally challenging thinks like the buyout and Grant of Rights agreement, but the honest answer-for now- for FSU and Clemson is "you got no where to go."...
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