Florida State is expected to soon begin the process of its long-discussed divorce from the ACC, multiple sources tell Yahoo Sports.
The Seminoles’ conference affiliation is the focus of Friday’s scheduled meeting of the NFL Board of Trustees, and the outcome of the meeting could lead to a formal legal filing in what many are calling the first step to achieving an exit from the ACC’s binding grant. -Rights Agreement.
The FSU Board of Trustees on Thursday announced its meeting to comply with the state’s open meetings law, which requires members to give the public 24 hours notice before gathering. Multiple sources with knowledge of FSU’s potential plans spoke to Yahoo Sports for this story on condition of anonymity.
Details about the specific legal step FSU leaders intend to take are unclear, but legal experts say the school could seek what’s called a “declaratory judgment action” in an attempt to get a judge to rule that the school is not bound by its decisions. Contract with the Administrative Coordination Committee.
The goal of the legal move is the Grant of Rights, a legal document between the ACC, its members and television partner ESPN that binds the parties to each other during the 2035-36 academic year. Any application is intended to be made in a local court friendly to the interests of the school.
The gambit comes less than a month after FSU became the first undefeated major conference champion to be eliminated from the College Football Playoff, a decision that shook those in Tallahassee and accelerated the school’s planned exit strategy.
A potential legal move this week is not expected to be a notice of departure to the ACC. Any exit from the ACC would be at least more than a year away. However, such a legal foray could pave the way for more ACC programs to follow suit, challenging the league and granting it rights.
Granting conference rights is the focus of discussions. Granting rights is a fairly common procedure used by conferences to legally bind member schools to a long-term commitment as a means of securing a media rights deal. The ACC approved its current deal with ESPN in 2016.
While the 20-year agreement was thought to be positive, the length of the deal caused turmoil within the ACC as other power conferences, the Big Ten and the SEC, signed new, more lucrative media rights contracts. Over the next decade, the SEC and Big Ten schools are expected to earn much more in revenue distribution — as much as twice — as those in the ACC, numbers that have drawn the ire of ACC members, and none more so than Florida State.
For a year now, FFA officials have been making public threats to eventually exit the conference, with university president Richard McCullough saying in August that the FFA needed to look “very seriously” at the move.
At the same meeting, Drew Weatherford, a former NFL quarterback and member of the Board of Trustees, said: “It’s not a question of us leaving, in my opinion. It’s a question of who and when we leave.”
Maybe the conversation will turn into action.
The CFP’s snub of FSU isn’t the only factor accelerating the school’s planned path toward an ACC exit.
In the recent wave of reorganization, The ACC gained Cal, Stanford, and SMU despite intense resistance within the conference. FSU, North Carolina and Clemson voted against the additions. The league added this trio of programs while Power Conference teammates Oregon and Washington (Big Ten) added; Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State (12th largest). The SEC will add Oklahoma and Texas next year as well.
The ACC’s expansion drive has divided a range of private and public programs with widely disparate missions and resources. The league partly undertook the expansion as a way to preserve the conference long-term while taking into account the potential departure of a few programs.
In the spring, officials from seven ACC schools met several times to consider a possible exit from the conference, even considering dissolving the league entirely. Those discussions mostly died down after they emerged publicly in May. However, the desire of the FFA – and others as well – to break free from the league has remained steadfast for months.
NFL lawyers, as well as Clemson’s lawyers, have spent the past few months exploring ways to realistically break free from granting rights. While many consider the granting of rights unbreakable, some believe schools will nonetheless try to find a way out.
Upon signing the rights grant, schools agree to the rights to televise their home games to the league and partner ESPN. The state competitions in Florida are not owned by the school but by the league for the next 13 years – if they don’t find a way out of this problem.
There is a precedent for compromise. This particular year, the Big 12 and its television partners agreed to a settlement that left Oklahoma and Texas to award rights a year early in exchange for what was announced as a $50 million fine to each school.
The ACC grant of rights includes language similar to that document. However, he will leave FSU with up to 10 years remaining on the contract. If the ACC and ESPN agree to any type of settlement, breaking the rights award would come at a significant cost, with estimates as high as $500 million.
That would be in addition to the $120 million owed to the league in a separate exit fee. It’s no secret in college athletics that Florida State, as well as other ACC programs, have looked deeply into obtaining future financing through private equity means. Regarding exiting the ACC, schools must notify the conference of their departure at least one year before the move. For example, FSU is guaranteed to compete in the ACC next academic year and will have to notify the conference by Aug. 15, 2024 if the school wants to leave in time to compete elsewhere in the 2025 football season.
There’s also this question: Where will Florida State and any other ACC school settle?
The SEC and the Big Ten, their two most attractive options, have indicated reluctance to add additional members, but such statements have been made before. Leaders of Big Ten schools publicly backed away from another round of expansion before adding Oregon and Washington.
The changing environment in college athletics makes for an unpredictable landscape moving forward, creating potential routes for ACC programs to exit. For example, a new management structure will likely be on the way. NCAA President Charlie Baker has proposed creating a new FBS subdivision aimed at providing athletes with direct school compensation.
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