Even with the new ESPN contract, ACC about to be back at the bottom of the money pile

It may have gotten some press when I was out on vacation, but last week the Big 12 (-2) put the finishing touches on their new TV contract with Fox Sports.  The $90 million a year deal is for secondary rights.  Don't forget that ESPN already pays $60 million a year for their most attractive games. 

So where does that leave things?

This NBC Sports article sums it up best:

That $150 million-per-year total falls well short of conference financial behemoths the Big Ten ($214 million) and SEC ($205 million), but is on par with the $155 million the ACC is expected to bring in with their newly-minted deal.  All of the BcS leagues could be looking up to the Pac-12 in the very near future, however, as that conference is expected to sign new deals that would bring in a rumored $222 million annually.

I don't think anyone was expecting the Pac-12 to bring in that kind of cash.  More power to them, and kudos to their aggressive commissioner.

And before you note that the ACC still edges out the Big 12, a couple things to keep in mind.  First, they only split it 10 ways, so their per school average bests the ACC.  Second, they have unequal revenue sharing, meaning the premier schools in that conference are going to do better than any school in the ACC.  Finally, the Big 12 TV deal does not prohibit member schools from cutting their own deals for team-centric stations.  Texas has one on the way with ESPN, which will generate tons of additional cash for them.  The other top programs will certainly follow suit, though certainly with much less income generated. 

Never say never, but this probably shores up any possibility of Texas leaving, and there are supposedly extremely punitive provisions if anyone bolted.  So it looks like the Big 12 is here to stay for a while.  Any team attractive enough to bolt is also probably attractive enough to make up most of what they would gain by leaving, by virtue of their own network.

While the Big 12 won't have the "revenue" of a conference championship game (do any besides the SEC ever actually make real money?), that also removes a roadblock to a MNC or second BCS game for member schools.

So here is the ACC, after trumpeting their recent ESPN deal, on the verge of having the worst per team payouts of the big-time conferences.  It wasn't long ago that the ACC had the best.

Can anyone argue that this is anything less than a complete failure of the ACC leadership?  And in case you want to argue that it isn't all about the money, over the last decade ACC football has become an utter laughing stock, and ACC basketball has fallen to mediocre levels (3 teams in the NCAAs? 1 team ranked in the top 25? ACC tournament can't sell tickets?).

This matters to us more than say, the Big 12 fortunes matter to Texas or the Pac 12 fortunes matter to USC, because FSU is not a "rich" program, and we're already always chasing our in-state rival when it comes to cash.  Rather than narrowing the gap (which it might have done briefly) the performance of our relative conferences have now distanced UF from us even further in terms of money.

What options do we have?

A)  Just live with it.  F- the conference, if we do what we need to do, everything will be ok for us.  A lot of truth in this, but the key part is "if we do what we need to do."  Any school is going to be ok if they are running top 5 finishes and BCS bowls every year.  You need the conference there for you when times are tough, and it's myopic to pretend that we'll never struggle again.  Remember, without the cash, FSU isn't in a position to blow out three coaches in seven years if that's what it takes, the way the SEC schools do.  Look at the way schools everywhere else end up holding on to mediocre coaches for an extra year or two, because they can't have three coaches under contract.

2) Strengthen the current ACC.  One possible saving grace is I believe (I haven't checked) that the ACC's new deal will be the first one to expire, and therefore be the first one up for renewal.  I don't know if it's possible to catapult our value up to the top couple of conferences, but the only way to do that is to make a concerted effort to make the football product more appealing.  Two ways to do that.

  • Finally do what this site and others have been demanding for years and schedule appropriately for your premier programs (FSU, Clemson, Miami, VT, UNC) to be able to make legitimate runs at 10+ win seasons
  • Consider realigning divisions.  This may (but not necessarily) be counterintuitive to the previous point, but when you have very few attractive football teams you are almost certainly leaving cash on the table when certain matchups (FSU-VT, FSU-GT, Clemson-Miami, VT-Clemson, Clemson-UNC, etc) show up twice in a 10-year span.  Yes, nobody wants to play in what seems like an unfairly stacked division, but let's get creative.  There has to be a way to generate better rivalries and TV matchups.
  • Go to a Big 12 style unbalanced payout, so your serious players in football and basketball are rewarded on par with their peers in other conferences, and can therefore compete nationally with those peers.

D) ACC Contraction.  Ten teams seems to be a good fit for the Big 12, and the Big 10 rode eleven teams to the top of the money ladder.  The conference probably has too many schools that don't generate their share of of the pie.  But between the outcry, and the fact that nobody other than Wake Forest lends itself to being an obvious choice, this is a non-starter.

IXV) ACC Expansion.  I think this is as much a non-starter as contraction.  Unless the ACC can pull Notre Dame, there isn't a single school attractive enough to increase the per team payout more than splitting the pile additional ways will diminish it.  That said, it might be worth hiring a consultant to review potential benefits of adding Pitt and WVU. 

Tobias Funke) Go Independent.  Just can't see any way to make the numbers work.  The BYU move is intriguing, but the financial base just isn't there for FSU like it is for Notre Dame and BYU.  If we had a worldwide religion associated with our school, it would help.  FSU leadership short-sighted as usual.

2) Join another conference.  I don't see any other conference being an option other than the SEC.  Hard to imagine the SEC being satisfied with third place on the money ladder for long.  There are plenty of obstacles, but the most cited one ("ESPN already regrets their SEC contract and there isn't enough money for additional teams") is a joke, as we've seen networks lay out more and more cash on college football.  Clearly there's more money to be had.  Does the additional cash and security of an SEC slot outweigh the more difficult path to a championship? 

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