I would say that the decision of Notre Dame to move it's non-football sports ends this latest round of Reallignmentpalooza.
In my opinion, FSU to the Big 12 is dead, barring a major turn of events. Even if FSU could wiggle out of some of the new $50 exit fee, they would want help from a prospective conference. The Big 12 might conceivably be able to help FSU, but there's no way with that new exit fee you are going to see two to four ACC moving to the Big 12. And I just don't think FSU is going to go alone. I just don't see how you pull your school completely out of the media and watercooler discussion for the vast majority of your non-Florida alumni. College football's heart and soul is in the Southeast, and despite the rise of the internet, you still need FSU to be covered and discussed in the newspapers, local news and talk radio between Atlanta and DC. You need guys like Tony Barnhardt and Chuck Oliver and so on talking about you.
I only have one problem with this deal...the obvious one everyone has - the $50M buyout fee. It seems pretty obvious to me that when the Big 12 (read Deloss Dodds) decided to slow-play Clemson, Clemson quickly shifted gears away from investigating a move with FSU, to making sure they didn't get left behind by FSU. You really can't blame them.
The Big 12 potentially had an opportunity to add FSU, Miami, Clemson, GT to the conference, and couldn't agree to make a true effort. In some order or another, those four ACC schools would have walked into the Big 12 on day one and been no worse than the third, fourth, fifth and sixth most decorated college football programs in the conference. Somehow a combination of hubris due to a bizarre allignment of success for traditionally poor programs, being blinded by a new $20m TV contract, a quixotic quest for ND, or ulterior motives by TX and/or OU, caused the Big 12 not to be able to get their crap together. The utter failure of the Big 12 to make a strong move in the face of such an opportunity, to me, really undermines claims that they are a stable, unified conference with shared goals. Or just questions the competency of their leadership.
I guess while the buyout bothers me a lot, maybe not as much as some people. First, while it seems exhorbitant, these things have never held anyone in place against their will. To me, the SEC is the only potentially move for FSU at this point, and it's out of our hands. If FSU decides they are moving, the lawyers will go to work, and we will get out. If the SEC calls, this will not hold us in the ACC.
So if the Big 12 is out of the running, partially by the new ACC buyout, and largely by their own inability or reluctance to make a bold move, and the SEC is out of our hands, what are the ramifications of this deal?
First, the biggest one...more money. Initial reports indicate the ACC TV deal, worth $17M a year per team now, could go to $18-19M on the basis of this addition. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out. Initial reports also said that Syracuse and Pitt would be worth $1-2M, and the ACC ended up with $4M per year. I will be VERY interested to see if the ACC manages to find a way to push the number past the $20M a team threshold that the Big 12 just signed on for.
Second, bowl access. A lot has been made about the possibility of ACC schools losing out to a Notre Dame team when it comes to a bowl slot. This just seems like a non-issue to me. The ACC bowl lineup, with the exception of the Chik-Fil-A Bowl, is hot crap. Who the hell cares if ND bumps NC State out of the Almond Bowl or whatever? The eighty NC State fans that were going to buy tickets? ACC teams don't buy bowl tickets and don't travel to bowls, so I'm not all that worked up over it. The important thing is that EVERY bowl wants a shot at Notre Dame, so the ACC Bowl lineup should improve. Do you think the ACC would have lost the Gator Bowl if the Gator was booking ND once every three or four years? The lure of ND should earn the ACC some better bowl tie ins, even if they have to give the slot up occasionally. The ACC would be much better off with the Gator bowl two out of three years than none out of none years.
Scheduling...there's no question, a nine game schedule + ND + SEC opponent is quite a hurdle. When your ACC schedule can include Duke, Wake, BC, Syracuse, Pitt, MD, etc I'm not particularly worked up over the degree of difficulty, but more about the management of number of home games. I don't know how that is going to work out, but it may work itself out before FSU even hits the rotation.
ACC's place in the landscape. This is pretty interesting. People are saying this locks the ACC as part of the Big Five conferences. I think that's a joke...I think right now there are a Big Three Conferences, and then there are the Big 12 and ACC. By the time Champions Bowl money and third tier rights come in, the Big 12 might be making a few million more than the ACC, but both are looking way up at the other three conferences. I do think this move cuffs the Big 12 though, so any talk of a Big Four with the ACC on the outside looking in is over. For all intents and purposes the Big 12 and the ACC are on the same level, with the advantage to whoever is having the better year on the field.
But at this point, it now becomes a long game...ten years at least. While the ACC TV contract runs to the 2026 season, the negotiations will be ramping up a few years early. Clearly, the first priority will be to bring ND into the fold as a full member. I personally think this will happen, but there's no way to know. I simply don't think ND/ACC is anything like ND/Big East. I think ties between the B1G and ND will be disentangled over coming years, by pretty much mutual agreement. With the ACC allowing ND to play all up and down the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, ND will be able to play most of a national schedule before they schedule an OOC game. I think independence is quickly taking on nothing more than a concept, with few practical realities.
It's pretty simple, if ND comes all in during the next ten years, the ACC is in a tremendous position. If they don't, they will likely never be in the same tier as the B1G, PAC and SEC.
But what about between now and then? Does the ACC have a plan to reverse it's fortunes between now and then?
There are some slightly positive indications. First, I think the ACC finally realizes it has a problem. I don't think even 18 months ago they would have acknowledged that. I don't think given the opportunity to do it again, you see the ACC leave money on the table to make a old-timey Raycom deal and get away with it like they did. They would never have made the partial with ND before.
On the same token, I think FSU finally sees the landscape clearly. Again, some of us saw these financial disparity issues coming years ago, and I'm not sure many people associated with FSU did. It's time for FSU's leadership to get seriously engaged here and influence the future of the ACC. They will never have any greater pull than they do right now...hell, the whole conference just locked themselves in $50M shackles for fear of FSU leaving. We need an athletic director with a big swinging mmm..stick, that isn't afraid to use it. Spetman is not a wartime consigliere, and Barron needs one. I think he knows that now too.
Are there some slight hints that the football schools might be getting their due? No need to get excited yet, but possibly.
Swofford recently opened the door to an 8-game conference schedule again, if the athletic directors wanted to put it back on the table. This is HUGE for FSU and Clemson. If the ACC makes this happen, it will both be an acknowledgement toward protecting the football members, and a lure to ND, who would never play more than eight conference games.
But here's another interesting question...why the penalty of "Three times the ACC office operating budget?" The ACC operating budget is one equal cut of the TV revenue. So 1/13th for now, and 1/15th in the future. So wouldn't it make a lot more sense to just say that a team forfeits a fee equal to three times it's TV payout? It would seem to make a lot more sense, and put the fee in a term more fans would understand, because fans have gotten pretty saavy about knowing their TV shares. So why not just say three times the TV shares?
It could be simply to make the exit penalty fit for Notre Dame, who won't be getting that size cut, since they only get a share of basketball money. But could it be in the future, not everyone's share will be the same? I've always been of the opinion that it's much to the ACC's best interest to know that FSU, Clemson, Vt, etc can go out and compete with the SEC, even if schools like Wake, Duke, BC, etc take a couple million less. Such a thought was unthinkable until recently, but ND has broken the "all in, share equally" seal. Clearly, the ACC is going to be open to things it has never allowed on the table before.
It could distribute TV funds by a formula based on TV appearances or performance, but that's not the only option. The ACC now has more football+basketball games as part of it's contract than any other conference, and like no other conference, they aren't being split between networks. ESPN has all of it. Could the ACC go into renegotiations with ESPN with the goal of coming up with a mechanism for schools to "buy back" third tier content? ESPN is selling off some of it's ACC property anyway...it can't show it all. Can the ACC option some of that back to the schools, for the few schools with the ability to monetize it?
Finally, the ACC simply has to improve the product on the field, both in perception and reality. The pieces are in place. They have the recruiting, the local talent, and the NFL output second to none but the SEC. Their is simply no excuse to be seen as the perennial distant fifth on the field. This can and must change.
The ACC must have a summitt meeting with ADs and football coaches and determine how to make this happen. They should use incentives, such as a version of kill what you eat bowl payments, as well as penalties for schools failing to deploy an acceptable amount of resources on football.
Each school should lay out goals, other than wins and losses, and be held accountable. Things like attendence, booster membership, facilities improvements, etc, and schools that fail to meet them should face consequences.
They need to put the biggest brains in the conference on the scheduling problem, to work out scheduling that absolutely maxes out the ACC's potential for high-profile matchups and gaudy records. It is not what scheduling method ends up with the most bowl teams...we are looking for the formula that is most likely to result in the highest year-end rankings. The mid-majors figured out how to game the basketball RPI years ago, it's time for the ACC to do the same for football scheduling.
Oh, and I'd also make it a goal for the ACC to be known as having the finest, most accountable officiating in football. Whatever it takes,spare not expense or feelings. I want it to be part of the conference reputation. I want coaches to think twice about leaving/turning down ACC jobs for having to leave ACC officials behind.
If the ACC accomplishes two things:
1. full addition of ND football
2. competetive parity with at least the B1G, PAC and Big 12
the ACC is going to be in an incredibly valuable position in the 2020s. It will be the only conference with a substantial if not dominant presence in three regions (Midwest with ND, Southeast and Northeast). It will have an unrivaled population footprint. With 16 teams It will have more inventory than any other conference (and not other conference will have particularly good choices to get to 16). But ACC football has GOT to stop being a punchline.
If it accomplishes neither of those things the ACC, and FSU in it, will eventually be locked into second tier status in perpetuity. The stakes are incredibly high.