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Why does FSU want to leave the ACC? Explaining Florida State’s beef with the conference

Explaining something to somebody on the internet who doesn’t get why that thing is happening. Surely this goes well.

Charles Mays/Tomahawk Nation

Florida State has made no bones about it — they want to be out of the ACC and they want to do it as soon as possible.

While most FSU fans understand why the Seminoles want to leave a conference they’ve been apart of since 1991, there are fans and media of other teams that don’t understand.

This story is for them.

Over the holidays, you’re sure to get plenty of questions as to why FSU is “throwing a hissy fit” — here’s a breakdown of why Florida State has a legitimate beef with the conference its called home for decades.

Not all programs are the same

Part of the problem is aspirations and action. Florida State wants to be in the conversation for a national title. Some of its ACC brethren also have those same aspirations but fail to show the same amount of action. A lot of this is led by money and revolves around talent acquisition. FSU is routinely at the higher end of ACC recruiting, usually in the top three, even when it’s not performing well on the field. That takes money in the form of coach’s salaries, the amount of assistants that help with recruiting, facilities and other various smaller expenditures.

Over the past 10 years FSU, Miami, and Clemson have been mainstays in 247’s top 20 recruiting classes. UNC has had a handful of top 20 classes but no top 10 classes. This speaks to a desire to compete at the highest level along with a certain ability to do so. That means spending a certain amount of money (not direct payments as that’s coming from outside the school) and a desire to structure an athletic department to impress recruits.

This isn’t solely centered around recruiting as more money allows schools to hire more off the field assistants and improve facilities with things like VR to help players take reps when it’s raining or better strength and conditioning and recovery facilities. It’s quite easy to figure who’s going to be near the top of the rankings every year: the schools that spend the most money on the sport.

The ACC schools, fans, and commissioners office have shown that they are not interested in operating at that level. Schools like Duke and Wake Forest struggle to fill up their smaller stadiums and either aren’t interesting or aren’t able to pay coaches to stick around. This is seen more in the assistant coaching ranks than the head coaching ranks. The ACC has six coaches (two at FSU, two at UNC and one for NCSU and CU each) that make over $1 million/per year according to the USA Today. The Big10 has 18 and the SEC has 26 and that doesn’t include the newer entrants from the BigXII and Pac12 to those conferences. To be fair the ACC does contain more private schools than other conferences but how many assistants are breaking that threshold in the group of Miami, Boston College, Syracuse, Wake Forest, and Duke? The amount of money you are spending is a reflection of how invested your program wants to be.

This isn’t about on-the-field results

A major point I see made by fans and media is that FSU hasn’t been competitive in the ACC in years and should focus on their own house before trashing the ACC. They’re 100% right, FSU had not been very good from 2017 to 2021 but they still bring in a disproportionate amount of money to the ACC.

This is not about on-field performance. The money certainly helps with winning and that is the ultimate goal, but having more money makes it much easier to move on from bad coaching hires as Texas A&M and Indiana just showed. If Mike Norvell turned out to be a dud, FSU would be sitting with him for a few years because they had so much money tied up in Willie Taggart.

The bar for success is lower in the P2

Another point is that FSU would struggle to win in the SEC and Big 10. Again, valid point. There are more teams of note in both of those conferences, especially with recent additions.

However, FSU does not have to do as well in these conferences. Using this last playoff as a barometer, the College Football Playoff Committee determined that, as currently constructed, the champion of the ACC is worth less than the champion of any of the other leagues (it should be noted that the Pac12 and Big12 conference champions are joining the Big 10 and SEC). Even further, only the conference champions from outside the P2 along with a G5 entrant would make a 12-team playoff. So to make the playoffs, you need to win the ACC or at least make the title game or be a fourth or fifth-place team in a P2 conference.

FSU and its fans are banking on regional location along with a history of winning to combine with a cash infusion to help keep them competitive in a P2 conference and why wouldn’t they think that? Historically that’s been a good indicator of potential success, and there’s little about the college football landscape that is changing to think that will be different anytime soon.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease

Some people, mostly ACC athletic directors, have talked about how FSU should not be talking in the media as much as they are as it’s bad for the ACC’s brand. It probably is, but the ACC has not given FSU any reason to care. Why is it FSU’s job to prop up the ACC as it’s done for the better part of their time in the conference? FSU wants to be paid appropriately so it can compete against regional rivals and win games, which helps the ACC anyways.

Part of this boils down to the ACC possibly losing its biggest brand in Florida State and will likely lose more with Clemson probably leaving with the Seminoles. Where does the conference go from there? They’ll now have enough teams to keep their current deal going, but as we just learned ESPN can refuse to re-up their deal with the ACC in 2027. Without FSU (and whomever else leaves the conference) what reason would ESPN have to keep its deal with the ACC? Maybe the conference could make a deal, but it’s almost assuredly going to result in a smaller payout per school.

From Florida State’s side, there’s a desire to signal that FSU is on the market. Conference commissioners and the ADs and presidents of the schools they support do not want to be the ones looked at as the ones that broke up, or maimed, other conferences. It’s not a good look. However, if FSU just happened to come on the market, nobody would think the Big 10 or SEC did the ACC dirty like those conferences have done with the Pac-12 and Big 12.

Abiding by the contract

There have been a lot of people that argue that FSU signed the Grant of Rights and should abide by that. FSU is currently abiding by the contract they signed, but the leadership at FSU is different than the one that signed the GOR. This leadership sees the ACC GOR contract as a bad contract, and the snub from the CFP Committee makes this all the more apparent. If there is a way out of the contract, FSU owes its fans, students, and other stakeholders an answer on how strong this contract is and what the future looks like for FSU both in and out of the ACC.

We’ve also just learned that related contracts (specifically the one with ESPN) are very disadvantageous for ACC member institutions. There’s even evidence that they were coerced into agreeing to those contracts. It would be like if you signed a contract to buy a house, but the contract you signed for the loan to get the money included a clause that the bank could unilaterally take your house after 15 years of you living in it.

The hard truth

It’s clear that FSU sees itself as superior to many of its conference mates, and that’s not going to be a good feeling for the majority of the ACC. However, when you look at the history of the conference and the changing landscape of college football, it’s not difficult to see why FSU wants out of the ACC.