College Football Conference Realignment: New additions to the ACC & the Pac-12 facing extinction
By: Joe Wisniewski
September 20, 2023
Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports
The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) officially announced that the University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University; and Southern Methodist University (SMU) will join the conference, effective 2024. The ACC’s Board Of Directors voted 12-3 in favor of expanding the conference from 15 members to 18. This move will officially join the ACC with the Big Ten as the second conference to have its members reach from coast to coast. All sports will compete in the ACC beginning in the 2024-2025 school year.
SMU, a current member of the American Athletic Conference (AAC), had applied for and was denied membership to the Big 12 in June of 2022 during the first wave of college football conference realignment. Due to their $100 million commitment to update their home football stadium, power-five conference affiliation was a priority for the program. Their answer came in the form of the ACC, but not on very favorable terms. SMU and the ACC mutually agreed on a contract that will not allow SMU to earn any shares from the ACC’s media deal with ESPN for the first nine years of its membership, while the rest of the conference members will earn extra. The ACC made this deal with the hopes of increasing their revenue potential due to the increase in value of the current media deal with ESPN. This will allow the ACC to create a new financial set-up that will “reward schools for reaching certain benchmarks” on the field. With the new system, the ACC gives a stronger argument to keep schools such as Clemson, UNC Chapel Hill and Florida State from departing the conference.
Stanford and Cal have agreed on a contract with the conference that will allow them only 30% shares of the ACC’s multimedia deal with ESPN. Their shares can increase up to 70% by year eight of their conference membership. The goal is for Stanford and Cal to receive 100% of shares by years ten through twelve in the conference. This move was made with more than football in mind, as Stanford and Cal now have a more competitive conference in the ACC for their Olympic Sports, an area where they excel. The biggest question for Cal is how they will handle increased travel expenses as they are currently facing hundreds of millions in debt. A large portion of Cal’s debt comes from a poorly-financed stadium deal that costs $18 million per year in interest-only payments. Cal will have to make the appropriate adjustments to survive before money from ACC revenue sharing kicks in, an amount much more than the Pac-12 shares. A common consequence of debt in college sports right now is cutting smaller men’s and women’s sport programs from the athletic department.
With Stanford and Cal departing the Pac-12 conference, it leaves Washington State and Oregon State as the two teams left in the 108-year-old conference. Last week, Washington State and Oregon State officially filed a restraining order against the Pac-12 and its commissioner, George Kliavkoff. This action is related to the conference's revenue-sharing policies and alleges that they have been unfairly treated in terms of revenue distribution. Both universities are seeking a change in the revenue-sharing formula and more equitable treatment within the conference.
The lawsuit also demands that the Pac-12 Board Of Directors does not include anyone representing the universities leaving the conference, and that the only voting rights are currently given to Oregon State and Washington State. President of Washington State University and Chair of the Pac-12 Board of Directors, Kirk Schultz, released a statement saying, “WSU and OSU are working in lockstep to identify the best path forward. The future of the Pac-12 must be determined by the remaining members, not by those who are leaving.”
Ultimately, the college sports that we once knew are gone and have entered a new era. Only time will tell what conference Oregon State and Washington State will join as their new home. Oregon State and Washington have the opportunity to be the first Power Five affiliated schools to leave their conference and join a smaller market. While it may seem disappointing for their athletes and fans, the schools will be able to make a beneficial switch. Early rumblings suggest that the two schools will stay on the West Coast and join the Mountain West Conference. These schools would not receive the amount of revenue as a power 5 program in the MWC, but they would save themselves many expenses. The shorter distance between opponents will likely save sports programs from being cut and universities will more likely keep their student athletes satisfied.