Grant of rights deal ACC’s bid to secure future

The legend of ACC commissioner John Swofford as a ninja continues to grow.

Swofford
has stealthily pulled off two of the biggest expansion coups in the
last few years, adding Pittsburgh and Syracuse in 2011, then Notre Dame
and Louisville late last year. And he did all of that in ninja-like
fashion: quickly and quietly, and before anyone noticed.

If
those moves weren’t enough to solidify the ACC’s future in a turbulent
conference landscape, the ACC’s latest announcement just might be. As “The David Glenn Show” first reported, the ACC has signed a grant of media rights agreement through 2026-27.

“This
announcement further highlights the continued solidarity and commitment
by our member institutions,” Swofford said in a release. “The Council
of Presidents has shown tremendous leadership in insuring the ACC is
extremely well positioned with unlimited potential.”

The Council
of Presidents added a collective statement in the aforementioned
release: “The ACC has long been a leader in intercollegiate athletics,
both academically and athletically. Collectively, we all agree the grant
of rights further positions the ACC and its current and future member
schools as one of the nation’s premier conferences.”

Translation:
if a school leaves the ACC before 2026-27 (which is when the league’s
ESPN contract runs out), the ACC would retain that school’s media
rights, which include media revenue. The ESPN deal alone is worth about
$17 million per school per year.

The vote among the 15 member
schools – both current and future — was unanimous (which it has to be
to ratify a grant of rights agreement). Three other major conferences —
the Big Ten, Pac-12 and the Big 12 — already have a grant of rights
agreement. (The SEC has neither a grant of rights agreement nor an exit
fee. Of course, can anyone think of a good reason an SEC school would
leave? I’ll wait.)

Now, what does this mean from a legal standpoint? Who knows?

Maryland
is still fighting its $52 million exit fee in court. In September 2012,
the ACC approved an exit fee increase from $20 million to three times
the annual operating budget (just after adding Notre Dame). Maryland and
Florida State were the only two schools to vote against that increase.

Maryland announced it would leave the ACC for the Big Ten just a few months later, and since then? Well, let’s just say lawsuits have been exchanged. The ACC wants to make sure Maryland pays, while Maryland wants to make sure it pays as little as possible, if anything.

The
grant of rights agreement essentially replaces the exit fee. If a
school leaves, it wouldn’t be paying an exit fee. It would, in theory,
just allow the ACC to retain all of said school’s media revenues. More
importantly, though, it would ensure that neither the school itself (nor
whatever hypothetical conference it moved to) would benefit
financially.

The consensus seems to be that this agreement stops
realignment rumors once and for all. It will certainly add some
stability to the ACC, obviously. And it will make a decision to leave
the league a lot more difficult.

But as Maryland’s willingness
to leave the league even though it knew about the $50 million exit fee
shows, if a school wants to leave badly enough, it will. The ACC will
likely continue to fight to get the entire exit fee from Maryland,
though. Even though that fee no longer exists, the ACC needs to show the
other member institutions that it will not hesitate to back down from a
legal battle in the event a school tries to leave.

The recent
additions of Notre Dame (as a partial football member, full in all other
sports) and Louisville have done plenty to solidify the strength of the
ACC, particularly as rumors were beginning to start again over which
other schools might bolt for the Big Ten.

The fact that every
member institution voted to ratify this agreement is perhaps the best
indication that the ACC in its current form is very solid. But time will
tell if the agreement itself is too.