ACC Must Make Changes to Remain Competitive

Author’s Note: This opinion is mine alone. It does not represent the position nor the opinion of this site. I’d also like to hear your thoughts, both pro and con of my opinion and for you to offer yours.

Now that the Football season is over, it’s time to look for other mountains to climb. It’s said that idle minds are the devil’s hands, in an attempt to keep my mind moving, I’ll attempt to scale this big mountain.

It doesn’t take a Doctorate in Economics to see the ACC is in a troublesome quandary. The conference leadership must make changes to put itself in a position to remain competitive. Understanding, with the financial disparity between the ACC and other conferences growing ever larger, something must be done, sooner rather than later. Failure to change could result in devastating consequences for the member institutions.

I know, according to those that are much wiser, better able to process, the conferences (as they exist today) will disappear to create a large super conference. That super conference will then break away from the NCAA to create a stand alone, self governing entity. That sounds interesting but we’re years away from that situation becoming reality. What happens in the interim, as the rich get richer and the ACC, Clemson specifically, gets poorer? I don’t know the right answer but to do nothing is the only wrong answer.

New ACC Commissioner, Jim Phillips, inherited a shockingly bad financial agreement with ESPN made by former Commissioner John Swofford. The formation of the ACCN appears to have been hastily thrown together as the financial details are skewed heavily in ESPN’s favor. It ties the conference to meager revenues and a long term contract.

Swofford’s negotiations must have been led by the belief, “anything is better than nothing.” That isn’t quite the case. It legally binds the members of the conference to a disadvantageous agreement. Accepting less revenue for a much a longer period of time, 2034-35 to be exact. Worse, there’s absolutely nothing that can be done, not withstanding one exception, thoughtful conference expansion.

If the ACC could convince Notre Dame that it would be in their best interest to join the conference as a full member, then things might begin to change. That might prove difficult as Notre Dame has been resistant to surrendering their independent status.

For the sake of conversation, if Notre Dame and another relevant program (not West Virginia or Coastal Carolina, I’m thinking big, Penn State) would become members, then there would be sufficient reason to possibly renegotiate the contract. A higher quality product is more valuable, therefore worthy of higher revenues to the network, the conference and its member institutions.

Specifically for Clemson, there is a sense of urgency. The school competes yearly at a very high level in football. Unfortunately, the ACC is seen as predominantly a basketball conference. Most member institutions devote much larger financial priorities towards their basketball programs. While football is the real money sport, Clemson is a predominantly football centered member and will rarely compete for a conference championship in basketball. It’s currently not probable. So, Clemson and the ACC are in an incongruent relationship. What can Clemson do in the short term?

Simply, Clemson must look elsewhere. Clemson is a nationally recognized brand, a money maker. It’s value to any conference cannot be overstated. Clemson would be a jewel in any conference’s crown. So why not explore other options? One word, Money.

The cost of the exit fees from the ACC and loss of conference revenue could be prohibitively unrealistic. A small but passionate, generous fanbase/alumni can only do so much. Honestly, there are few deep pockets that could make this happen. ESPN, if shown the financial merit of such a move could possibly mitigate matters. They are the puppet masters and the conferences, their puppets. Who knows?

I won’t insult any reasonable person’s intelligence by saying “Clemson will be fine, we got this. IPTAY will make up any difference.” Facts are facts and in no universe does forty million dollars compete with sixty or seventy million dollars. Maybe even upwards of ninety million after the next round of television deals.

The reality is there will always be some degree of disparity in revenues but to at least get close enough to make a difference is reasonable. Sadly, there is no way of talking a way out of this situation. No amount of rationalizations to the contrary makes any sense.

I certainly don’t have any inside knowledge or contacts within the conference brains trust and I don’t know if there is even interest in having such a conversation. However, being an ostrich and pretending not to know the gravity of the situation isn’t in the conference’s nor the the member institutions best interest. In business (make no mistake, this is a business) you must always be proactive not reactive.

As an interested but silent party, I can only hope for two things from the ACC. First, acknowledgment that this is a real issue that’s not going away. The member institutions in general, Clemson specifically, cannot wait until 2034-35 for a resolution. Secondly, a genuine willingness to explore all feasible options, if they exist and be able to think outside the box for solutions. Such matters are way above my intelligence and pay grade. I can offer little more than words.

The clock is ticking, the ACC revenues are slowly losing their competitive marketplace value and to watch and wait isn’t the answer. Jim Phillips, ACC and University Presidents, the ball is in your court.

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