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Perspective | Stanford and Cal escaped purgatory for the ACC, but it all feels wrong

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The news arrived in the 5 a.m. hour Pacific time, and you have to wonder whether Stanford and California officials woke up early to receive word or pulled a nervous all-nighter waiting. They’re headed to the ACC next season, along with Dallas-based SMU from the Central time zone, ensuring members of that league will always be confused about when their meetings are scheduled.

Yes, the Atlantic Coast Conference now extends to the Pacific. No, it’s not concerned with the nonsense of its name any more than the Big Ten (nah, 18) or Big 12 (er, 16). It might as well add a consonant and go with ACCC, short for Atlantic Coast to Coast Conference. But, hey, do you.

College football couldn’t even get through the 2023 season’s curtain-raising weekend without disrupting the excitement with more realignment drama. This episode rescued Stanford and Cal from purgatory, completed SMU’s onerous 35-year journey from the death penalty to a power conference and whittled the Pac-12 to the Pac-2. If that weren’t enough action, how about this for a cliffhanger: Will Florida State and Clemson, the ACC’s most essential football schools and known skeptics about these additions, stay patient or enter the transfer portal?

Florida State has made public threats and expressed concern about revenue distributions. Clemson has been quieter, but the Tigers have talked about the widening gap between the ACC and the sport’s two financial behemoths, the SEC and Big Ten.

It would be expensive and complicated for any ACC member to depart before 2036 because every school gave the conference its grant-of-rights in 2016 when the league signed a 20-year deal with ESPN. The television contract was supposed to be a stabilizer, but now it’s far below the $3 billion agreement the SEC landed in 2020 and the $7 billion pact the Big Ten negotiated last summer.

There is no Power Five anymore. We need to start talking about the tiers of the sport differently. These conferences aren’t sacred; they’ve been turned into stash houses. You’re a team of abundance, a team trying to survive, or a team deemed unworthy and irrelevant before settling matters on the field.

The ACC has won three national titles in the past decade. The Big Ten has just one. The SEC has the other six. Nevertheless, the ACC is in survival mode. SMU doesn’t make regional sense. Travel to and from Palo Alto and Berkeley, Calif., means 2,500-mile treks for conference members. At least the new Big Ten will have a West Coast cluster of Washington, Oregon, UCLA and USC that can form a small division within the monstrosity. The Bay Area schools are on their own.

But for them, it’s better than having to retreat from a major conference or go independent. Stanford and Cal were so desperate for inclusion that they took a significantly reduced media rights share to get in the door. SMU won’t take any TV money while it settles in. This was a good deal for the ACC because the additions triggered more revenue and current members won’t have to split the majority of it with their new partners. That enabled ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips to sweeten the deal for long-standing members, and with a chunk of that money tied to performance, Florida State and Clemson could greatly benefit.

For now, the ACC can feel secure — unless Florida State keeps chirping. Then the chaos would commence once more. College football politics are starting to seem like the season. After every event, you institute a 24-hour rule to balance your emotions, and then it’s on to the next confrontation.


NCAA’s Power Five conferences

will realign for 2024

10 schools leaving – 2 remain

Illinois

Indiana

Iowa

Maryland

Michigan

Mich. State

Minn.

Nebraska

Northwestern

Ohio State

Penn State

Purdue

Rutgers

Wisconsin

Baylor

BYU

Cincinnati

Houston

Iowa State

Kansas

Kansas State

Okla. State

TCU

Texas Tech

UCF

West Virginia

Alabama

Arkansas

Auburn

Florida

Georgia

Kentucky

LSU

Mississippi

Miss. State

Missouri

South Carolina

Tennessee

Texas A&M

Vanderbilt

BC

Clemson

Duke

Florida State

Ga. Tech

Louisville

Miami

North Carolina

N.C. State

Notre Dame*

Pittsburgh

Syracuse

Virginia

Virginia Tech

Wake Forest

*Note: Notre Dame remains a football independent but is otherwise part of the ACC.

NCAA’s Power Five conferences

will realign for 2024

10 schools leaving – 2 remain

4 additions, 2 leaving – 16 total

*Note: Notre Dame remains a football

independent but is otherwise part of the ACC.

NCAA’s Power Five conferences will realign for 2024

4 additions, 2 leaving – 16 total

10 schools leaving – 2 remain

*Note: Notre Dame remains a football independent but is otherwise part of the ACC.

NCAA’s Power Five conferences will realign for 2024

Four additions – 18 total

Four additions, two leaving – 16 total

Ten schools leaving – 2 remain

Three additions – 18 total*

*Note: Notre Dame remains a football independent but is otherwise part of the ACC.

Stanford and Cal staved off elimination, and if they hadn’t, it would have been an embarrassment for the entire college sports landscape. Though it’s had a tough time recently in football and men’s basketball, the Cardinal boast the premier all-around athletics department in the nation. The Golden Bears possess plenty of top-to-bottom value within their programs as well. Combine that with the academic prowess of both schools, and they’re critical institutions helping to maintain what’s left of college athletics’ integrity.

If the Big Ten had been interested in expanding to 20 schools, it would have been a better fit for the Bay Area rivals. But there’s enough alignment with some of the ACC schools on academics, Olympic sports and women’s athletics that Stanford and Cal can foster a connection.

This is the best they could do under duress, and they toiled for weeks just to gain second-class ACC citizenship. They came late to the bank run, accepting pennies on the dollar in a sad and frantic attempt to avoid total bankruptcy. It will never feel right, but at least they’re still here, for now. And the ACC has some protection in case a few teams depart.

The conference is up 18 schools, 17 of which are football members. (Notre Dame, a football independent, is the exception.) It would still be catastrophic if Florida State or any core members left, but the ACC is big enough and locked into a good enough media contract that it could avoid triggering the immediate panic that led to the Pac-12’s demise.

When UCLA and USC announced their departure last year, the Pac-12 needed to move quickly to boost its numbers. Instead, it stayed with 10 commitments and kept trudging through negotiations for a new media rights deal. When Colorado decided to bounce in late July, it went from nine teams to four within a week. Now, after the Bay Area’s month-long ordeal with the ACC, Oregon State and Washington State are all that’s left of a storied league.

They won’t survive, unfortunately, not with status in a power conference. It has nothing to do with their ability to compete. College football has turned into a pageant, except there’s no fair contest for this prize money.



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