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The Atlantic Coast Conference is expanding on its eastern roots.
Sources told ESPN that the ACC chairmen and advisors met Friday morning and voted to add three schools — Stanford, Cal and SMU. The league will reach 18 members – 17 of whom will play full-time football in the league. Additions in all sports and will begin in the 2024-25 school year.
The moves have been the subject of much drama in the past month, as Commissioner Jim Phillips has worked hard to satisfy a group of members eager to add schools and others seeking more revenue. The drawn-out process eventually came to an end as the ACC grew amid a backdrop that highlighted some of the underlying tensions within the league.
The move was revealed in an unusual process, as league matters are usually voted on by unanimity and a formality when chiefs meet to make a decision. The ACC needed 12 of the 15 votes cast. Heading into the meeting on Friday morning, it wasn’t certain whether or not the league had votes, which is a huge contrast from how convention expansion usually works.
In a poll more than three weeks ago, four ACC schools split – Clemson, Florida State, North Carolina State and NC State. Someone needed to turn it over for the vote to pass and all eyes on the meeting were on NC State Councilor Randy Woodson.
It was a 12-3 vote on Friday with NC State tipping over, multiple sources confirmed to ESPN’s Andrea Adelson.
The focus on Woodson intensified Thursday night when members of the University of North Carolina board of trustees issued a statement expressing their objection to the additions. The move was seen throughout the ACC as a political statement to ensure that UNC advisor Kevin Guskiewicz did not flip his vote.
UNC and NC State did not need to be tied together, but some of the uncertainty about Woodson’s vote came from the political fallout from not allying with North Carolina.
The ACC joins the ranks of the rapidly changing collegiate landscape. Starting next year, the Big Ten will have 18 teams, while the Big 12 and the SEC will have 16 teams. The move leaves the Pac-12 with only two remaining programs, Washington State and Oregon State, an ongoing downward spiral that has included the league losing eight teams. Since late July.
Cal, Stanford and SMU will each receive a significant discount, which will help create a revenue pool to be shared among ACC members. SMU is expected to come nine years without any revenue from broadcast media, sources told ESPN, and Cal and Stanford are each expected to receive 30% of the ACC payments.
These retained funds are expected to generate annual revenues of between $50 million and $60 million. Some of the revenue will be divided proportionately between the 14 full-time members and Notre Dame, while another portion will be placed in a pool dedicated to success initiatives that reward winning programs.
The move provides a rescue for the Stanford and Cal athletic departments, which were left crippled amid the Pac-12 collapse. Stanford University has an athletic department that is considered the gold standard in college athletics. Both will face increased travel costs, which will greatly affect the Cal athletic department, which is facing hundreds of millions in debt.
For SMU, the decision to forego television revenues has earned it a seat in a major conference and the school will depend on its wealthy backers to help it stay afloat until the revenues come in. It marked a significant moment for the school’s return from the death penalty for serious infractions that led to the school not playing football in 1987 and 1988. SMU did not return to the bowl until 2009 after the penalties.
Even as the vote continued, the nearly month-long saga of deciding on the addition highlighted divisions in the ACC. Florida State and Clemson have both spoken publicly about how they will bridge the revenue gap between the ACC, the Big Ten, and the SEC.
While those schools were not supportive of the additions prior to the final meeting, the decision gives them access to millions more in annual revenue if they are successful on the field. With the ACC TV contract still to run through 2036, the past few weeks have highlighted the uncertainty that will continue into the years to come.
Florida State officials have been particularly vocal about leaving the league, with President Richard McCullough saying the Seminoles would “very seriously” consider leaving if the revenue distribution model did not change dramatically. This move by the ACC does not seem to change that implication.
For other schools in the ACC, the three new schools represent an addition to high quality and safety academic institutions in terms of numbers. Cal and Stanford were the last major conference schools to offer significant residual value on the board.
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