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ACC considering changes to revenue sharing formula

Jun 09, 2023

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney holds up the trophy after the team's win over North Carolina in the 2022 ACC championship game. The Tigers are the conference's top performing program and brand.

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — Emerging from a meeting than ran an hour longer than scheduled Monday night, N.C. State athletic director Boo Corrigan visibly sighed as he and his ACC colleagues rushed past reporters who were searching for insight.

Were their dinners here at the Ritz-Carlton getting cold? Was the bar, where a smoked old fashioned is the specialty, closing early?

We will never know.

We do know tension reigns as the league convenes for its annual spring fling in north Florida. We also know why.


Official unveilings or even broad consensus are unlikely this week, but the central questions are readily apparent.

Where can the conference, in partnership with ESPN, unearth more revenue? Should the league further incentivize winning and investment by modifying how its schools share revenue? And if so, how?

While revenue growth never strays from the forefront, the manner of dividing ACC proceeds, essentially in equal shares, has gone largely unchanged and uncontested for decades. But the SEC's addition of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Big Ten's of Southern California and UCLA — both big-brand transactions occur next summer — have compounded the ACC's financial challenges.

Not to suggest the ACC is hemorrhaging money — conference revenue has more than doubled in the last decade. But thanks to impending television rights windfalls and their long-standing demographic advantages, the SEC and Big Ten are turning the financial gap into a chasm.

Even as the ACC approaches average distributions of $40 million annually to its 14 full members, the SEC and Big Ten expect to exceed $70 million. Money does not buy everything — the Big Ten has a combined four football and men's basketball national titles in the last 25 years, while the ACC has 12 — but a $30 million yearly advantage is considerable.

So for much of the past year, ACC officials have explored how they might reward the league's top performers, thereby enhancing their ability to compete nationally. The concept is not unreasonable — every business has leading producers, and they are usually compensated accordingly — but good luck finding a sweet spot that does not impoverish the rank and file and cripple them on the field.

Money usually makes for spirited, if not contentious, discussions, and the ACC's have been no different.

Through television and the postseason, football generates about 75% of Power Five conferences’ revenue, which, for the ACC in 2020-21 — the most recent period with an available tax return — amounted to approximately $427.3 million of the league's record $578.3 million total revenue.

Not coincidentally, the league's most accomplished football programs and biggest television draws — Clemson, Florida State and Miami — believe they merit a larger portion of ACC revenue. With arguably the league's most successful all-around portfolios, North Carolina and Virginia ask, "Hey, what about us?"

Yet even if conference members agree on competitive and/or brand bonuses, how much of that $30 million annual gap will they cover? Maybe $5 to 10 million? And is that worth the subsequent resentment of those not rewarded?

The ACC's revenue-sharing approach is evident in its annual federal tax filings.

Since the advent of the current membership in 2014-15, the league has distributed at least $196 million to each of its 14 full-time schools. Reflective of College Football Playoff expense allowances, Clemson leads at $225.8 million, with the remainder bunched from Florida State's $205.4 million to Syracuse's $196.3 million.

Such an egalitarian approach is common in the Power Five. Per the SEC's 2020-21 tax filing, Alabama's share of conference revenue, $55.1 million, was $3,000 less than Arkansas’ and only $250,000 more than Vanderbilt's.

Amid all this Monday came annual realignment speculation, this time from Sports Illustrated and The Athletic, wondering if the ACC is vulnerable to poaching.

That would require breaking a grant of media rights that each of the conference's 15 members signed in 2016 in exchange for creation of the ACC Network and a 20-year contract with ESPN. Absent an unprecedented court challenge, the grant of rights makes bailing for another conference untenable financially in the near-term.

Many other topics confront the administrators and coaches here until Wednesday, including the push for Congress to enact name, image and likeness guidelines; recent gambling revelations in college baseball; and the prospect of athletes gaining employee status.

All pale in comparison to the overarching and incessant questions about the ACC's future.

There already is a debate among NFL draftniks about who will be the No. 1 overall pick in 2024: Williams or Maye? Could be a great Heisman race between the two as well next season. Maye and the Tar Heels stumbled to the finish of this season, but he still ended the regular season second in the country in total offense at 367 yards per game.

The Buckeyes likely will be breaking in a new quarterback next season, but Harrison should help make the transition relatively smooth. In his first season as a starter, the sophomore has caught 72 passes for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns. He probably would be a first-round draft pick in the next draft if he was eligible.

Michigan seems to be the one school capable of producing a Heisman contender at running back these days. Edwards showed late in the season he could be both a workhorse and a home-run hitter, stepping in for the injured Blake Corum with 401 yards on 47 carries against Ohio State and in the Big Ten title game.

Teammate quarterback J.J. McCarthy also could emerge has a Heisman contender, but Michigan loves its smash-mouth style.

The Pacific Northwest rivals are both coming off great seasons after transferring into the Pac-12. Penix, who leads the nation in passing yards per game (363), already has announced he'll be back, and Nix seems to be leaning in that direction. Nix threw 27 touchdown passes and ran for 14 scores.

The highly touted former five-star recruit had a mediocre first season as the Longhorns' starter, throwing 14 touchdowns passes and six interceptions in nine games while completing 56.6% of his passes. Arch Manning, the nephew of Peyton and Eli Manning, arrives in Austin soon to push Ewers, who still has three seasons of eligibility left. The idea that Ewers could take a huge step forward in Year 2 can't be dismissed. Same goes for Clemson's Cade Klubnik and Texas A&M's Conner Weigman.

David Teel

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@ByDavidTeel on Twitter

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