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Contract Disputes on the Atlantic Coast

Posted 02/21/2024 by Max Feierstein

The Florida State University football uniform for the potential last ACC conference football championship against Louisville. photo by Charles LeClaire

The Florida State University Board of Trustees is suing the Atlantic Coast Conference for forcing member schools into a deteriorating media rights deal. 

After beating the Louisville Cardinals 16-6 in the final game of their season, the Florida State University (FSU) football team was excluded from the College Football Playoffs (CFP), despite their amazing season resulting in a 13-0 record. After the team was snubbed from the CFP, the FSU Board of Trustees immediately began the process of leaving their sports conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). The first step the board took was suing the ACC, challenging the legality of the league’s contract as well as the $130 million withdrawal fee issued to Florida State. This first step is vital in growing the school and its future after potentially leaving the ACC.

On December 22, the FSU board voted to sue the ACC for the grant of rights (gives the conference all media rights to a school’s sports), and the dismissal of the withdrawal fee. The school does not own any method of broadcasting their sports games because all ownership is transferred to the conference when a team joins the ACC and signs the contract. These rights were changed when the ACC signed a 20 year media rights contract with ESPN. This contract gave ESPN control of broadcasting all sports games of ACC member schools. This makes it difficult for FSU to leave the ACC because they would lose money in the form of media deals. The school projects that leaving the ACC would cost them $572 million. Andrea Adelson and David Hale of ESPN break it down, “In the lawsuit, Florida State estimates it would cost $572 million to leave the ACC without a legal victory or settlement. It would forfeit $429 million in media rights through 2036, when the ACC contract with ESPN expires; $13 million in unreimbursed broadcast fees; and an exit fee of $130 million (three times the league’s total operating budget).”

Because of the media deal with ESPN, the school can’t leave the ACC without losing over half a million dollars. In their lawsuit, FSU hopes to remove these charges by challenging the legality of the contracts. The ACC put the grant of rights into place in 2013 after The University of Maryland left the conference for the Big 10 conference. The reasoning behind this decision was the idea that the grant of rights would act as insurance for the member schools, making it difficult to leave until the contract expires. With the FSU football team being undermined and underrated after having an undefeated season this year, waiting 12 years for their contract to expire just isn’t an option anymore. 

There is no telling what’s next, but the ACC needs FSU to stay in order to guarantee the conference’s safety. Without FSU the ACC could collapse. If FSU leaves, other schools with bigger and better sports programs will most likely follow suit and potentially leave the ACC in shambles. FSU will potentially find a new home in either the SEC (Southeastern Conference) or Big 10 which would instantly put them in the running as one of the better college football teams in the country. The lawsuit has created significant unknowns for what is yet to come for the school and the conference.