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Stanford, Cal, SMU Join ACC to Form Latest Super Conference

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The Atlantic Coast Conference expands by adding Stanford, California and SMU, creating a fourth super conference in major college sports. (AP File/Godofredo A. Vásquez)
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The Atlantic Coast Conference voted Friday to add Stanford, California and SMU next year, providing a landing spot for two more schools from the disintegrating Pac-12 and creating a fourth super conference in major college sports.

The move provides the ACC a windfall of revenue for its current members.

“It really is a transformational day for the ACC,” Commissioner Jim Phillips said.

Starting in August 2024, the league with Tobacco Road roots in North Carolina will increase its number of football schools to 17 and 18 in most other sports, with Notre Dame remaining a football independent.

The ACC needed 12 of its 15 members to approve expansion, and the vote was not unanimous.

“I can tell you when we left that call today, everybody was in a really good place and felt really good about the process,” Phillips said.

North Carolina and Florida State both voted no. The Seminoles said the move did not fully address its concerns about the ACC’s revenue distribution model.

“All three schools are outstanding academic and athletic institutions, and our vote against expansion does not reflect on their quality,” Florida State athletic director Michael Alford said. “We look forward to earning new revenue through the ACC’s success incentives initiative, based on our continued excellence. We’re grateful to the league for continuing to listen to our concerns.”

Like the Big Ten and Big 12, the ACC now will have members in at least three time zones.

It will span from Boston in the Northeast to Miami in South Florida, out to Dallas in the heart of the Southwest, and up to Northern California, where Stanford and Cal reside. Notre Dame is currently the westernmost ACC school in South Bend, Indiana, with Louisville the farthest west among football members.

Oregon State, Washington State to the Mountain West?

The Pac-12 is down to Oregon State and Washington State.

Officials at both schools have said their desired path forward is to rebuild the Pac-12, but without Stanford and Cal that becomes more complicated.

Joining the Mountain West — with schools such as San Diego State, Fresno State, and Boise State — becomes more likely.

The ACC Becomes Fourth Super League

The ACC becomes the fourth league, along with the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten and Big 12, to have at least 16 football-playing members, starting in 2024.

The formation of the sprawling leagues has raised concerns about everything from the impact on athletes’ travel to the changing recruiting landscape and the lost rivalries treasured by fans now facing different destinations if they want to cheer on their teams.

Stanford said it expects 22 of its 36 sports to have either no or minimal scheduling changes as the 2024 schedules are set.

“The ACC is really interested in using Dallas as a place where teams might come together to have games to minimize the impact of travel on both eastern members and Cal and Stanford,” Cal Chancellor Carol Christ told reporters.

The End of Realignment

The move seems to signal an end to this wave of realignment among the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful conferences after three years of turbulent movement that has whittled the so-called Power Five down to four.

“We’ve gone from regional-based conferences to national, coast-to-coast conferences,” Phillips said. “Either you get busy or you get left behind.”

For the Bay Area schools, it was a marriage of desperation after the Pac-12 was picked apart by the Big Ten and Big 12.

“Conference affiliations and the broadcast revenue they generate provide key financial support for the wide array of sports that Stanford offers,” athletic director Bernard Muir said. “Joining the ACC will ensure the Power Conference competitive infrastructure and long-term media revenues that are critical for our student-athletes to compete.”

For the ACC, adding three schools will increase media rights revenue from its long-term deal with ESPN and allow the conference to spread much of that new money to existing members.

New conference members typically — though not always — forgo a full share of revenue for several years upon entry.

Cal and Stanford will receive a partial share of ACC Tier 1 media revenue — estimated at about $25 million annually — for the next nine years before getting a full payment in the final three years of the conference’s deal with ESPN, according to a person familiar with the terms. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the ACC and the schools have not disclosed the finances.

Cal and Stanford will get a 30% share in the first seven years, followed by 70% in year eight and 75% in year nine before getting the full amount, the person said.

Another person with direct knowledge of SMU’s decision said the Dallas school currently in the American Athletic Conference will forgo all ACC media rights distribution for nine years. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the school was not making its strategy public.

All three schools will immediately get full revenue shares from the ACC Network, the College Football Playoff, bowl games and NCAA men’s basketball tournament units.

The ACC has been generating record revenue hauls, yet is trailing the Big Ten and Southeastern conferences and staring at an even greater gap as those leagues have new TV deals kick in. The ACC’s deal runs through 2036.

The ACC reported nearly $617 million in total revenue for the 2021-22 season, according to tax documents. That included distributing an average of $39.4 million to full members, with Notre Dame receiving a partial share (roughly $17.4 million) as a football independent.

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