Grant of Rights ends ACC risk
Posted April 23, 2013
A decade ago the Atlantic Coast Conference drew the ire of so many in the college sports media for firing the first shot in conference realignment. It was the ACC, they said, that triggered what turned out to be the out-of-control, rapidly accelerating expansion/destruction of conference affiliation. Never mind that it had been less than ten years since the Big 8 became the Big XII, and a mere 13 since the SEC lured Arkansas away from the now-defunct Southwest Conference.
The Atlantic Coast Conference, just past it's 50th birthday, was supposed to be different. It was thought of as a gentleman's league, known for great basketball and legendary coaches, not football and cutthroat business decisions.
However, all of that was about to change after league commissioner John Swofford orchestrated a midnight raid of the Big East. Swofford and his nine outlaw university presidents looted and pillaged the quiet, sleepy basketball-centric league, wrestling the University of Miami and Virginia Tech away, against their will and forcing Boston College to follow -- no question in an attempt to rescue the Hurricanes and Hokies, Entebbe-style -- a year later.
The "new" ACC. A collection of Gordon Gekkos. A conference born of greed. Vicious, ruthless, corporate killers, who cold-heartedly sought to destroy the Big East five and dime.
That's not reality, but that's how it was received, so we'll all just have to deal with it.
I guess, that would make it very appropriate that it was the ACC yesterday that made the final move in what had become a very high-stakes game of musical chairs. When Swofford and his 15 University leaders signed off on the Grant of Rights, ceding ownership of all current and future media rights to the league through the duration of the conference's television contract with ESPN. In other words, Big Ten boss Jim Delaney was going to have to wait until 2027 before North Carolina and Virginia were going to leave the ACC in the lurch.
The music stopped yesterday and John Swofford still had a chair.
The only reason schools seek out new conference affiliation in this era of football-driven realignment is to improve the bottom line. And, since conference-related media deals are numbers one through 17 on the list of revenue-generators, pledging that to the league office amounts to a blood oath -- or, in Harry Potter parlance, an Unbreakable Vow. In most cases, schools are reluctant to make a move unless you dramatically increase your accounts receivable. So, a Grant of Rights, which are the standard operating procedure in the Big Ten (B1G), Pac-12 and Big XII, is ultimately the glue that will keep conferences together. For some reason, I can only assume arrogance, the Southeastern Conference not only doesn't have a Grant of Rights, but they also don't have exit fees. If South Carolina or Kentucky wants out, don't let the door hit you, fellas.
The only question is why the ACC didn't have this in place a year ago, after announcing the additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and eventually Notre Dame? The answer can be found through logical deduction. In order for a GOR to be in place, all member schools must agree to it, and in retrospect it is clear that neither Maryland nor Florida State was on board.
Maryland's reasoning is obvious. They were clearly already in double-secret talks with the B1G about how to dig out from a revenue-chasm that forced the school to euthanize seven sanctioned sports and a Grant of Rights was going to end those plans. Florida State was also dealing with a bit of a wanderlust, thinking that the grass was greener, or the green was more abundant elsewhere. To an extent, FSU was ignoring their own role in the league's modest-in-comparison TV deal, but regardless of why the ACC was fifth among the five remaining power football leagues, the reality is that the Seminoles were open to suggestions about how to improve their financial position.
It appears now, with an adjusted ESPN contract thanks to the inclusion of Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, that Florida State feels comfortable with their affiliation. Well, either that, or they've learned that there just isn't a better deal floating around out there so the smarter move is to help stabilize the house in which you currently live. According to Debbie Yow, the Director of Athletics at N.C. State, this also will create sound enough footing to allow the conference to continue progressing towards an ACC/ESPN network to further line the league's coffers. The SEC is about to announce their own network while the Big Ten has had one for a few years and it's proven to be one of the great cash-cows since that goose laid that golden egg.
I'll be honest, as an ardent Risk-player from my college days, conference realignment was an exciting and fascinating topic of discussion. One I'm partially sad to see go away. I was keenly interested in which conference would attack which conference next and which would ultimately attempt global college football domination. But, news of yesterday ended the game. Every league can now turn in their cards, stand down their armies and simply play ball absent the fear that Jim Delaney or SEC chief Mike Slive were about to invade their territory.
Maryland's jump from the ACC to the Big Ten will prove to be the final seismic shift in the conference landscape. Former head basketball coach Gary Williams, who famously opined that while in the ACC the school might as well have been in Alaska, was in loud support of the move. And, while now in a more upper class neighborhood, you wonder what the price is for selling a bit of your soul. A soul that North Carolina, Virginia and others opted to honor by resisting the urge to pad their accounts at the expense of others.
Risk is just a game. College sports is big business and real life. And sometimes you just have to learn to coexist with your neighbors. The ACC's Grant of Rights sealed that fate yesterday. Meanwhile, in the Big Ten, Maryland might as well be in Kamchatka.