ACC commissioner Jim Phillips commenced his league’s football media days Wednesday with a 28-minute opening statement addressing the overall health of college athletics and how the ACC plans to do its part in ensuring the enterprise succeeds. It all came amid awareness of the growing revenue gap brought on by conference realignment elsewhere and public questions about the long-term health of his conference,
“I will continue to do what’s in the best interest of the ACC, but will also strongly advocate for college athletics to be a healthy neighborhood, not two or three gated communities,” Phillips said.
A year ago at this time, news of the SEC adding Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12 broke during ACC media days. Last month, the Big Ten announced the additions of UCLA and USC. Both the SEC and Big Ten have continued to separate themselves from the rest of the collegiate landscape financially, with Big Ten schools expected to earn roughly $100 million per institution once its new media rights deal — currently under negotiation — is finalized.
By comparison, ACC schools received an average distribution of $36.1 million during the 2020-21 fiscal year, according to tax documents.
Touting his conference as among the national leaders in every meaningful metric “except the revenue piece of it,” Phillips repeatedly said that all options must be evaluated in order to boost the ACC’s financial standing.
“We are not the professional ranks,” Phillips said. “This is not NFL or NBA Light. We all remain competitive with one another, but this is not and should not be a winner-take-all or a zero-sum structure. College athletics have never been elitist or singularly commercial. It has provided countless individuals with a path to higher education, and therefore life-changing possibilities. Access, opportunity and a modern rules-based structure should all remain a priority as we continue to evolve.”
ACC schools signed a grant of rights agreement in 2016 that runs concurrent with their ESPN television deal, which goes through 2035-36. The grant of rights means that if any school were to leave the conference before the expiration of that deal, its media rights revenue would remain with the ACC — a crucial bind that has held ACC schools together amid this era of conference instability elsewhere.
Asked about his confidence in the grant of rights holding up in court should an ACC school challenge it in order to exit the league, Phillips pointed to recent defectors from the Big 12 and Pac-12 having to fulfill their legal obligations before joining their new conferences.
“I would think that the significance of what that would mean, television rights that the conference owns, as well as a nine-figure financial penalty, I think it holds, but your guess is as good as mine,” Phillips said.
The commissioner reinforced his conference’s strong relationship with Notre Dame, saying that he respects the Irish’s football independence and that if they ever re-consider that stance, he feels good about the ACC being the conference that the Irish would join. (Notre Dame is an ACC member in all other sports.)
As for The Alliance, the ill-fated gentleman’s agreement that the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 announced last August before the Big Ten raided the Pac-12 for UCLA and USC this June, Phillips said: “Listen, I’m proud of the work that we did the Alliance. It was the Big Ten’s decision to do what they did. That’s not for me to judge. They did what they thought was in the best interest of the conference.”
Phillips also addressed the ACC office’s potential relocation, saying that he did not want to put a timeline on the move but that he hoped he’d have something to share within the next month or two. He again reiterated that three cities in two states are in play — Greensboro, Charlotte and Orlando, Fla., according to sources — as the league looks to make a decision on a move that it first announced it was exploring in early 2021. The ACC has been in Greensboro since its founding in 1953.
(Photo: Jim Dedmon / USA Today)