CHARLOTTE – If you took anything from Commissioner Jim Phillips’ press conference on the opening day of the ACC’s media days, it’s that everything is on the table.
Phillips couldn’t avoid questions surrounding realignment and the potential of the ACC being financially lapped by the Big Ten and SEC, who have vaulted themselves into super conference territory with the acquisitions of USC, UCLA, and Texas and Oklahoma over the last 12 months.
“Of course, the recent announcement of two Pac-12 schools’ pending move to the Big Ten in 2024 set off a flurry of conversations both inside and outside of our league,” Phillips told the media. “While I won’t go into details of those conversations, I will tell you that while the ACC is strong, we are continually evaluating all options that could further strengthen our conference, and we are engaged in ongoing dialogue with our media partners.”
Last season, the SEC fetched $833 million in revenue. The Big Ten followed with $680 million. The ACC pulled in $578 million. Those figures for the SEC and Big Ten, many would think, are set to skyrocket with their recent additions. With the gap in earnings, there’s sure to be pressure on Philips and his staff to close the revenue void and remain in the race as one of college athletics’ power conferences.
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“(In) all metrics, we are one of the leaders in the country … except the revenue piece of it, and that’s been brought to light with the recent move of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten,” he said.
Expansion has touched four of the Power Five conferences since last summer, with the ACC locked in with its 15 teams for now thanks to a media grants-of-rights deals that runs through 2036 and, thus far, has tied teams to the league. Should that deal not be altered in some way, the league will soon be falling well short revenue-wise on a per team basis.
“A year ago we were talking about the same thing, and so truly over the last 18 months it’s been my primary focus,” Phillips said.
“We were able to get distribution done. We have some other things coming forward relative to what we’re going to do in partnership with some revenue consultants that I’m really excited about being able to release that, maybe by the end of the month.
“We’re looking at our TV contract. We’re in engagement daily — almost daily with our partners at ESPN. I openly talk about ESPN because we are 50/50 partners on our network, and so they’re motivated, we’re motivated.
“We’ve come together to have some discussions about what would be the next iteration for the ACC. It doesn’t mean we’re going to make a move. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to make a move, but all options are on the table.”
On Monday, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey told the media the league didn’t intend on expanding anymore in the near term after the Big Ten’s landmark decision, telling those in attendance “we know who we are,” but also indicating if circumstances change, the SEC will not be left behind.
And while members of the ACC are in the middle of figuring out who they are, Phillips has an idea of who he wants the league to be.
“Revenue is certainly one piece and a really big piece as we move forward, but I will say it again, we need all communities healthy,” Philips said. “When you think about where we’re at right now, we’re probably in the gated community as one of five.
“All neighborhoods need to be healthy. It’s not good for college athletics if we’re not, and, again, you heard my reference earlier. We understand where those two leagues are. No one is ignoring that. We’re all trying to find ways to close that gap.”
A way the ACC could close the revenue gap is with the addition of Notre Dame football. Phillips said he respects Notre Dame’s independence, but feels really good about the ACC being the home of its football program should it decide to join a conference. As for other teams that could potentially join the conference, Phillips wouldn’t tip his hand.
While Phillips focuses on what the ACC can bring in, many have speculated what the conference can lose. The grant of rights feels like an impenetrable shield at the moment, but does that mean no school will be brave enough to challenge it?
Phillips referenced the outgoing Texas, OU, USC and UCLA waiting out their grant of rights deals before making the jump. Their deals, however, were only a couple of years long when they decided to make their respective moves. The ACC’s last 14 more years. Without any real revenue growth opportunities, can we expect that the Clemsons, UNCs, Miamis, or FSUs will stand pat?
“Everything is on the table. We understand what that means.
“We understand what that revenue means moving forward, but I will also say, as I look at the next few years, I like where we’re going.
“But, again, the window is through ’36, so we’re going to have to address it, no question.”
If the college landscape continues to trend the way it has been, they’ll have to address it sooner rather than later.