Florida State fires back in ACC fight

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March 2023 Doak Campbell Stadium, home of Florida State University Football - FSU
FSU's football stadium. Tallahassee, FL. By CRobertson via iStock for WMNF News

TALLAHASSEE — With a hearing scheduled April 9, Florida State University this week fired back at a request by the Atlantic Coast Conference to put on hold — or dismiss — a lawsuit that could lead to FSU leaving the athletic conference.

FSU filed the lawsuit Dec. 22 in Leon County circuit court challenging what it describes as more than $500 million in penalties if it wants to exit the conference. But the day before the Leon County case was filed, the conference filed a lawsuit in North Carolina against FSU about many of the same issues, which focus on media rights.

The conference wants Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper, who will hold the hearing next month, to issue a stay of the Florida lawsuit while the North Carolina case plays out. As an alternative, the North Carolina-based conference argued in a Feb. 16 motion that Cooper should dismiss the Florida lawsuit.

“Florida State chose to join the ACC, a North Carolina unincorporated nonprofit association, and entered and specifically voted in favor of the contracts it now challenges, all of which are governed by North Carolina law,” the conference’s attorneys, led by former Florida Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson, wrote in the motion.

But in a filing late Tuesday afternoon, FSU attorneys raised a series of arguments against the motion, including saying that the conference filed the North Carolina lawsuit without getting required approval from members. The FSU filing contended that, as a result, the North Carolina lawsuit is “null and void.”

Also, the FSU attorneys that the North Carolina lawsuit was an improper “anticipatory” filing in advance of the Leon County lawsuit.

“The ACC initiated the North Carolina litigation the night before the (Leon County) suit, in naked and express anticipation of it, with the clear intent to forum shop,” FSU attorneys from the Greenberg Traurig law firm wrote. “When faced with the principle of priority, courts universally condemn such ‘anticipatory suit’ tactics and never reward them with stays of the anticipated actions.”

The battle between FSU and the conference is being closely watched in the college sports world and comes amid major conference changes. For example, football powers Oklahoma and Texas are moving to the SEC conference, while USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington are moving to the Big Ten conference.

A key issue is television money, with the SEC and the Big Ten having the richest media contracts. Florida State essentially contends the ACC has shortchanged its members through TV contracts, with the Tallahassee school widely viewed as wanting to move to a more-lucrative conference.

The Leon County lawsuit says FSU could face $572 million in penalties if it wanted to leave the conference now. The largest chunk of that, $429 million, would involve forfeiting media rights through 2036, while another $130 would be a withdrawal payment to the ACC.

The lawsuit makes a series of allegations, including that the potential penalties would be an “unreasonable restraint of trade” and would “violate Florida public policy and are unconscionable.”

But in the motion filed last month, the ACC said Florida State approved a media-rights agreement that is key to the case and has received money under it for years.

 

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