FSU considers leaving the ACC over revenue distribution

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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

By Ryan Dailey ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Florida State University’s Board of Trustees is considering a departure from the Atlantic Coast Conference, as President Richard McCullough said Wednesday the school is facing an “existential crisis” over the way the conference distributes revenue.

Athletic conferences’ revenue distribution among schools relies heavily on media deals between the conferences and the networks that broadcast games.

McCullough, who has been at the helm of FSU since 2021, said that the Seminoles’ football program along with Clemson University’s “help to carry the value” of media rights among the 14 schools whose football programs are in the ACC.

“We have an average viewership of 3.2 million viewers” for football games, McCullough told the board. “We are one of the best media-value teams in the United States.”

Trustees did not vote on the matter during Wednesday’s meeting, but held a discussion about what officials described as difficulties related to the way the ACC distributes revenue.

“We are seeing large media deals that have been made with places like the Big 10 (conference) and the SEC (Southeastern Conference), which in many ways are creating, maybe it’s an exaggeration, but an existential crisis perhaps for Florida State University as we will be $30 million per school per year behind in our conference distribution,” McCullough said.

McCullough also said that the revenue distribution issue affects other sports that don’t bring in as much money, saying that the “waterfall of revenue falls down” to support sports programs such as women’s soccer and softball.

The trustees did not set forth a concrete timeline in which FSU would aim to leave the ACC. Members of the board also did not indicate what conference the football program would join if it were to be pulled from the ACC.

But FSU Athletic Director Michael Alford said the school has been weighing its options over the past year.

Alflord touted “how deep we have gone into the research with partners that we have gone out and spoken with to get all the facts, figures of all of our options.”

FSU trustees on Wednesday expressed strong support for the departure from the conference.

“Do we want to play games moving forward, or do we want to compete?” Drew Weatherford, an FSU trustee and former football player at the school, said.

Weatherford pointed to the rising cost of things such as building football facilities and paying coaches’ salaries as a reason that the school would seek more revenue through football — and a rationale to ditch its current conference.

“The simple fact is that the cost of playing at the highest level is outpacing the ACC’s ability to compete on a regular basis. And if you go back and look at how many wins ACC schools have had in the College Football Playoff, who other than Clemson has had meaningful wins?” Weatherford said.

Weatherford also pointed to the Big 10 and SEC having the potential to “pull further ahead” through media deals.

McCullough told the board that FSU ultimately would seek to stay in the ACC — if changes are made at the conference level.

“We of course are not satisfied with our current situation. We love the ACC, we love our partners at ESPN. Our goal would be to continue to stay in the ACC. But staying in the ACC under the current situation is hard for us to figure out how we remain competitive, unless there were a major change in the revenue distribution within the conference,” McCullough said.

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