CHARLOTTE, NC – Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner Jim Phillips entered his annual ACC Kickoff press conference Wednesday at an awkward place.
Some described it as a kind of lose-lose situation.
However he handled the conference’s highly uncertain future in a rapidly evolving college football landscape, he would draw some criticism.
Too positive and people would say he was a little delusional.
Too negative and people would say he gave up.
The position of the FSU in the realignment:College Football Conference Realignment: What Are The Best, Worst, And Likely Scenarios For FSU
More on FSU, realignment:NoleSports Podcast: The Athletic’s Chris Vannini on FSU, the ACC and the conference expansion
FSU at ACC Kickoff:Player accountability, leadership on the rise at the start of the 2022 Florida football season
To match the scenery, Phillips balanced the two during an opening speech that lasted nearly 30 minutes, followed by a 25-minute Q&A with members of the media.
He spoke confidently about his belief in the future of the ACC while indirectly speaking out against the SEC and the Big Ten, both of which have announced significant expansions over the past 12 months.
“I will continue to do what is in the best interests of the ACC, but I will also be a strong advocate for collegiate athletics being a healthy neighborhood and not two or three gated communities,” Phillips said.
Above all, Phillips made one thing clear.
When it comes to keeping the ACC afloat, all options are on the table.
What can you do about the TV contract?
The biggest threat to the ACC over the next few years is the revenue gap between the SEC/Big Ten and the rest of the major conferences.
According to Navigate research, the SEC and the Big Ten are expected to pay each member school an average of over $85 million annually through 2026.
That’s significantly more than the $48 million to $51 million that the other three Power Five conferences, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12, are expected to pay to each school in the same year.
“Overall, we’re a national leader in every area I’ve talked about except revenue share,” Phillips said.
“That was brought to light by the recent move from USC and UCLA to the Big Ten.”
The main problem for the ACC is that while most major conferences will soon have the opportunity to sign new television deals, the agreement granting rights to the ACC, signed in 2016, runs until 2036.
That means the ACC won’t stand a chance of a more lucrative TV deal for another 14 years unless things change. While there’s no clear and simple solution, Phillips said Wednesday that he’s constantly trying to find a way to fix the problem.
“We are looking at our TV contract. We are in contact with our partners at ESPN almost every day. I’m open about ESPN because we’re 50/50 partners in our network and so they’re motivated, we’re motivated,” Phillips said.
“We got together to have some discussions about what the next iteration for the ACC would be. That doesn’t mean we’re going to take a step. It doesn’t mean we won’t make a move, but all options are on the table.”
Will ACC’s current schools stay together?
A point of discussion raised during this process was whether schools will seek to evade the Grant of Rights (GOR) that binds schools’ media rights to the ACC.
It was reported that at the time it would cost a school over $400 million to do so between the exit fee and forfeited television revenue.
While it’s entirely possible that some ACC schools might want to drop out to attend one of the two upcoming major conferences, Phillips said he hadn’t heard anything of the sort from ACC member schools.
“I love our 15 schools and am confident we will stay together. That’s all I heard from all the calls we’ve had,” Phillips said.
“We want to work together to give our student athletes more resources so we’re all on the same page.”
Pending some seismic changes, the only clear way out of the ACC right now would be to find a loophole in the GOR treaty. Like much of what he said Wednesday, Phillips couldn’t entirely dismiss that possibility.
However, citing recent history, he said he doubted finding a way out would be easy.
“People were talking about Oklahoma and Texas leaving immediately. I think that’s pretty well articulated now that it isn’t. They will wait for their rights to expire,” Phillips said.
“Heard from UCLA and USC in late June, June 30th and the following days, they will clearly remain in PAC-12 until their rights assignment is complete. You can follow the logic there. I would think the meaning of what that would mean would hold the television rights that the conference owns and a nine figure financial penalty I think (the rights grant), but your guess is as good as mine.”
Could there be revenue inequality or expansion in the ACC?
A slip of the tongue from Phillips Wednesday could end prophetically about the future of the ACC.
When asked about the potential for future expansion, he inadvertently referred to 17 active members of the ACC, but quickly corrected himself and stated that there were currently 15 members of the conference.
While that’s true for now, one way for the ACC to remain at least somewhat competitive in the collegiate athletics landscape would be to bolster its ranks with some prominent additions.
The best of these would probably be Notre Dame, which was a football member of the ACC in 2020 but is now independent again in football and an ACC member in every other sport.
Although the Irish have not yet been pressured to join a conference in order to have a path to the College Football Playoffs, Phillips was adamant that ND would join the ACC if forced to choose one.
The nature of ND’s ACC deal means it would have a significantly smaller buyout if it wanted to leave the conference to compete elsewhere in football.
“We remain closely associated with Notre Dame. You know how we feel. They know we’d love to have them as a footballer in the conference, but we and I also respect their independence,” Phillips said.
“Having worked there, had two children there, is in school now, one of whom is a gym student, I know what independence means to Notre Dame. So they respect that and I know Notre Dame would consider moving if the time came to do a conference and away from independence I feel really good about being the ACC.”
Additionally, the ACC could consider splitting its television revenue unequally, favoring the schools and football programs that are most committed to football and giving them a bigger slice of the pie.
This idea would definitely help ensure that the ACC programs with the best chances of competing for national titles have a better chance of doing so than if the revenue split remained equal.
It is worth noting, however, that a similar unequal revenue split has previously been attempted across the Big 12 and has not worked as a long-term solution.
As with several other things Wednesday, Phillips has not written this off as a possible solution the ACC is investigating.
“I would go back to what I said and answered earlier: All options are on the table,” Phillips said.
“If you look at revenue, look at how you’re closing the gap, you look at how you’re generating more, you look at sales, it’s all part of a similar conversation.”
Reach Curt Weiler at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.
Nobody covers the noles like the Tallahassee Democrat. Subscribe using the link at the top of the page and don’t miss a moment.