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  • Writer's pictureJohn O'Reilly

Florida State Fights for Freedom from ACC

On December 22nd, only a few weeks after missing the College Football Playoff, Florida State filed suit against the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in Leon County, Florida.[1] The decision to sue the ACC was not solely a product of their failure to be selected to the playoff, but rather the culmination of years of discontent with the ACC.[2] Florida State alleges that the ACC failed to fulfill its obligations, which include “generating substantial revenue” and “maximizing athletic opportunities” for member institutions.[3]


The lawsuit represents another development in the chaos created by conference realignment. The solution to Florida State’s discontent may appear simple: leave the conference. However, their contractual agreement with the ACC, specifically the grant of rights, prohibits such an action from occurring.[4] In 2013, Florida State entered a grant of rights agreement with the ACC that was resigned in 2016 and can extend until 2036.[5] The grant of rights gives the ACC exclusive rights to broadcast all Florida State home games.[6] There is an exit clause option in the agreement, but such a move would come with a steep price tag.[7] An exit, would cost Florida State around 572 million, including lost TV revenue.[8] This exit fee dwarfs those paid recently by Oklahoma and Texas, who paid around 50 million for leaving the Big 12 for the SEC one year prior to their contract expiring.[9]

 

Further complicating Florida State’s legal efforts is the ACC’s own suit against Florida filed in Mecklenberg County, North Carolina, prior to the commencement of Florida State’s action in Florida.[10] Florida State alleges that this action is improper and represents an effort to forum shop.[11] The Seminoles’ motion to dismiss will be heard in Mecklenberg County on March 22nd.[12]  Florida State alleges the ACC did not go through the proper mechanisms for a suit to be filed, including a failure to secure two-thirds support from member institutions for a suit to be initiated.[13] [14]


The ACC has emphasized that Florida State and all other members willingly and knowingly re-signed the grant of rights in 2016 extending through 2036.[15]  The lack of other ACC members seeking similar action may be indicative of the binding nature of the grant of rights;Clemson, Miami, North Carolina, and Virginia all recently examined their options within the current grant of rights, yet none made a decision to leave.[16] Florida State’s efforts to leave may seem puzzling, but a quick look around collegiate athletics provides clarity.[17] The SEC recently announced it will distribute 51.3 million to each of its 14 member schools for the 2022-23 fiscal year.[18] Additionally, the Big 10 signed a 1.1-billion-dollar TV rights package following its expansion.[19] The pragmatic reasoning behind Florida State’s desire to leave is far more tangible than their legal standing supporting their lawsuit.[20]


The broader implications that could potentially result from a Florida State victory are significant.[21] The contractual agreements between conferences and member organizations are one f the few factors providing any stability in collegiate athletics.[22] The ACC’s extended grant of rights has prevented an exodus of members as seen in other conferences.[23] If a court holds that the grant of rights are non-binding, this could create more chaos in the already tumultuous landscape of collegiate athletics.[24]


References:


[1] Florida State Trustees sue ACC for Mismanaging Media Rights and Imposing ‘draconian’ exit fees, (Dec. 22, 2023) https://news.fsu.edu/acclawsuit/.

[2] Andrea Aldeson, Florida State Suing ACC over Grant of Rights, Withdrawl fee, (Dec. 22, 2023) https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/39167937/florida-state-sue-acc-grant-rights-withdrawal-fee.

[3] Florida State. 

[4] Aldeson, Florida State Suing.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Adam Silverstein, Texas, Oklahoma leaving Big 12 early, joining SEC in 2024 after reaching exit agreement, (Feb. 9, 2023) https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/texas-oklahoma-leaving-big-12-early-joining-sec-in-2024-season-after-reaching-exit-agreement/.

[10] Dennis Dodd, Florida State’s Lawsuit Spectacle was Full of Bluster, but Seminoles Eventual Exit from ACC is Inevitable (Dec. 22, 2023) https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/florida-states-lawsuit-spectacle-was-full-of-bluster-but-seminoles-eventual-exit-from-acc-is-inevitable/.

[11] Andrea Adelson, Florida State Files Motion to Dismiss, (Feb. 8, 2024) https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/39484039/florida-state-files-motion-dismiss-acc-lawsuit.

[12] Matt Baker, The Latest on Florida State, ACC Dueling Lawsuits, (Jan. 9, 2024) https://www.tampabay.com/sports/2024/01/09/florida-state-acc-lawsuit-fsu-conference-realignment/.

[13] Adelson, Florida State Files.

[14] Aldeson, Florida State Suing.

[15] Id.

[16] Nicole Auerbach, ACC Realingment Rumblings: 7 Schools are Examining the Grant of Rights, But Can they Leave?, (May 15, 2023) https://theathletic.com/4521787/2023/05/15/acc-realignment-grant-of-rights/.

[17] Adelson, ”Flordia State Suing.”

[18] Mark Schlabach, SEC to Distribute 51.3M per School for ’22-23 Fiscal Year, (Feb 8, 2024) https://www.espn.com/college-sports/story/_/id/39485967/sec-distribute-513m-per-school-22-23-fiscal-year.  

[19] Id.

[20] Andrea Adelson and David Hale, ”Florida State vs. ACC Grant of Rights Lawsuit: What you Need to Know, (Dec 22, 2023), https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/39161391/florida-state-vs-acc-grant-rights-lawsuit-questions-answered.

[21] Auerbach, ”ACC Realignment.”

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

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