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Florida State is Openly Calling for ACC Chaos. How Close is Boston College to Disaster?

BC won’t get thrown to the wolves immediately. Right?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 13 Kansas at Boston College Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Wednesday evening, the Florida State University Board of Trustees met in an open forum to discuss a number of things, but the highlight was their contemplation over FSU’s membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference. From frustrated diatribes to straight-up inflammatory statements, there was no shortage of drama in the meeting that would interest Boston College fans.

Several of the Trustees questioned FSU’s future standing in the ACC amidst the turmoil that’s been going on in the PAC-12. A week ago, the University of Colorado announced its intentions to leave the PAC-12 conference for the Big 12, reuniting with many of their former rivals. Further reporting came out this week that the University of Arizona may not be far behind them, which would leave the PAC at just 8 total members and in an extremely precarious position while Oregon and Washington flirt with joining the Big Ten. All of this movement has college football on edge, especially smaller schools like BC, who can take a look at schools like Washington State and Oregon State and see a possible reflection of their future.

Florida State, meanwhile, is concerned with the amount of money they’re missing out on. (FOMO?) With the ACC locked into its Grant of Rights until 2036, the Seminoles are stuck in a situation where they feel that the amount of value they’re able to produce is not being accurately reflected in the revenue they receive from the conference’s TV rights deal. Simply put, they want to get more money than the other schools in the conference, or else they could leave the conference altogether:

Other trustees were not as diplomatic. They’re ready to leave now:

Whether or not FSU would actually be invited to the SEC or Big Ten is a whole separate issue, and one that doesn’t matter much for BC fans. Florida State (and possibly other schools like Clemson) are ready to bet on themselves in the open market and throw the ACC into chaos.

So, what happens next?

If the ACC really is on the expressway to oblivion, what does that look like? Well first, FSU & friends would need to find a financially-tenable way out of the conference. If any school wanted to ditch the conference today, they would need to shell out a whopping $500M to buy out the remainder of their contract. SEC schools, the highest earning group in college athletics, only make about $50M per year in revenue distribution from the conference, meaning it would take about 10 years to get out of that buyout hole through conference revenue alone (this number will increase under the new ESPN TV contract, but it’s unclear by how much). The ACC distributed just under $40M to its members in 2021-22, marking only a $10M difference for that exorbitant exit fee, leaving FSU with a $400M bill to make up the difference. So unless their boosters’ pockets are really that deep (and motivated), or SEC revenue explodes upwards in a way we’ve never seen before, they will have to find another way out of the ACC.

We here at BC Interruption are not going to claim to know the ins-and-outs of television rights laws or how FSU, Clemson, and others could use their lawyers to find their way out of that huge buyout. So, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Florida State negotiates a way out of the ACC for a lower cost than previously thought possible. Or SEC (/Big Ten) revenue gets so high that the $500M price tag doesn’t look so steep. That would leave BC in a few possible situations:

#1. Things mostly stay the same

Florida State has found a way out of the conference, but it’s still pretty expensive. Good for them! Boston College, Clemson, and everybody else is perfectly happy to collect their big FSU checks and remain in the ACC as they were before. The Tigers have an easier path to the College Football Playoff every year, Miami loses a local conference recruiting opponent, and everybody else has an opportunity for an extra conference win. The conference buyout remains high and Clemson, UNC, and others determine that ponying up all that cash isn’t worth it. FSU’s buyout fee has helped reduce the gap between the ACC and SEC/Big Ten, at least in the short term, and they see no reason to blow a bunch of money on a conference change if they can still leave in the 2030s.

Likelihood: Seems pretty likely! At least in the short term. Clemson & friends could wait until at least the late 2020s to make a change.

#2. The big dogs leave, the little guys remain

FSU’s buyout has inspired Clemson, UNC, Miami, and maybe even Georgia Tech or Louisville to all follow the same path. They shell out some buyout money and leave for the greener pastures of the SEC and Big Ten, who have expanded into gigantic 18- or 20-team super-conferences. Nonetheless, 9 or 10 schools still remain in the ACC! That’s plenty for a healthy conference, especially with an option to add some teams from the G5. BC welcomes Memphis, App State, and Marshall into the ranks of the ACC, making it a much less competitive conference, but stable at least.

Likelihood: This requires a big lift from the SEC and Big Ten. Do they really want to expand this much? Seems possible, but not a shoo-in.

#3. It all blows up

FSU’s buyout idea has not only inspired Clemson, UNC, and Miami to jump for a better conference, but now the Big 12 and PAC-12 are stealing schools, too. You only need 8 schools to get a majority in the ACC, nullifying the exit fee if all 8 want to leave. Virginia, Louisville, and Pitt land in the Big 12 super-conference. The PAC-12 spreads across the country, grabbing Duke basketball, Georgia Tech for the Atlanta market, plus NC State and Virginia Tech just for some stability. Boston College (and Syracuse, Wake Forest, others) are left holding the bag. They are forced to either recreate the ACC with a bunch of G5 schools, or abandon it altogether.

Likelihood: Seems very unlikely, but not totally impossible. Super-conferences would have to become the norm for this to happen, and recent reporting suggests that the Big 12, Big Ten, and SEC aren’t very interested in expanding much further than 16 or 18 members.

We really don’t know where Boston College will end up.

All of these scenarios could play out, some more realistically than others. What seems to be the real underlying truth is that when the ACC Grant of Rights expires in 2036, or a bit beforehand, the ACC will at least lose its most influential members. But that sort of shift happening in the 2020s seems unlikely. And, even if it does happen early, there are only so many spots in the SEC, Big Ten, and Big 12. BC will still likely have a bunch of allies left in the ACC to stick around with. Or maybe even an opportunity to join up with schools like Stanford or Cal.