After USC and UCLA announced their intention to join the Big Ten this summer, ACC administrators held informal conversations about the possible addition of members from the Big 12 and Pac-12 or a possible merger of the three leagues, according to multiple sources.
The Raleigh News & Observer first reported the discussions.
Several other ACC sources told ESPN that expansion remains a discussion, but as one administrator noted, “nothing is imminent.”
Citing text messages obtained through a Freedom of Information request, The News & Observer reported Friday that North Carolina Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham discussed a potential “partnership” with the two Power 5 leagues that recently lost members due to realignment. including references to a conversation Cunningham had with former Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney.
Cunningham told ESPN on Friday that the texts represented “a historical overview of what we talked about on June 30th” shortly after the USC and UCLA news, but they don’t necessarily reflect current thinking.
The source said discussions – both inside and outside the league – have been informal, clarifying whether a realignment could be a viable path.
“A crucial part of this is patience and planning,” said one administrator, referring to some of the text messages described by the News & Observer. “It is important [conversations] With the AD and the president, but I don’t know that it would have gone anywhere.”
Both the Big 12 and Pac 12’s media rights contracts expire over the next two years. The ACC’s package with ESPN runs through 2036, and in that deal, all 14 existing members — along with Notre Dame in every sport except football — signed away their media rights to the league under the terms of that TV deal, which means no team can leave the ACC for another league without losing access to televising its games until 2036. Many administrators have said that will remain a binding force, giving the ACC more time to consider its options.
However, there is a large and growing revenue gap between the ACC (which earned a record $578 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year) and the SEC and Big Ten, the latter of which recently agreed to a new television package. generates more than $1 billion a year.
ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said “all options are on the table” as the league looks for ways to close that revenue shortfall. The league recently partnered with FishBait Solutions to identify potential revenue streams that could help boost the league’s finances, but expansion remains a consideration.
While several league sources said no team outside of Notre Dame would offer a clear and significant revenue boost through expansion, other factors could be considered as the ACC hopes to stave off potential moves by the Big 12 or Pac-12 that could jeopardize that. its place as a clear No. 3 conference.
“We have to think about what results do we want?” Cunningham sent a message to his chancellor, the News & Observer reports. “What are our priorities? Do we want to keep all the teams in the ACC? Is it a new league? Do we want to have the same number of teams [sponsored sports] in every school? Should we play nationally or regionally?”
According to the News & Observer, Guskiewicz was open to the idea of creating a national brand for the league if it merged with the Big 12 and Pac-12.
“We could have a super conference athletically and academically,” Guskiewicz texted, according to the News & Observer. “It should probably be called the Atlantic-Pacific Athletic Conference (APAC). Maybe it’s crazy, but if it would give us a better TV deal, it’s worth considering.”
The ACC would love to renegotiate its existing TV deal, which has been far exceeded by recent deals from both the SEC and the Big Ten, and a major expansion could be one way to bring television partners to the negotiating table. But Phillips has consistently said he wants to work with ESPN to ensure the ACC’s future success, and several athletic directors said any plans depend on support from TV partners.
“Anything you can do to strengthen our current relationship with ESPN is something we’re working very hard on right now,” Cunningham said.
Expansion is hardly the only option on the table. One administrator said the league is currently discussing “dozens” of options, while another said, “We’re always having conversations about what’s best for us as a league.”
Phillips has largely sought to avoid a scenario where college football evolves into so-called superconferences, using his time at the ACC inaugural event in July to promote the value of education and a diverse athletics landscape that could be diminished in a world where two or three superconferences dominate the industry.
Phillips hoped to establish some sort of restraint with a “handshake agreement” in 2021 to create a working relationship between the Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten, but when the Big Ten added USC and UCLA, the so-called “union.” finished. Afterward, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said he believed his league would continue to explore expansion, while the Big 12 and Pac-12 have publicly sparred over a potential target for each other’s most valuable schools.
Phillips noted that the ACC is in a position of power for three reasons: Its revenue is expected to far exceed that of the Pac-12 or Big 12, with USC, UCLA, Texas and Oklahoma (which is set to move to the SEC in 2025). move to your new conferences; it operates its network in partnership with ESPN; and the granting of rights binds its members together for the foreseeable future.