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Seven ACC schools looking into how to break ACC grant of rights

The “magnificent seven” schools are sending shockwaves throughout the college sports landscape

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Practice Day - Greensboro Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This always felt inevitable.

After Texas and Oklahoma left the BIG 12 to head to the SEC and USC and UCLA left the PAC 12 for the B1G, it seemed like all eyes from there on out would be on what would happen to the ACC. A media contract signed through 2036 that became outdated quickly, it was only a matter of time before the schools looked for ways to keep pace in the college football arms race. It looks like that day has finally come with Brett McMurphy of Action Network HQ breaking the news.

Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger first reported that the seven schools have been meeting to discuss possible remedies to the iron-clad Grant of Rights in a piece published today examing the overall outlook of the next steps of conference re-configurations.

A subset of seven schools in the 14-member conference has coalesced over what many of them describe as an untenable situation. Officials from the seven schools, led by Florida State and Clemson, have met a handful of times over the past several months, with their lawyers examining the grant-of-rights to determine just how unbreakable it is.

The ACC’s options are quite limited, both for the group of seven and the league as a whole.

1. Seek additional revenue from ESPN. This is a long shot given the network’s current situation. ESPN, in the midst of a wave of personnel cuts, is also negotiating deals with UFC/WWE, the NBA and Pac-12. While commissioner Jim Phillips and a few ACC presidents met recently with the network over this issue, no significant cash infusion appears imminent.

2. Secede from the league. Some of the schools, possibly the most frustrated lot such as FSU and Clemson, could pay the $120 million exit fee and hope they can break a grant-of-rights agreement that most attorneys—though maybe not their own—say is airtight. That then leaves a very big question: Where do they go? The SEC and Big Ten seem quite comfortable with their current membership, but potential western realignment could trigger them to expand more.

3. Create another league. If the seven agree to dissolve the current grant-of-rights agreement (we don’t know yet if this is a possibility), they may add a couple of more schools and begin their own association in hopes of it being more lucrative. This comes with its own issues, of course. You’d need a broadcast partner or private equity to fund such an endeavor. And, as one official asks, “Will it really be that much more lucrative?”

With the Pittsburgh Panthers on the outside looking in currently, the Panthers will be vocal opposition to the direction things are heading for the conference. Something AD Heather Lyke looks to be attacking head-on.

It is a reasonable assumption that the SEC and B1G would look to add a handful of those seven schools to their conferences. It seems highly unlikely at this point that Pitt would get an invitation to the table at either of those destinations. This will put some serious pressure on the school to be able to pivot into the new BIG 12. This will be a high-stakes game of musical chairs and the Panthers will need to get their seat before the music stops if option two happens.

The lawyers for these schools will continue to comb through the grant of rights contract to see just how airtight it is. As we have seen before though, once something like this starts, the realignment will eventually happen.