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No, The ACC Shouldn't Add Pac-12 Schools

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Photo Credit: Harley Taylor

The 2023 college football season is almost upon us yet realignment chaos continues to dominate the national conversation even as fall camps are opening across the nation.

I've tried to avoid talking about all of the realignment speculation because in general, it's a convoluted mess where there are so many rumors with most proving false and a few eventually being true. Personally, I wish all this was settled at least on a temporary basis so the national conversation could actually focus on promoting the sport rather than the business and politics of it. In the meantime though, let's dive into the mess.

There have been plenty of ideas thrown around about how a league needs to do this or do that, and it'll fix all of its problems or at least help it partially including for the ACC.

One of the popular ones has surrounded the fact that some believe the ACC should add Pac-12 schools like Oregon, Washington, Stanford, California, etc. It's been bandied around among some national writers like this brilliant solution that will solve everyone's problems somehow when in reality, it doesn't take much thought to realize how that idea would barely move the needle at best, and create more problems than it might partially solve at worst.

Many have been talking about the fact that schools like Oregon and Washington could cause a significant boost in the ACC's per school revenue distribution simply because they are state universities with good football histories with one being in the Seattle market and the other being heavily branded by Nike.

Yes, there's no doubt that some of these Pac-12 schools are solid brands, but would they really move the needle for an ACC that's making in the mid $30 million range per school per year in straight media contract revenue distribution? No.

Why do we already know that? Because of the struggles that the Pac-12 is having securing a TV deal and the rumored value of said deals.

Rumors broke that the Apple-led TV media rights deal for the Pac-12 would bring those schools in the low to mid $20 million range. That's for those games to be on a streaming service first. Usually in TV rights negotiations, companies like Apple or not as widely available networks will offer a greater amount of money for the rights with the thought being that the addition of this deal will help them gain more subscribers, gain more viewers across their programming, and/or sell more product.

So if that's the offer the Pac-12 is getting from Apple, imagine what ESPN and FOX think of the value of those teams including in an ACC context where they have no ties to the ACC schools beyond facing them in non-conference and postseason play?

Yes, Oregon State and Washington State may bring down their value somewhat, but it's not like they affect the value that much.

Some may then wonder why the Big 10 would be interested in them then if it wouldn't necessarily make sense for the ACC but the circumstances are different? Here's why.

Adding the Bay Area schools plus Oregon and Washington gives the Big 10 6 of the Pac-8 schools before the Arizona schools joined in 1978 to make it the Pac-10 followed by Utah and Colorado in 2011 to make it the Pac-12. There is some legitimate regional history and rivalry that adding those four schools would expand further with games like Oregon-USC likely to do better given the history in those matchups than Oregon-Clemson or especially Oregon-Louisville. Plus, the B1G would get matchups like Washington-UCLA & Oregon-USC along with Michigan-Washington & Penn State-Oregon whereas the ACC really just adds the national matchups and not the big time West Coast matchups with USC and UCLA.

One of the big concerns that Big 10 schools have had is the fact that some of their biggest brands don't like playing night games in November due to the weather. Adding more West Coast options who could play 5pm local games in November in the NBC primetime slot would alleviate those concerns while keeping their TV partner happy.

Additionally, those 4 Pac-12 schools are all in a weakened state and likely would be more willing now to take a half share rather than a full share in the Big 10's TV revenue distribution even if their value to the Big 10 specifically may be slightly more than that and definitely more than Big 10 members getting full shares like Northwestern, Indiana, Rutgers, etc.

Another idea that was floated out as bringing value to the ACC is the fact that Pac-12 schools would provide more distribution for the ACC Network all along the West Coast.

Now that is a somewhat fair point as those schools would expand the ACC Network's distribution and likely bring more money even per school to the pot in that regard. However, that likely only boosts the ACC by a few million per school per year at most given that ACC Network distribution is currently around $5-7 million. That's not exactly closing the $30-40 million gap and that's before you add in the travel costs, the mental wear and tear on athletes and coaches, and a lot more challenges that are added in just to close the revenue gap by roughly 10%.

Also, adding West Coast schools blows up one advantage you may have relative to the Big 12 of reasonable travel? Take that away and there could be some schools who may not be SEC or Big 10 bound, but could land in the Big 12 and may be willing to vote to blow up the conference at that point, and be able to get to a majority.

So how should the ACC consider fixing its revenue problem? Well the unfortunate reality is that while there are tons of options, almost none of them move the needle in even a small way without creating more headaches. Also, ESPN isn't going to just bump up their ACC revenue distribution especially when they are tightening their own belts with Disney considering selling parts of the ownership of the network.

Adding Notre Dame as a football member would be the ideal scenario but let's be honest, if they ever give up being independent, they're almost certainly going to be Big 10 bound. Even with the Grant of Rights, their GOR value isn't nearly the same because of the fact that football is an independent making it likely way less expensive to move the rest of their sports to the B1G in the process.

With that in mind, there are a couple options that in theory could add value to boost the per school distribution even slightly without creating many headaches but even these are far from certain.

First, if you're going to add a full member in all sports, reaching out to West Virginia may be a reasonable idea. The ACC can offer WVU a similar amount at worst to what they are getting in the Big 12 while also preventing them from having to keep make cross-country trips to places like Boulder and Provo, and potentially Tempe, Tucson, and Salt Lake City. Additionally, WVU is a solid football brand that also gives the ACC some big time rivalries against Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh that have generated strong ratings for the ACC.

Adding a passionate fan base and good brand with at least two yearly games guaranteed to produce strong ratings in addition to more that should do well would seem to have potential to earn a boost from ESPN in the per school revenue. It's also a school that fits the regional identity of the conference which helps the ACC brand as a whole increasing its value in reality whereas Pac-12 schools don't fit the regional branding of the conference at all.

The second idea is to extend Connecticut an invite in all sports except football. UCONN football is mostly irrelevant nowadays and wouldn't make an impact on the per school revenue given the little value they have on the gridiron.

However, bringing in UCONN as a non-football member getting an equal share for non-football sports similar to Notre Dame would be a big boost in revenue potential for the rest of the media deal. Imagine adding UCONN's basketball programs to an already loaded basketball conference creating UCONN-Duke and UCONN-UNC plus restoring famous old Big East showdowns with Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Louisville on the men's side while having yearly showdowns with Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Louisville, and NC State on the women's side.

Those are games that move the ratings' needle and while it may not boost the ACC's TV revenue by a ton, it would very likely provide at least a small boost for the non-football portions of the ACC's TV media deal which should still equal millions. Also, adding UCONN doesn't add any travel headaches as they are right in the Northeast with Boston College and near plenty of major airports to make travel easy.

Those are just a couple of ideas and theories that could potentially boost the ACC's revenue, but aren't guarantees to boost revenue by more than a few million. However, what is clear in my view is that those moves would make way more sense and add as much value without creating new headaches.

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