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The ACC’s Looming ‘Grant of Rights’ Question: What is it and What’s at Stake?

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
What would happen if ACC schools can get out of their Grant of Rights agreement? What even is a “Grant of Rights,” anyway? Let’s dive in.

The problem with high-revenue college sports only playing between August and March is that there are four other months to fill, and as much fun as the men’s and women’s College World Series can be, there’s simply too much downtime in the summer months. And with that downtime comes chatter. Rumors. Speculation.

That’s right, it’s Conference Realignment SZN, and the Atlantic Coast Conference has been so kind as to get things started for us in 2023.

On Monday, Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated reported that seven ACC schools have met to discuss the possibility (and legality) of leaving the conference’s supposedly ironclad Grant of Rights agreement that keeps them locked into a TV deal with the conference until 2036. The reason? Well, you know the reason. It begins with M and ends with “oney.”

Schools like Florida State and Clemson — the two schools that Dellenger reports are leading the charge with Miami, UNC, NC State, Virginia, and Virginia Tech in tow — are traditional football powerhouses who have surely been watching conferences like the Big Ten and SEC bring in tens of millions of dollars more in revenue per year. With UCLA and USC headed to the Big Ten and Texas and Oklahoma going to the SEC, the power (and dollars) will only consolidate more in the future.

This is not the time to be left behind and if ACC schools are going to keep up in the never-ending college sports arms race, they’ll either need to move or the conference will need to find a way to bring in more money.

Even though we’re not likely to see any major moves in the coming weeks — this dumb law stuff takes forever to sort out — here’s everything you need to know about the ACC and its Grant of Rights situation.

What is the ACC’s Grant of Rights Deal?

Think back to 2012-13 — to the time of “Call Me Maybe” and the Harlem Shake. You might recall it was also the most tumultuous time in modern college sports history, with the ACC raiding the Big East, the Big Ten adding Rutgers and Maryland, and the American Athletic Conference thrusting its way into our lives. Such colossal movement further aggravated the divide between the haves and have-nots of college sports, and while conferences poached schools with reckless abandon, they themselves wanted protection in the future.

So, the ACC asked its members to sign on to something called a Grant of Rights agreement. What that does is ensure that through the length of the deal, which now runs through 2036) the ACC will own the broadcast rights to all of its member schools’ home games. This essentially locks schools into ACC membership for that span. The Grant of Rights, coupled with massive conference exit fees, was supposed to provide long-term stability.

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What Happens if a School Breaks a Grant of Rights?

It’s impossible to say for sure, but a break in the ACC’s Grant of Rights agreement would undoubtedly set off another massive chain reaction of realignment. The Big Ten and SEC are now separating themselves as the most dominant conferences in the country and they will be eager to pick off the biggest brands in the east amid such chaos.

The logical moves would be for Florida State and Clemson (and maybe Miami as well) to join the SEC. North Carolina and Virginia seem to fit the Big Ten’s profile perfectly now that geography fully doesn’t matter to them anymore. Notably, both are state flagships and part of the American Association of Universities — both important criteria for the B1G.

After that, we can start guessing. Do state politics tie Virginia Tech’s fate to Virginia’s, forcing them to follow the Cavaliers to the Big Ten? Does the SEC scoop up Miami as well, or would Florida and Florida State not want the in-state rival Canes to enjoy the financial fruits of SEC life in a way that makes them even more enticing to recruits in the region?

Keeping the ACC Together

Even more intriguing will be what happens to the schools left behind. If all of the “magnificent seven” were to find new homes outside the ACC, the conference would be left with Duke, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Boston College, and Georgia Tech as full-time members, with Notre Dame as a non-football member. Those schools could then either backfill from somewhere else or find a way to set out on their own, but neither of those options promises much growth.

The likely fate of each of those schools is something to explore at another time, but suffice it to say they should all hope another power conference is ready to throw them a life raft if it comes to that.

More realistically, they should hope they can appease the other seven in some way before the ACC renegotiates its existing media rights deal. The most talked-about solution would be to distribute revenue based on the value that schools bring to the league rather than evenly — that means the Clemsons and Florida States would immediately begin raking in much more while schools like Boston College and Wake Forest will suddenly feel quite the crunch.

Still, that might not be enough. It certainly wouldn’t bridge the gap entirely for those schools, but maybe it could keep them temporarily happy.

If not, the ACC will need to get creative. Can the conference add schools that would bring real additive value and force a renegotiation of the current TV deal? Can they somehow convince Notre Dame to join in football? (No, they cannot.)

Conference realignment will always draw fan interest and speculation, but in an era of bloated geographical footprints, disappearing regional rivalries, and the Big Football Machine ruling all, there is also a sense of fatigue setting in. No one wants UNC and Duke in different conferences. Likewise, no one thinks Virginia Tech should be playing a conference basketball game in Los Angeles on a Tuesday night in January.

I don’t know how this will work out — nobody does — but I’m almost positive that when the dust settles, the new reality will be far dumber than it is now.

Hope the money’s worth it.

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About The Author
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg is an editor and writer at Boardroom. He came to the brand in 2021 with a decade of experience in sports journalism, primarily covering college basketball at SB Nation as a writer, reporter, and blog manager. In a previous life, he worked as a social media strategist and copywriter, handling accounts ranging from sports retail to luxury hotels and financial technology. Though he has mastered the subtweet, he kindly requests you @ him next time.