ACC looking for ways to boost revenue, shrink financial gap

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner Jim Phillips leads a league bringing in record revenues, with more and more money going to member schools.

It’s also a league struggling to keep up with peers in the Big Ten and Southeastern conferences.

League schools have talked for years about finding ways to close that growing gap. But as the Big Ten and SEC expand to add marquee names, the ACC’s concern becomes more pressing and even stirs uncertainty about its long-range future in terms of whether schools might eventually try to chase money elsewhere.

For now, that means trying to squeeze more money out of a long-running TV deal, kicking around ideas and even holding out hope that Notre Dame might one day shed football independence to join the ACC and boost the bottom line.

At ACC Kickoff preseason media days on Wednesday, Phillips said “all options are on the table.”

“It’s significant … so it deserves your attention,” Phillips said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It deserves creativity. It deserves all that you have to try to figure a way for a path forward that really makes sense and that brings additional value to the conference.”

The league’s deal with ESPN, which included the long-sought 2019 launch of its own network, runs through 2036. It also has an extension of a grant-of-rights provision that gives the league control of media rights for any school that attempts to leave for the duration of the deal, which is a move to deter defections in future realignment.

That appears to have the ACC on stable footing for the immediate future. But for how long? Figuring out a way to better grow the financial picture could determine that.

Phillips described the league and ESPN as partners with a mutual interest in making the ACC Network as profitable as possible to support the league.

“How can they have a partnership and an asset and not want it to really be thriving over the next 14 years?” Phillips told the AP. “That doesn’t make any sense. So they are motivated. And when you talk about (how) we’re considering multiple options, it’s just that.

“You’re not trying to eliminate potential opportunities, you’re trying to create. . You can do something with your network. You can do something with events. You can do something certainly with expansion if you so choose. But there has to a value in whatever move you end up making.”

The ACC’s most recent tax filing listed a record $578.3 million in total revenue while distributing an average of $36.1 million per school for the 2020-21 season, which included Notre Dame as a one-year full football member for scheduling purposes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, TV revenue has increased from roughly $288.6 million in the 2018-19 fiscal year before the launch of the ACC Network to $397.4 million in 2020-21.

And yet, years of healthy growth are heavily outpaced by numbers coming out of the SEC and the Big Ten. For that same 2020-21 season, the SEC reported nearly $833.4 million in revenue and an average distribution of $54.6 million, while the Big Ten checked in at $679.8 million and an average $47.9 million payout.

And with those leagues announcing upcoming name-brand additions – Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC, USC and UCLA to the Big Ten – the revenue gap could grow more aggressively.

“It’s a concern, yeah,” North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren said. “If one school is getting $30 million more than another school, they can do more things with the money. It’s been that way for a while, though.

“If you look at what’s happened, we’ve still had a team in the playoffs (seven of eight) years. So we’ve overcome it. But you wouldn’t like to overcome it if you didn’t have to.”

Several others shrugged off the topic.

Louisville offensive lineman Caleb Chandler, a sixth-year senior, wasn’t focused on it because he’ll be gone next year and “won’t affect me in any way.” N.C. State quarterback Devin Leary said he wasn’t worried about it, either.

“You want to talk about revenue and gaps, like that’s just – I coach football,” Boston College coach Jeff Hafley said. “That’s beyond me.”

And then there was Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, whose program has reached six College Football Playoffs with two national championships.

“I don’t have any concern because other people worry about all of that stuff and deal with it and figure out whatever,” Swinney said. “I mean, Lord have mercy, in 2036 I don’t know where I’ll be. That’s a long time and they will figure all of that stuff out.”

Besides, there’s little the ACC teams can do other than win games and become more appealing brands. Beyond that, it’s up to league leadership to figure out the next moves.

“I think you have to be measured and it has to be ultimately good for the long-term health of the conference,” Phillips told the AP. “To make a move just to make a move is not the right thing for the ACC. It just isn’t.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.

CFP expansion talks head toward October after 7-hour meeting

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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ROSEMONT, Ill. — The conference commissioners who manage the College Football Playoff met for almost seven hours Tuesday to work on expanding the postseason system from four to 12 teams as soon as the 2024 season.

There is still much work to be done.

“We will not wrap up this week,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said.

The CFP management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, is scheduled to convene again at the Big Ten offices for a few hours Wednesday morning. They are set to meet again in person in Dallas on Oct. 20.

“That’ll be important,” Hancock said.

Expansion talks were revived by the university presidents and chancellors who oversee the College Football Playoff last month.

By adopting a 12-team plan that had been on the table since the spring of 2021, the presidents pushed the commissioners to try to implement a new format before the end of the CFP’s current contract with ESPN. That deal ends after the 2025 season.

Expanding from four to 12 in 2024 and ’25 will require rescheduling semifinals and championship games that already have dates and sites set, plus adding four new first-round games in mid-December to be played on campus sites.

Squeezing it all into about a month and working around the NFL for television will be challenging.

Hancock said the idea of moving up the start of the college football season to the week before Labor Day to create more room at the end for the playoff has been discussed, but more for beyond the 2025 season.

“I think most people view that as a future item. As long-term item and not an immediacy item,” Hancock said. “Remember, there’s so many details.”

Hancock said CFP officials have spoken to bowl partners and hosts cities that are set to hold semifinals and championship games after the 2024 and ’25 seasons, but they have not been presented definitive new dates.

Atlanta already has been chosen as the host city for the championship game to be played following the 2024 season, on Jan. 6, 2025. The game would have to be pushed back about two weeks if the playoff grows from four teams to 12.

“(Atlanta organizers) have some work to do because of other businesses in the community,” Hancock said. “Other meeting-type business, hotel business and Convention Center business there. They’ve been great to work with.”