ACC leadership touts progress in trying to address financial gap with the Big Ten and the SEC

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
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AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. – The Atlantic Coast Conference emerged from three days of spring meetings at a posh, oceanside resort with one resolution: the formalization of tiebreaker rules for the league’s new, no-division format.

Most everything else discussed behind closed doors remained secretive works in progress, most notably how the league plans to close the financial gap on college football’s preeminent powerhouses: the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference.

The ACC is a distant third in annual payouts to its members, a spot that was both chastised and celebrated at times during the meetings. The league remains ahead of the Pac-12 and the Big 12, conferences that are losing flagship institutions next year, but far back of the Big Ten and SEC.

It’s a less-than-ideal position that prompted Florida State athletic director Michael Alford in February to make a public plea for change and float the idea of joining a growing list of schools – Oklahoma, Texas, UCLA and USC – that announced plans to change conferences in the past two years to increase their bottom line. Three months later, Alford softened his stance and insisted he’s “optimistic about the future.”

“I’m thrilled with the work and the direction that it’s going,” Alford said this week. “Step in the right direction. We’re not going to ever cover the entire gap, but it will allow you to be competitive.”

Most in attendance said they believe a revised revenue-distribution model would help the most successful teams beginning with the 2024-25 school year. The proposal would send a larger share of postseason revenue to the teams participating in those events rather than dividing it equally.

The tweak would coincide with the start of the expanded (and more lucrative) College Football Playoff. If you make the CFP, you get a larger share. The men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament also would be divvied up based on performance, with deeper runs being rewarded.

Alford suggested the revisions could lead to more than $10 million annually in extra revenue for a school. The proposal still needs to be approved by ACC presidents and chancellor. League Commissioner Jim Phillips said a vote could be weeks away.

“It’s too early to tell,” Phillips said. “We’re not that far down the road. We’re not ready to announce this thing in the next week or so. … But they’ve seen it and it’s got really good traction.”

Several coaches and ADs praised it as progress.

“If you base it on your investment in football and winning football, I think we’d probably end up on the good end of that,” Wake Forest football coach Dave Clawson said. “Control the controllables. That’s what we control.”

The new model would have no effect on the equally distributed revenue from the league’s television contracts, meaning no school would not get any less than it’s currently getting.

The ACC has yet to report its 2021-22 revenue distribution, but it’s expected to land around $43 million per school. That’s roughly $30 million less than the Big Ten and the SEC.

Any program $30 million short of its competitors on an annual basis could struggle to keep pace in arms races that involve recruiting budgets, facility improvements, support staffs and coaching salaries.

“Our schools have done a great job with the resources they’ve been given,” Phillips said. “Should we be in this position? When we decided to do this deal in 2016, we had 15 schools that I think raced to the opportunity to have a network, to lock in for 20 years and all the rest of that, and I understand times change and you adjust. It’s like anything else in life; it’s not always a straight line. So we’re figuring this thing out.”

And trying to keep the league intact.

To bolt the ACC, a school would need to pay an exit fee of three times its annual revenue (approximately $120 million) and would need to navigate the grant in media rights to the ACC to be able to broadcast future games.

Several reports suggested that as many as seven schools – Clemson, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia and Virginia Tech – had discussions about breaking the ACC’s grant-of-rights deal. The document ties the conference together through 2036.

“I think you got to have more than one healthy neighborhood,” Phillips said. “You have to have a healthy infrastructure. … You want national competition from coast to coast, not just regional competition.

“But at the end of the day, how much do you need to be a national champion in football and basketball and in our other sports? Do you have to be at the very top level? Do you have to spend the most to be the best? I don’t know that there has been an equation that has kind of connected the two. It certainly is helpful and it certainly allows you a greater chance.”

In the meantime, the ACC has little choice but to settle for third place in the ever-changing landscape of college football. There’s no guarantee it stays there or stays together.

“We just need to be competitive,” Alford said. “We’re the third-best media agreement right now; we want to stay the third best. We’ve been able to compete with them being the third-best media agreement. A lot of comes down to choices we will make with funding.”

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.