By David Teel
5:53 AM EDT, May 14, 2012
Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage told me Wednesday that he expected this week’s ACC spring meetings to be routine. The chairman of Florida State’s Board of Trustees nuked that notion Saturday.
In an interview with Warchant.com, a website that covers the Seminoles, Andy Haggard ripped the ACC’s new media contract with ESPN as inadequate and catered to basketball powers Duke and North Carolina.
Most newsworthy, he threw kerosene onto an Internet fire that says Florida State and/or Clemson and Miami are pondering a move to the Big 12.
“On behalf of the Board of Trustees I can say that unanimously we would be in favor of seeing what the Big 12 might have to offer,” Haggard told Gene Williams, Warchant.com’s publisher.
This is not what ACC officials wanted to hear three days after they announced a 15-year, $3.6-billion deal with ESPN that increases media revenue by 30 percent, taking the average per-school net from $12.9 million annually to $17 million. This is not what they wanted to hear on the eve of the conference’s annual spring meetings at Amelia Island, Fla.
Suffice to say, Haggard’s remarks gained immediate traction nationally. Dan Wetzel, Yahoo!Sports.com’s outstanding columnist, quoted anonymous sources saying few within the ACC are happy with the contract, especially because it doesn’t reach its $17 million-per-year-per-school average until well into the 15-year term.
I tweeted my instant reaction to Haggard: “Priceless to hear #FSU board chair ripping #ACC TV deal. Dude, start beating Wake Forest in football and maybe league makes more $$$.”
Indeed, the decline of Seminoles football, embodied by four losses to the Deacons in the last six years, has made the ACC less appealing to the networks. Commissioner John Swofford told me last week that the league’s collective shortcomings against top non-conference opponents factored into negotiations with ESPN.
Florida State faithful who blame ACC membership for the Seminoles' fall -- FSU hasn't cracked the final top 10 since 2000 -- and believe Big 12 membership would restore the program are simply delusional. The Seminoles dipped because retired icon Bobby Bowden and his staff didn't recruit or coach well enough late in their tenure.
But the points raised by Haggard and Wetzel, and the incessant buzz about ACC defections, demand far more than snarky, 140-character tweets. So here we go.
* Haggard’s primary complaint, that the ACC relinquished third-tier rights to ESPN for football but not men’s basketball – he said this was “mind-boggling and shocking” – is patently false. ESPN has controlled such rights since 2010, when the ACC went “all-in” with the worldwide leader on a combined football/basketball deal valued at $1.86 billion over 12 years – last fall’s additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse prompted the renegotiation.
(Third-tier rights are for games not selected by the primary stakes holder. Here's a learned, detailed explanation from Chadd Scott.)
Football coach Jimbo Fisher fed into Haggard’s flame throwing when he spoke to the Orlando Sentinel prior to a booster gathering Saturday.
“There have been no official talks (with the Big 12),” Fisher told the paper’s Mike Bianchi. “But I think you always have to look out there to see what's best for Florida State. If that (jumping to the Big 12) is what's best for Florida State, then that's what we need to do.”
Finally, and largely due to Haggard’s tomfoolery, Florida State president Eric Barron issued a late-night (11 p.m.) statement Saturday to Seminoles reporters.
“Florida State University regrets that misinformation about the provisions of the ACC contract has unnecessarily renewed the controversy and speculation about (the) university's athletic conference alignment,” Barron said. “Florida State respects the views of the chair of its Board of Trustees that, of course, any university would examine options that would impact university academics, athletics or finances. At the same time, Florida State is not seeking an alternative to the ACC. Nor are we considering alternatives. Our current commitments remain strong.”
The Seminoles to the Big 12 never made any sense to me and still doesn’t, despite reports that the Big 12’s new media contracts will be worth $20 million per school. Increased travel expenses, the ACC’s approximately $20-million exit fee, athletic director Randy Spetman’s embrace of the conference and Barron’s fondness for its academic prowess are among the reasons Florida State has to stay put.
Yes, the athletics department recently announced a budget shortfall of $2.4 million. But that’s not because ACC schools don’t make enough in media rights. It’s because the Seminoles sell too few tickets and/or spend too much money.
* Regarding Wetzel’s contention that some within the ACC are alarmed that the ESPN arrangement is backloaded and that 2012-13 per-school media revenue will increase only $1 million, to $14 million: That’s how all these deals work.
“EVERY conference deal with networks is always this way,” a source directly involved in the ACC-ESPN negotiations emailed Sunday. “It is always backloaded. Every deal.”
So while the ACC-ESPN agreement starts at about $14 million per school, the source said, it concludes at about $24 million per school.
Cause for alarm? Hardly.
The contract “further strengthens the position of the ACC and each of our institutions in the college athletic landscape at a critical time,” Spetman said in a statement last week. “The additional revenue for each school will be significant as is the exposure for all our sports across the board.”
* Since football drives 70-80 percent of media rights fees, and since ACC football has, to be kind, struggled on the national stage of late, it should shock absolutely no one that the Big Ten, Pacific 12, Big 12 and shortly the Southeastern Conference will make more than the ACC.
Is that a competitive disadvantage? To a degree, of course. But if sports were as simple as Monopoly, the Yankees or Red Sox would win the American League pennant every year.
The ACC has more than tripled its media revenue in the last five years from approximately $5 million per year to each school to just over $17 million. Plus, to put into context the 30-percent increase in media income the ACC generated by adding Pitt and Syracuse: The NCAA’s new basketball tournament deal with CBS and Turner raised rights fees 41 percent.
Given its sub-par national football standing – ACC teams are 2-13 in Bowl Championship Series games – Swofford and his negotiating team did well to squeeze ESPN for as much as they did.
And if I’m Swofford, I tell member schools that in no uncertain terms: You want more money? Win more games.
In fact, the ESPN contract allows for “look-ins” at Years 5 and 10 to adjust revenue based on performance and/or technology changes. The deal also would be revisited were ACC membership to change – read: if Notre Dame came aboard.
* In short, the ACC’s new television arrangement should stabilize the league rather than create unrest, which should soothe frayed nerves among Virginia and Virginia Tech fans, who don’t want to be scrambling if the ACC fragments.
Since the ACC’s 1953 founding, only South Carolina, in 1971, has departed. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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