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Florida State files suit against ACC: School trying to badmouth its way out of the league

Chris Graham
football money
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Florida State, with no apparent place to go, filed a quixotic lawsuit against the ACC on Friday, challenging the grant of media rights that its members, including FSU, agreed to in 2016 in an effort to secure the conference’s long-term future.

The suit, filed in Leon County Circuit Court, goes full-out thermonuclear war on the ACC and its sister member institutions. The school put out a dramatic news release accusing the league of “years of mismanagement” that left ACC schools “trapped in a deteriorating multi-media rights agreement” that prevents them from leaving because of “draconian” withdrawal penalties.

Thing is, the member schools, including Florida State, each agreed to the “draconian” withdrawal penalties, which the FSU release cited as coming to at least $572 million, when they agreed in 2016 to extend the grant of rights through 2036.

You can’t sign a contract and then, years later, say it was a bad deal and sue your way out of it.

I mean, actually, you can – but you can’t without writing a big check.

Which is where we are with this stupid shot across the bow from Florida State, which starts the clock ticking toward the school’s inevitable exit from the ACC, the first questions here being – how much will it cost, not just when it comes to the eventual exit fee, but also the years of money that will go to the lawyers?

And then: where does FSU end up once it ponies up that staggering amount of money to get out of the ACC?

There is no current invite from the likes of the SEC or Big Ten, the most obvious landing spots that Florida State would want, or anybody else, for that matter.

And there’s no sense that either of the two remaining big-boy conferences would want FSU.

The SEC will expand to 16 member schools on July 1 with the additions of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Big Ten will be at 18 schools on July 1 with the additions of USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington.

Both conferences are locked into existing TV deals – the SEC with ESPN, the Big Ten with Fox and NBC.

The SEC is almost certainly a non-starter, since ESPN would ostensibly be putting at risk the value of its TV deal with the ACC to move Florida State over as an add-on to its deal with the SEC.

The Big Ten is a hard case as well – B1G requires its members to also be members of the American Association of Universities, an exclusive research consortium that does not count Florida State as a member.

So, FSU has filed a suit, which is doomed to fail, the school has nowhere to go once it gets out of the deal after writing a big check, and its top leaders are making absolute asses of themselves in the process.

“The underperformance by the ACC has ramped up dramatically in just the last few years,” FSU Board of Trustees Chairman Peter Collins said in a statement. “The ACC has also unfairly – and we believe illegally – sought to prevent members from exploring their fundamental right to withdraw by threatening to impose an astounding and pernicious half-billion-dollar penalty. It’s simply unconscionable.”

Kinda feels here like FSU is trying to talk their way out of the ACC by promising to badmouth the other league members until they agree to lower the exit fee.

The early word on that from ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips and Jim Ryan, the president of the University of Virginia and the chair of the ACC Board of Directors: fat chance.

From a joint statement from Phillips and Ryan:

“Florida State’s decision to file action against the Conference is in direct conflict with their longstanding obligations and is a clear violation of their legal commitments to the other members of the Conference. All ACC members, including Florida State, willingly and knowingly re-signed the current Grant of Rights in 2016, which is wholly enforceable and binding through 2036. Each university has benefited from this agreement, receiving millions of dollars in revenue and neither Florida State nor any other institution, has ever challenged its legitimacy.

“As a league, we are proud of the successes of our student-athletes and that the ACC has won the most NCAA National Championships over the past two and half years while also achieving the highest graduation success and academic performance rates among all FBS conferences, so it is especially disappointing that FSU would choose to pursue this unprecedented and overreaching approach.

“We are confident that the Grant of Rights, which has been honored by all other universities who signed similar agreements, will be affirmed by the courts and the Conference’s legal counsel will vigorously enforce the agreement in the best interests of the ACC’s current and incoming members.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].