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The future of the ACC is in the crosshairs: What is the next step for UVA?

Chris Graham
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(© Jamie Lamor Thompson – Shutterstock)

The word around Grounds on Thursday, barely 24 hours ago, coming to me from two different directions, had UVA and FSU linked up on their way to the SEC.

Now we’re hearing, those 24 hours later, and ESPN is among those confirming this one, that the Big Ten, which just added Oregon and Washington, is interested in UVA and North Carolina.

Bottom line: there’s a lot of smoke, so much that there has to be some fire somewhere, we’re just not sure where.

It’s Aug. 4 as I’m writing this, and if UVA is going to do anything, it would seem that it would need to happen by the Aug. 15 deadline to inform the ACC of whatever the plans would be if the plans involve changing leagues next year.

And it would seem that any move would have to happen so that it could take effect next year, given the seismic changes that are coming in the SEC and Big Ten, both of which will, next summer, formally integrate their big acquisitions from the past couple of summers – Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC, announced in 2022; USC and UCLA to the Big Ten, announced in 2023, plus the latest additions, Oregon and Washington, announced five minutes ago, or thereabouts.

The Big 12 is also getting bigger, picking the carcass of what was left of value from the now-dead Pac-12, taking Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah to get to 16 schools (and counting?) for the 2024-2025 academic sports year.

The writing is on the wall for the ACC, which, like the Pac-12, resisted trying to get bigger, relying on the supposedly ironclad grants of media rights to keep the members tethered, a strategy that seems doomed to failure at this point.

FSU has already made clear, at a Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, that it is willing to challenge its grant of media rights, and it’s hard to think that if their lawyers think there’s a way out, then lawyers at other ACC schools haven’t come to the same conclusion.

My thinking on this, as of a couple of hours ago, was that the way the ACC would meet its end would be with a vote by eight (or more) members to leave the league, essentially killing it from within, with that move orchestrated by ESPN, the ACC’s media-rights holder, to package the value programs from the ACC with its SEC package to form a 24-team mega-superconference.

But now I’m coming to see this as, The Magnificent Seven, a group that included UVA and UNC, along with FSU, Miami, Clemson, NC State and Virginia Tech, may just be ready to spread out to the winds.

If that’s indeed the case, then, from UVA’s perspective, and UNC’s perspective, the Big Ten is just a better fit – athletics-wise, culturally and academically.

The complicating factor for both UVA and UNC wanting to make the leap to the Big Ten isn’t so much the obvious – the grants of media rights, and having to fight them in court – as it is what they’d be able to get from jumping to the Big Ten.

Word is that the Big Ten is only going to be paying Oregon and Washington partial media-rights shares, which isn’t as much an issue those two, because partial Big Ten shares are still going to pay them more than they were making from the Pac-12.

But for UVA and UNC, the cost of having to go to court over the grants of media rights, plus the $120 million ACC exit fees, if both would come into play, might make partial shares untenable.

The Big Ten may look at UVA and UNC as bringing enough value to be willing to give them more to come on board than they’re giving Oregon and Washington, but that would almost have to be the case to make the math work.

If I had to guess what’s going on behind the scenes right now, it’s negotiations on this point.

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].