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What the ACC Lawsuit Means for Clemson’s Future

Last week, Clemson filed a lawsuit against the ACC over the current Grant of Rights deal. The university is looking for a declaration of its rights from the court.  As it currently stands, Clemson is locked into its deal with the ACC until 2036. To leave the conference, Clemson would have to pay three times the ACC’s operating budget, which is about $140 million right now. Also, if Clemson were to leave the ACC before 2036, the conference would still own the media rights for the Tigers.

In the lawsuit, Clemson claims the language in the deal states that the ACC only owns its media rights while the school is part of the conference. These are the only games Clemson says are necessary for the conference to fulfill its deal with ESPN. It also says the media rights for Clemson if it were not part of the conference wasn’t discussed in the deal.  The school also has stated it believes the fee for leaving the ACC is an “exorbitant penalty that is not connected to any economic harm the conference might suffer…”

The ACC has since filed a countersuit against Clemson to declare the Grant of Rights is valid and enforceable. It also issued a statement saying they believe the court will affirm the agreement. The conference also maintains that Clemson voluntarily signed the deal in both 2013 and 2016.

What it Means for Clemson

As of now, Clemson has not officially stated it intends to leave the ACC. The lawsuit does strongly indicate it may want to leave soon though. With the current structure of the ACC deal, it’s hard for Clemson to have meaningful conversations about leaving.  With the direction college football is currently moving in, it is in Clemson’s best interest to make a move fast. While Clemson will always be able to compete with the best of the ACC, it’s becoming harder for the ACC to compete with the best of the country.

Where Should Clemson Want to Go?

With the recent changes to the College Football Playoff structure, Clemson will inevitably want to leave the ACC. The 12-team structure will use a five + seven model. This means the top five ranked conference champions will get automatic bids, then there will be seven at-large bids. For Clemson and other ACC programs, it will be very hard to make the CFP without winning the championship. This will earn an automatic bid. Most CFP predictors already have all the at-large bids going to SEC or Big Ten teams.

If Clemson does decide to leave the ACC and still wants to compete for national championships, there are only going to be two real options. Those options are either joining the Big Ten or the SEC. Between these conferences, it is a no-brainer Clemson fits the SEC better. While new Big Ten matchups with the likes of Michigan and Washington could be cool, some other matchups don’t drum up the same excitement. Many of the programs Clemson would play are not near Clemson, South Carolina. Additionally, besides Maryland and Ohio State, there are not many familiar foes for the Tigers.  The SEC offers some of these things that fans especially may find important. For starters, Clemson is already located in the Southeastern region of the country. Along with this the Tigers already have multiple rivals in the conference.

For one there is the in-state archrival South Carolina. Also, there is a multiple-time CFP opponent Alabama. Then there is another program that the Tigers will play in week one for the second time in three years, Georgia. Clemson also had a very exciting Gator Bowl game with Kentucky in 2023. This along with other exciting matchups against programs like LSU, Texas, Ole Miss, etc., shows that the SEC would be perfect for Clemson. To make a move though, Clemson must first settle these lawsuits with the ACC.



Photo courtesy: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports


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