For now, at least, Josh Heird is content to stay the course.
With college athletics once again destabilized by the poaching of UCLA and USC by the Pac-12 Big Ten, the University of Louisville athletic director says he has neither initiated nor receipt of opening to change league. His stated goal on Friday afternoon was to “strengthen” the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“For me,” Heird said, “it’s about being as prepared as possible to put the ACC in the best possible position to succeed.”
Specifically, he said, the conference should dedicate more resources to football, as the U of L has done since Heird became its (initially interim) athletic director last December.
Realistically, Louisville may have no better alternative than to sit back and seek to strengthen the league it joined eight years ago.
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While the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference are poised for further expansion, many schools have larger alumni bases, occupy larger media markets, and, to the extent that it ever matters in decision-making focused on the dollar, offer more academic cachet than the U of L.
Additionally, few schools have as little flexibility to pursue greener paydays as those at ACC. The conference exit fee, equivalent to three years of the league’s operating budget, now exceeds $100 million. Additionally, any member school change conference is bound by a rights-licensing agreement to forfeit its media revenue to the ACC until the expiration of an ESPN contract that spans the 2035 school year. -36.
It is unclear whether these provisions could withstand litigation. The University of Maryland challenged the ACC exit fee after he left for the Big Ten, eventually reaching a settlement in 2014 that paid the league $31.3 million of the $52 million it was owed. then due, or about 60 cents on the dollar.
Whether individual schools will be deterred from joining a more lucrative league by the short-term costs associated with leaving the ACC is a question facing administrators, accountants and attorneys in Clemson, NC. North and other potential targets.
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“I think that makes it difficult,” Heird said. “I don’t think that makes it impossible.
“I think if you ask any of the colleagues at USC or UCLA in the Pac-12 on Wednesday, they probably would have felt pretty confident that the Pac-12 was going to be 12 teams. And all of a sudden, on Thursday, that’s not the case anymore.”
Last August, in response to the Southeastern Conference’s annexation of the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma, the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 formed a “collaborative” alliance. .
The alliance was announced despite the absence of any signed agreement. As ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said, “It’s a matter of trust. That’s about how we looked into each other’s eyes.
Now that that confidence has been trampled by defections from UCLA and USC, the ACC and the Pac-12 must consider a competitive landscape that will soon include two 16-team super-conferences possibly tilted toward further expansion and obviously uninhibited by distance. They will also face growing financial disparities within the Power Five conferences, driven by television dollars and, simultaneously, a shrinking inventory of potential league partners.
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- Will the ACC and Pac-12 stiffen or the Big 12 reassembled to remain viable? Is there a merger that makes sense? (The Pac-12 board on Friday authorized the conference to “explore all options for expansion.”)
- Will the Big Ten or, more likely, the SEC make a run at ACC football’s flagship Clemson? “Given the projected gap in annual revenue distribution, can Clemson really maintain its competitor status when the schools it competes with in the SEC have twice the budget?”, A writes Chris Plummer for 247Sports. “If the SEC called, could Clemson say no?”)
- Can scheduling issues and earning potential finally force Notre Dame to abandon its independent status in football? (The Irish are contractually obligated to the ACC if they choose to join a conference, but CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reports that Oregon and Washington have been told the Big Ten are waiting for Notre Dame before exploring further expansion) .
- Did Louisville find a home in the ACC only to implode the league? (“The way the ACC survives: Convincing ESPN to give us more money,” wrote Chris Graham of Virginia’s Augusta Free Press.)
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“I think conferences are becoming more important,” Heird said. “So what does it look like? Are these three major conferences? Is it four? Is it two? I think (the number of) lectures are getting smaller here. (But) I don’t know what it looks like.”
Regarding possible additions to the ACC, Heird said, “I don’t think there are any specific institutions that make more sense than others,” but added, “I think we’re in a position where any institution in the country outside of the Big Ten and the SEC would want to have a conversation with us.
“I think we have an extremely strong league. And I understand what drives these changes: it’s football. But I also know, if you look at our league from top to bottom. I will oppose any league in the country.
For now, at least, Josh Heird would rather reinforce than bolt.
Tim Sullivan: 502-582-4650, [email protected]; Twitter: @TimSullivan714