ACC Presidents and Chancellors vote to extend invites to SMU, Cal and Stanford

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Friday, September 1, 2023
ACC votes to invite Stanford, Cal, SMU, expand conference
It will bring the league to 18 members, 17 of which will play football full time in the league.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Atlantic Coast Conference as fans have known it is dead.

The ACC presidents and chancellors met Friday morning and voted to add three new schools -- none with remote ties to the Atlantic coast. The addition of Stanford, Cal and SMU will bring the league to 18 members, 17 of which will play football full-time in the league. The additions will be in all sports and will begin in the 2024-25 school year.

The moves have been the subject of much drama the last month, as ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips worked to appease a group of schools eager to add the schools and others seeking more revenue. The protracted process ultimately ended with the ACC growing amid a backdrop that brought to light some of the fundamental tensions within the league.

"It really is a transformational day for the ACC," Phillips said.

Gone are the days when Greensboro was the hub of the ACC and its once-legendary basketball tournament. Even Charlotte -- where the ACC opened its new headquarters -- might be in jeopardy.

"The ACC is really interested in using Dallas as a place where teams might come together to have games to minimize the impact of travel on both eastern members and Cal and Stanford," Cal Chancellor Carol Christ told reporters.

The move unfolded in an atypical process, as typically votes in league matters are cast as unanimous and a formality when the presidents meet to decide. The ACC needed 12 of 15 votes. Heading into the meeting on Friday morning it was uncertain whether or not the league had votes, a significant variance from how conference expansion typically works.

In a straw poll more than three weeks ago, four ACC schools dissented -- Clemson, Florida State North Carolina, and N.C. State. One of them needed to flip if the vote was to pass, and all eyes entered the meeting on N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson.

A majority of fans and many student-athletes have voiced vehement opposition in recent weeks to expansion by adding teams from the West Coast.

"That's kind of ridiculous, that's not part of like our community, like our East Coast community," said Charlie Armitage, a senior at UNC. "And it's going to be really hard, it's going to be a burden on everybody to travel there, travel, even for them. I mean, that's not really realistic for the players, too. They have to be on their "A" game, and how are you supposed to get your supporters out there?"

The focus on Woodson intensified on Thursday night when members of the University of North Carolina's Board of Trustees issued a statement to voice its objection to the additions.

"The strong majority of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Board of Trustees opposes the proposed expansion of the Atlantic Coast Conference to include Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Southern Methodist University," the statement said. "Although we respect the academic excellence and the athletic programs of those institutions, the travel distances for routine in-conference competitive play are too great for this arrangement to make sense for our student-athletes, coaches, alumni and fans. Furthermore, the economics of this newly imagined transcontinental conference do not sufficiently address the income disparity ACC members face. Without ironclad assurances that the proposed expansion serves the interest of UNC-Chapel Hill, we believe it should be voted down."

That move was perceived by some as a political statement aimed at ensuring UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz didn't flip his vote.

If so, it worked. Instead, it was the NC State chancellor who succumbed to the pressures of pursuing a seemingly insatiable thirst for revenue.

"The NC State brand, and historical competitiveness of our programs, is already well-recognized and established. The addition of these outstanding universities gives us even greater opportunities to build on the Wolfpack's national presence, which in turn will generate more long-term benefits for our student-athletes, our athletic programs, and our loyal fan base," Woodson said in a statement Friday.

UNC and N.C. State did not need to be tied together, but some of the uncertainty around Woodson's vote came from the political ramifications of not being aligned with North Carolina.

The ACC joins the ranks of a rapidly changing collegiate landscape, as starting next year the Big 10 will have 18 teams and the Big 12 and SEC will have 16 teams. The move leaves the Pac-12 with just two remaining programs, Washington State and Oregon State, a continued spiral that's included the league losing eight teams since late July.

Cal, Stanford and SMU will come at a significant discount, which will help create a revenue pool to be shared among ACC members. SMU is expected to come in for seven years with no broadcast media revenue and both Cal and Stanford were expected to receive 30% shares of ACC payouts.

That money being withheld is expected to create an annual pot of revenue between $55 million and $60 million. Some of the revenue will be divided up proportionally among the 14 full-time members and Notre Dame, while another portion will be put in a pool designated for success initiatives that reward programs that win.

The move delivers a life preserver to the athletic departments at Stanford and Cal, which were left twisting amid the Pac-12's implosion. Stanford has an athletic department that's considered the gold standard in college athletics. Both will face significantly increased travel costs, which will significantly impact a Cal athletic department that faces hundreds of millions in debt.

For SMU, the decision to forgo television revenue gave it a seat in a major conference, as the school will lean on its wealthy boosters to help it stay afloat until revenue comes in. It marks a significant moment for the school's climb back from the death penalty for major infractions that led to the school not playing football in 1987 and 1988. SMU didn't return to a bowl until 2009 after the penalties.

Even with the vote going through, the nearly month-long saga to decide on the addition illuminated the divisions in the ACC. Both Florida State and Clemson have spoken publicly about how the revenue gap between the ACC and the Big Ten and SEC needs to close.

While those schools had not been supportive of the additions heading into the final meeting, the decision does give them access to millions more in annual revenue if they succeed on the field. With the ACC television contract running through 2036, the past few weeks have highlighted the uncertainty that will linger into the upcoming years.

Florida State officials have been particularly vocal about leaving the league, with president Richard McCullough saying the Seminoles would "very seriously" consider leaving the league if the revenue distribution model didn't change significantly. This move by the ACC does not appear to change that tenor.

For other schools in the ACC, the three new schools represent both the addition of quality academic institutions and safety in numbers. Cal and Stanford were the last major conference schools that offered significant value left on the board.

UNC Chancellor Guskiewicz released this statement about the vote to expand, which he voted against: "I respect the outcome of today's vote and welcome our new members to the ACC. My vote against expansion was informed from feedback I have gathered over the last several weeks from our athletic leadership, coaches, faculty athletic advisors, student-athletes and a variety of other stakeholders who care deeply about our University and the success of our outstanding athletic program. I look forward to working with all our colleagues in the ACC to ensure excellence in academics and athletics - something our conference has long been known for."

ESPN and The Associated Press contributed to this report.