ACC's new grant of media rights has 'teeth'

Besides exit fee, schools would lose a bundle in TV cash

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Pitt's future conference home just got a whole lot more comfortable.

The Atlantic Coast Conference announced Monday that its council of presidents signed a grant of media rights, which effectively should end speculation that any member schools could depart for other leagues.

The agreement guarantees that if any school wishes to leave the conference, its media rights, including all revenue, would stay with the ACC rather than moving with the school to its new conference.

That means that, in addition to paying an estimated $50 million exit fee, any team wishing to depart the ACC could forfeit hundreds of millions of dollars in television revenue. It also makes the league's schools much less desirable to other conferences, since they can't financially benefit from the schools' media rights.

"Essentially what this does is this not only legally binds everybody to it, but it also puts in place some teeth into what we've been saying that everybody believes," Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said, "which is that we were going to be together, we were going to move forward together."

The deal runs through 2027, which is concurrent with the league's contract with ESPN. The ACC and ESPN reached a new deal before the 2012 season that pays each school an estimated $17 million annually. With the addition of Notre Dame to the conference this summer in all sports but football, that number could creep even higher.

The ACC had been considered the weakest of the five so-called power conferences, and thus its programs were a frequent target for speculation involving Big Ten or Southeastern Conference expansion. The league upped its exit fee to around $50 million in 2012, but recent lawsuits have shown that schools can often avoid paying these fees through litigation.

A grant of rights, however, is much harder to navigate around. The Big Ten, Big 12 and Pacific-12 conferences all have similar deals in place, and that was a major reason those conferences were considered more stable than the ACC.

There's some hope, even, that the ACC's grant of rights could end the three-year stretch of major conference realignment in college athletics.

"As I look at it, I think we find ourselves in a very good place right now, overall," Pederson said. "I think that everybody is now better off than they were and everybody's in a solid position going forward, and that's maybe the most important thing."

The grant of rights was agreed to unanimously by the 15 schools set to be in the ACC by 2014: 11 current members, plus Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame, which will officially join the conference July 1, and Louisville, which will join in 2014.

Pederson said it was critical that the move was unanimous. The league's vote to up its exit fee was not, with Florida State and Maryland being the dissenters. Maryland, which was not included in the TV rights voting by the presidents, has since announced that it will join the Big Ten in 2014.

"The interesting thing about this was that everybody felt great about it," Pederson said. "This wasn't a case of anybody along the way saying, 'We're not sure we want to do this.' Everybody was committed to doing this and said it's important that we do this."

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Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.


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