ACC and Florida State sue each other, Cal gets mentioned in the lawsuits
The ongoing saga of the new Cal conference continues.
College football season over for Cal! Back to realignment chaos.
Florida State University's Board of Trustees has unanimously voted to sue the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) to challenge the legality of the league's grant of rights and its $130 million withdrawal fee.
The 38-page lawsuit, filed in Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee, Florida, seeks a declaratory judgment against the ACC, claiming that the grant of rights and withdrawal fee are "unreasonable restraints of trade in the state of Florida and not enforceable in their entirety against Florida State." The university alleges "chronic fiduciary mismanagement and bad faith" in the ACC's handling of multimedia rights agreements, breach of contract, and failure to perform.
ACC officials have described the document as "ironclad," but the lawsuit raises questions about its enforceability, as no school has previously tested it in court. The university claims growing revenue gaps with other conferences and disagreements over the distribution of media rights money within the ACC, pushing for uneven distribution based on media value, which the ACC has refused.
ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips and Virginia president Jim Ryan, chair of the ACC board of directors, issued a statement lamenting Florida State's "unprecedented and overreaching approach." The ACC filed a preemptive legal maneuver by filing a complaint for declaratory judgment against the Florida State board of trustees in North Carolina, asserting that the Grant of Rights signed by Florida State in 2013 and 2016 is valid and enforceable through June 30, 2036.
The heart of Florida State's complaint lies in its dissatisfaction with the ACC's handling of media rights agreements with ESPN and withdrawal penalties since 2010. The university alleges that the 2016 extension of media rights with ESPN included an ultimatum that forced members to extend the grant of rights from 2027 to 2036, locking members into the same rates negotiated in the previous 2012 multimedia rights contract, hindering revenue growth for 24 years.
If a judge grants declaratory judgment in favor of Florida State, the school could leave the ACC without penalty, effective August 14, 2023. The ACC, however, maintains that Florida State willingly signed the Grant of Rights, benefiting from millions of dollars in revenue, and argues that the agreement will be affirmed by the courts.
There are a lot of legal things to wrangle out here. We’ll get to those later. First, Cal mentions.
Cal joining the ACC along with Stanford was cited in the lawsuit as a reason for Florida State leaving. None of the points made really hold up. You’ll find these points under the The ACC Mishandles the Sweeping Conference Realignment of the 2020’s section on pages 22-26.
Florida State cites Oregon State as having more valuable Tier 1 media rights than Cal and Stanford because they had a better record in 2023. But Cal has always drawn better TV ratings and ticket sales. This doesn't hold.
Additionally, Florida State cites Oregon State as the more valuable football brand of the four. But they've had the worst record in the last decade in the Pac-12, aside from Colorado. They should have cited Washington State, a team that made seven bowl games in eight seasons.
Florida State misspelled Berkeley and referred to Cal as California Berkley, a team that has never existed.
"Stanford and Cal are excellent schools with well-deserved outstanding academic reputations, they are each lacking in the lone metric that matters ... Tier I media football appeal." is an actual quote. The Bay Area is the 10th largest TV market, with a Super Bowl contender that is a top 5 NFL brand.
"Just as last year, this year Stanford and Cal finished in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in football standings." Cal won four conference games, as many as Clemson, UNC and Duke, and more than Miami.
The ACC didn’t mention Cal much in their suit. In fact, the only time they are mentioned is in a footnote, where Berkeley is misspelled again.
Maybe everyone thinks the ACC invited some other California school.
More on all this in the coming days, weeks, months, years…