Florida State sues to leave ACC: What we know (and don’t know) about Seminoles’ football future, Big Ten vs. SEC rumors

When Florida State was excluded from the College Football Playoff field despite a 13-0 record, many speculated it would accelerate a potential Seminoles exit from the ACC. That scenario could be playing out mere weeks later.

Florida State has been an ACC staple for the last 33 seasons, winning three national championships as a member of the conference and rising back to the top this season with an unbeaten campaign.

As power consolidates around a smaller number of conferences in college football, the ACC might be left behind. Already a top-heavy football conference, speculation about certain powerhouses bolting is now starting to turn into reality.

Here’s what you need to know about Florida State’s ACC future heading into 2024.

MORE: College football’s 2024 realignment, explained

Is Florida State leaving the ACC?

Florida State indicated Friday that it plans to explore leaving the ACC, though the school cannot formally leave the conference at this point. As a first step in that process, Florida State is filing a lawsuit challenging the ACC’s Grant of Rights, which makes it difficult for the Seminoles or any other school to leave the conference before 2036.

Florida State Board of Trustees chair Peter Collins cited the grant’s “severe withdrawal penalties” as the obstacle the school is fighting, with Florida State legal counsel David Ashburn claiming it would cost the school $572 million to leave the conference.

Considering Florida State is publicly clamoring to limit or erase the massive fee blocking schools from exiting the ACC, it’s entirely clear that the Seminoles’ intention is to leave the conference.

FSU president Richard McCullough said Friday that the school feels it is “left with only this option to maximize our potential as an athletic department,” indicating that the Seminoles believe they would garner more prestige in a different conference.

MORE: Inside Dylan Raiola’s Nebraska ties after flip from Georgia

The ACC released its own statement on Friday, alleging that Florida State’s lawsuit is “in direct conflict with their longstanding obligations and is a clear violation of their legal commitments to the other members of the conference.”

Florida State cannot leave the ACC until at least June 30, 2025 if it notifies the conference before August 2024 that it is leaving. That means the Seminoles will be an ACC football team in 2024 and will play ACC basketball in the 2024-25 season regardless of what decision is made.

What is the ACC’s Grant of Rights?

The ACC’s Grant of Lights is a legal agreement that ties each ACC member’s broadcasting rights to the conference through 2036. Because it costs a massive amount of money to break free from the agreement, exiting the ACC isn’t as simple as a bevy of teams bolting from the Pac-12. 

Florida State is exploring a move anyway, in hopes of reducing the dues it would have to pay to leave. FSU would need to pay $572 million to breach the Grant of Rights in order to leave the ACC, a cost FSU will dispute in its lawsuit.

While the Grant of Rights gave the ACC an element of stability while the Pac-12 unraveled and other conferences dealt with turnover and turmoil, Yahoo Sports reports television deals for the SEC and Big Ten are “far richer” than the ACC’s by this point, putting the conference’s future in jeopardy. 

As realignment consolidates most college football powerhouses around two or three conferences, a legal win for the Seminoles could result in the splintering of the ACC altogether. 

MORE: Full guide to where Pac-12 teams will play in 2024

Florida State Big Ten, SEC rumors

It’s clear Florida State would like to leave the ACC, though that will require the school to clear a few hurdles. Where the Seminoles would end up is not as clear.

The Big Ten could be the leading option for Florida State, according to Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel. The conference has already proven geography is no obstacle when it comes to expansion, and expanding its footprint could actually be an incentive to make a move for FSU and other ACC programs. Adding schools from Florida could be an attractive case for Big Ten expansion.

Wetzel reports the SEC is “believed to be a less likely option for Florida State,” as well as Clemson and Miami, if they were to also wiggle out of the ACC’s Grant of Rights. Because the conference already has a presence in Florida and South Carolina and has a strong 16 members, expansion involving these schools doesn’t appear likely at this stage.

The Big 12 is the only other logical landing spot, and Wetzel points out that the conference’s emphasis on basketball could make a handful of ACC schools appealing for reasons beyond just the football field. 

Given Florida State’s brand, there’s no reason to believe the Seminoles would ever be left out in the cold just as Oregon State and Washington State were. That might not mean the school has a destination locked in at this point, though.

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