Florida State vs. the ACC: How lawsuit could impact realignment, Super League and more

If players and coaches can come and go as they please without restrictions, then why not schools? 

That seems to be one school’s contention, at least. The Florida State board of trustees voted unanimously to file suit against the ACC on Friday. The school will challenge the league’s Grant of Rights deal and $130 million withdrawal fee

The Seminoles laid out a compelling case for their action. According to Florida State’s legal counsel, the amount of the exit fee and forfeited media rights price tag has increased from $21 million in 2012 to $572 million in 2023. Maryland left the ACC in 2014 with a negotiated exit fee. If Florida State continues down this road, there are a few logical conclusions that will result along the way. 

Here are three major potential impacts of Florida State’s legal action.

MORE: Florida state files suit against ACC

Will Florida State join the Big Ten or SEC? 

This isn’t the first step in Florida State leaving the ACC. That was last summer, when their trustees were saber rattling during the last realignment cycle. At issue were revenue gaps with the Big Ten and SEC, and the compromise once the ACC added Cal, Stanford and SMU was an altered revenue distribution model. 

Then, Florida State finished 13-0, won the ACC championship and was left out of the College Football Playoff. Texas (12-1) and Alabama (12-1) – which will both be in the SEC next year – made the CFP instead. 

Florida State wants to be in the SEC or the Big Ten. Which conference would be more willing to entertain that option? 

The Big Ten could pounce here and get into the Florida market. Florida State is not an AAU accredited university, but this would give the conference an Atlantic division. Would North Carolina, Virginia and Miami be next? Or would the Big Ten use this to leverage Notre Dame? 

Of course, Florida State might prefer the SEC in order to maintain its rivalry with Florida – and that would be the question for SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.

The SEC took the top two brands in the Big 12 in Oklahoma and Texas. Florida State ranked No. 15 in USA Today’s revenue database in 2022 – one spot behind Virginia. The Big 12 would be a third option for the Seminoles, but that feels more like a last resort. 

Will FSU’s actions lead to a Super League? 

On Dec. 5, NCAA president Charlie Baker issued a proposal that would allow highly-resourced schools to pay athletes at least $30,000 through a trust fund along with a handful of measures that are starting the chatter again. 

Call it Division 0. Super League. NFL Lite. Whatever the terminology, if Florida State exits the ACC we’re one step closer to that model. According to the Associated Press, Baker said the disparity between a handful of FBS schools and everybody else is creating “a new series of challenges.” Revenue sharing is going to be a discussion, and there are a set of schools better equipped to handle that than everybody else. 

The Power 5 is no more with the Pac-12 gone. Is the thought of a Power 2 – as in the SEC and Big Ten – ridiculous? In 2024, there will be 18 Big Ten teams and 16 SEC teams. What’s happening in that number of “haves” is being trimmed from the 68 Power 5 schools that competed in 2023 to a number determined by those two conferences. You need to be in those conferences moving forward. 

Big Ten and SEC membership in 2024

Big Ten (18) SEC (16)
18 teams 16 teams
Indiana Alabama
Illinois Arkansas
Iowa Auburn
Maryand Florida
Michigan Georgia
Michigan State Kentucky
Minnesota LSU
Nebraska Mississippi State
Northwestern Missouri
Ohio State Oklahoma
Oregon Ole Miss
Penn State South Carolina
Purdue Tennessee
Rutgers Texas
UCLA Texas A&M
USC Vanderbilt
Wisconsin  
Washington

We’re at 34 teams and headed toward a model that supports about 40-48 teams. 

Florida State sees that, and it has the cachet of a program that won national championships in the Poll Era (1993) and two in the Bowl Championship Series (1999, 2013) before being snubbed in the final season of the four-team College Football Playoff era. If the Seminoles go to the Big Ten or SEC, then the musical chairs will continue for the rest of those schools who will basically audition to be in those conferences. 

Notre Dame? Maybe it re-thinks that five-game arrangement with the ACC. Clemson, North Carolina, NC State might give their best pitch to the SEC. Sure, the ACC and Big 12 have access to the 12-team College Football Playoff. But the Big Ten and SEC will dominate the at-large bids in the new setup.

Everybody with two eyes – including Florida State – can see that. Why not be in the conference that has earned preferential treatment? 

What are ramifications of Florida State suing the ACC? 

If Florida State is successful – either in court or through a settlement – then it’s clear that in the New World Order of college football, anything goes. 

The ACC clearly saw this coming. The conference is required to have 15 members to continue its ESPN contract. Cal, Stanford and SMU were realignment insurance. And the ACC is obviously going to fight this lawsuit to the bitter end.

Yet if FSU is successful, what would stop other ACC schools from challenging that Grant of Rights deal – which extends through 2036 and has been considered air-tight through the last few realignment turns. 

Will exit fees even matter at that point? Will the parameters of the 12-team College Football Playoff change after 2026 when the contract ends with ESPN? All of these are questions that seemed ridiculous a year ago and now are profound heading into the next chapter – which will begin with a lawsuit between Florida State and the ACC. 

Friday was another step in the reshaping of college football, and it could lead to many more, and all more quickly than we could have expected.

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