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Clemson Files Lawsuit Over ACC Grant of Rights, Looking for Exit Out of Conference



In a bold move that reverberates across the collegiate sports landscape, Clemson University has taken the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) to court, filing a lawsuit in Pickens County, South Carolina. This strategic legal maneuver closely follows in the footsteps of Florida State University’s similar legal action in December, signaling a growing rift within the ACC as two of its flagship institutions seek avenues out of the conference. The timing of Clemson’s lawsuit is particularly notable, coming mere days after the ACC’s controversial decision to accept secondary revenue payouts in the upcoming College Football Playoff television agreement.

In its formal complaint, Clemson raises fundamental questions about the ACC’s Grant of Rights policy and the associated exit fees, characterizing them as “unconscionable” and “unenforceable.” The heart of Clemson’s challenge lies in the ACC’s assertion that it retains ownership of member schools’ media rights even post-departure from the conference. Clemson vehemently disputes this interpretation, labeling it as “nonsensical,” and asserting that it directly contradicts the plain language of the agreement.

The lawsuit seeks a judicial declaration affirming Clemson’s position that upon exiting the ACC, the conference would relinquish any claim to Clemson’s game media rights. Moreover, Clemson aims to contest the hefty exit fee, pegged at three times the ACC’s operating budget—an eye-watering $130 million. When incorporating the Grant of Rights provision, as outlined in Florida State’s lawsuit, the total exit cost balloons to a staggering $572 million.

This legal salvo fired by Clemson represents the second challenge leveled against the ACC in recent months, signaling a deepening fissure within the conference’s ranks. Of particular significance is the involvement of two football powerhouses and perennial College Football Playoff contenders, accentuating the seismic implications of potential departures.

The timing of Clemson’s legal offensive coincides with the ACC’s inked agreement on a new College Football Playoff deal with ESPN, exacerbating the financial gap between the ACC and juggernaut conferences like the Big Ten and the SEC. Under the terms of the new deal, ACC teams are projected to receive substantially lower payouts compared to their counterparts, posing a threat to Clemson’s ability to maintain competitiveness at the highest echelons of collegiate athletics.

In its lawsuit, Clemson articulates the imperative of securing equitable revenue-sharing arrangements for its athletic programs, highlighting the broader ramifications beyond the realm of sports. The university argues that the ACC’s actions stymie its capacity to explore alternative conference affiliations and negotiate fair revenue-sharing agreements, thereby jeopardizing its long-term athletic prowess.

This legal showdown between Clemson and the ACC epitomizes the intricate interplay between contractual obligations, financial exigencies, and institutional autonomy in collegiate athletics. As the landscape of college sports undergoes seismic shifts, the outcome of this legal clash stands to redefine the collegiate athletics landscape, shaping the destiny of Clemson and the ACC for years to come.

Quoting directly from Clemson’s lawsuit, the university contends, “The ACC’s actions interfere with Clemson’s free exercise of its rights and are fatally detrimental to Clemson’s efforts to ensure that its athletic programs can continue to compete at the highest level, which is critically important to Clemson even beyond athletics.”

Moreover, Clemson’s legal counsel asserts, “The contention by Clemson is that the ACC claims it owns the media rights of member schools to home games through 2036 — even if a school departs the conference.” This position, according to Clemson, undermines its ability to meaningfully explore alternative conference memberships and negotiate advantageous revenue-sharing arrangements.



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