ACC Considering Westward Expansion, with Eye on Stanford and Cal
The four remaining Pac-12 schools still aboard for next season — California, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State — have options if they are looking for another conference.
The Atlantic Coast Conference is exploring the possibility of adding the West Coast schools, with an emphasis on California and Stanford in the San Francisco Bay Area, a person with knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press on Monday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the ACC was not making its internal discussion public and the conversations were still in early stages.
The person said the ACC's presidents are expected to dig into the merits of expansion again Tuesday and that the conference does not plan to draw out making a decision.
The American Athletic Conference also has interest in expanding West and adding all four Pac-12 teams, a person with direct knowledge of that league's internal discussion told the AP on condition of anonymity. The AAC has schools as far West as the Dallas area.
The UC Board of Regents scheduled a special closed-session meeting for Tuesday morning to discuss Cal's conference affiliation.
The Pac-12 lost five members last week after a potential media rights contract with Apple left the schools seeking a better deal. Arizona, Arizona State and Utah announced they would join Colorado in the Big 12 next year while Oregon and Washington decided to follow Southern California and UCLA to the Big Ten, also next summer.
The abrupt departures have raised the possibility that the Pac-12, which dates to 1916, will completely dissolve sooner rather than later.
Washington State President Kirk Schulz released a letter Monday, saying the Cougars believed the Pac-12 membership was ready to move forward with the Apple deal, only to be “shocked” by the decisions by Washington and Oregon to leave for the Big Ten.
“I genuinely felt that on Friday morning we would sign the needed paperwork, finalize the deal with Apple, and move the Pac‑12 toward a new and brighter future,” Schulz wrote.
A person familiar with the Apple deal, speaking on condition of anonymity because all of its details had not been made public, said it would have guaranteed $23-25 million per year per school with escalator clauses based on subscribers.
The deal also provided no guarantees of games being sold to linear TV networks, but it would have left that possibility open for consideration.
The Mountain West is the most logical spot for the Pac-12 schools to land geographically if they wanted to leave their former conference behind altogether. A person familiar with discussions in that league told the AP that its leaders have been strategizing the possibility of trying to add Pac-12 schools since last week.
The MWC and the AAC are so-called Group of Five conferences, where adding Power Five schools would be considered an upgrade in most cases.
Schulz said he and athletic director Pat Chun have been in contact with multiple conferences and remain in regular contact with the remaining Pac-12 schools.
“These efforts continued through the weekend — and will continue until we find a suitable home for Washington State athletics,” Schulz wrote.
The ACC, however, is a fellow Power Five conference that seems like a strange option for the Pac-12 orphans. It has 14 members, none farther West than Louisville. But while the cross-country travel would be challenging, Stanford and Cal do fit the profile of a league that has the likes of Duke, Wake Forest and Boston College.
The ACC has been exploring ways to bring in more revenue to keep up with the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference and Florida State leaders have insisted the ACC must do something because of what they say is an unfavorable media rights contract. Adding the Northern California schools could extend the footprint of the ACC Network and possibly increase its value.
Existing ACC could also add to their coffers by bringing in new schools at less than a full share of media rights revenue, the way the Big Ten added Washington and Oregon.
As for Cal and Stanford, with the Big Ten and Big 12 seemingly done expanding, they don't appear to have another Power Five option.
There is also the possibility that the four remaining Pac-12 schools stay together, and try to lure others to join. Six schools is the minimum required by the NCAA to operate a conference in the short-term.
That seems like a long shot without a television deal in place beyond this school year and only four members, but the Pac-12 still has a few things going for it structurally. It is an autonomy conference by NCAA bylaws, which allows the Power Five to have some power to pass NCAA legislation without the rest of Division I's approval.
Removing that autonomy designation would require NCAA action.
While the College Football Playoff playoff is expanding next year, it is doing so under the last two years of a contract that recognizes the Pac-12 as one of the five conferences that share 80% percent of CFP.
That could be a huge short-term windfall for a new addition, if a newly stocked Pac-12 can retain that status.
It remains to be seen if the other FBS conferences would try to change the revenue distribution model based on the construction of the Pac-12, but any changes to the current CFP agreements require an unanimous vote of the management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick.