Sources - ACC presidents meet, 'still evaluating' Stanford, Cal - ESPN

UniqueThis 78 August 8, 2023
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Thamel: ACC presidents meet, 'still evaluating' Stanford, Cal (2:36)

Pete Thamel details the meeting among ACC presidents about the potential addition of Stanford and California. (2:36)

The ACC presidents met Tuesday morning about the potential addition of Stanford and Cal but did not vote on the matter, sources told ESPN. Instead, the league will continue to explore the additions and is "still evaluating" the schools, sources said.

No decisions are expected imminently, as another call of the athletic directors just to further dig into the finances is expected in the near future. A timeline is fluid, according to sources, but it would be surprising if a decision either way was reached this week.

The ACC completed its initial pair of exploratory calls, one of which was with the athletic directors Monday and another with the presidents Tuesday. Those were considered the first steps in a complicated process for a league that finds itself at a compelling crossroads.

The ACC's deliberations on Cal and Stanford come amid a fascinating moment, as multiple unhappy schools need to make a decision within the next week about whether they want to leave their league in the next week.

There's an Aug. 15 deadline for schools to notify the ACC if they want to leave and change leagues for the 2024 season, a date that's been highlighted because of Florida State's vocal unhappiness about league revenues. (Also complicating matters was that seven schools -- FSU, Miami, Clemson, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Virginia and NC State -- were communicating about options outside the ACC earlier this year.)

While the general expectations remain that no school will leave just yet, the mere possibility and FSU's vocal unrest leave the league in a muddled place.

The potential of programs leaving has the more entrenched schools within the league pondering what the next iteration of the ACC could look like, making unanimity nearly impossible to reach within the room. For the ACC to vote in Cal and Stanford -- if a vote ever arises -- it would require three-fourths of the league's presidents/chancellors to approve, which means 12 of the 15 schools.

The argument for the move is rooted in the strong reputations of the schools combined with the notion of there being safety in numbers, especially at a time of disruption in college athletics.

"I think the undercurrent is that this is clearly evolving," one ACC source said of the collegiate landscape. "For us to sit here and say it's not going to evolve, or be different than what it is today, would be really shortsighted. I'm not sure what schools are going to do, but to sit here and say it's going to be static -- that isn't happening."

Without the move being significantly financially additive, the support is far from unanimous. The cost of travel would need to be addressed, as the idea of Stanford and Cal getting less than a full share has been discussed. Some of that money could be shifted to travel costs.

The ACC has been generally quiet during the latest ripples of realignment. The SEC fortified itself two summers ago, with the additions of Texas and Oklahoma coming next year. The Big Ten has added USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington in the past 13 months, with all of them also arriving next year. The Big 12 has added four news schools -- Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah -- in recent weeks, and they also will debut in their new league next year.

That leaves some aggrieved ACC schools seeking greener pastures, but there are both exorbitant exit fees -- nearly $120 million per school -- and the risk of going to court to win back the rights to their games to consider. The ACC television contract is through 2036 and includes a grant of the schools' rights through then, so any exit promises to be expensive and riddled with legal challenges.

The ACC schools exploring exiting also do not appear to have anywhere to immediately go, which layers the move in complications. No league can promise them a spot because of the threat of tortious interference, and most leagues would want to see how the legal battles sort out before offering an invitation.

That leaves the other ACC schools seeking some security, which both Cal and Stanford would represent as strong academic schools with established brands and athletic departments.

"The value equation isn't always tied to money," an ACC source told ESPN. "Are we really going to sit here and say two of the best institutions in the world have no value? That's a crazy notion to me."