Orange Watch: The undefined future of the ACC and Syracuse athletics

Jim Phillips
ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips speaks to media at the 2022 ACC Kickoff event.

Item: For all the talk about how strong the ACC is competitively (a national best seven NCAA team titles this past academic year), academically (15th straight year leading U.S. News and World Report’s best colleges rankings among all FBS conferences), and developmentally (creation of a UNITE award and a C.O.R.E. committee for social causes and an active Student-Athlete Advisory Committee), the one area the league is playing catch-up to the Big Ten and SEC is distribution of annual revenue. No one knows that better than second year commissioner Jim Phillips, as he works to leverage the strength of ACC football for the long term.

It was no coincidence that in his state of the conference address Wednesday to launch the ACC’s annual two-day pre-season football media event, Phillips waited until the final few minutes of his prepared speech to address the most important topic everyone was waiting to hear – the future of makeup of the conference.

“Of course, the recent announcement of two PAC-12 schools’ (UCLA and USC) pending move to the Big Ten in 2024 set off a flurry of conversations both inside and outside of our league,” Phillips said stating the obvious. “While I won’t go into details of those conversations, I will tell you that while the ACC is strong, we are continually evaluating all options that could further strengthen our conference, and we are engaged in ongoing dialogue with our media partners.”

That was the corporate lingo version. The reality is Phillips is conversing with TV rights holder and ACC Network partner ESPN on an almost daily basis to figure out the next version of the league’s configuration that will bring enough value to justify any sort of increased in media rights payouts. He’s also continually reporting back to the school chancellors/presidents and athletic directors on specifically what it’s going to take to hit that end goal.

The Big Ten is honing in on a $100M annual distribution to each of its-soon-to-be 16 members by 2030, ditto the SEC, and those projections figure to be almost double what the 14 fulltime ACC football members might receive through the 2020s.

To put those numbers into perspective, just this week it was reported that Notre Dame is seeking $75M annually for its home game football rights in a bid to stay independent, a number that is projected by the end of the decade to be some $20M more than the rest of the ACC schools could expect for an entire academic years’ worth of media rights.

“We understand where those two leagues are. No one is ignoring that,” Phillips said when asked about the Big Ten and SEC growing the divide in annual revenue distribution. “We (every school) are really aligned to try to find some solutions to that revenue gap, but it can’t be at the expense of all the other things that we’re doing.”

» Related: What went down for Syracuse at ACC Kickoff?

Interestingly, conference realignment was not a topic Dino Babers dove into Wednesday during SU’s media day press conference. He knows he has a voice, but no decision-making authority in what happens to the ACC and subsequently SU athletics moving forward. That’s in the hands of Kent Syverud, John Wildhack, and the Board of Trustees.

After all, there’s enough for Babers to worry about with the near-term success of his program to ensure he’s around for any sort of seismic shift in conference configuration. Babers needs to check off the boxes that Wildhack laid out in the off-season, win more games and make a bowl game appearance.

Syracuse bolted the Big East for the huge increase of ACC revenue, and it’s not likely to find a better source for its media rights. For the time being Orange Nation can only wait to see what shakes out with the ACC’s Power Five status, while Phillips declares “all options are on the table.”

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About Brad Bierman 830 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.