CHARLOTTE – Mac Brown, the UNC soccer coach, received an almost unimaginable text message from his agent three weeks ago while playing golf with one of his grandchildren in Linville, a mountainous area of North Carolina.
UCLA and USC were taking steps to leave Pac-12 and join the Big Ten, a shocking departure that would happen in 2024 and break their century-old association with the West Coast league.
“I’d bet it would never happen,” Brown said Thursday at the ACC’s pre-season event, recalling the stark moment the news hit him on the golf course.
College football was rocked by a conference realignment for another summer, as the Big 12’s exit from Texas and Oklahoma for the SEC became the turning point for the latest wave.
Brown, who turns 71 next month, has spent 16 years as a coach in Texas, spending his two stints coaching high heels, which cover 14 years and run (1998-97, 2019 to date).
It’s a perspective he gained over six decades in coaching, and confirmed by the National Championship with the Longhorns in 2005 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2018. As something of a steward of the sport, he’s addressed the ACC at the league level.
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The Big Ten and SEC will grow to 16 conferences by 2025 as the Power Five lean toward the prospect of two 20-team leagues. A day after Commissioner Jim Phillips said “all options are on the table” during the ACC’s state speech to kick off the annual event, Brown expressed concerns about the momentum and direction of things.
“My fear is that if we go to two big conferences and then the playoff becomes 16 teams, you might be the NFL,” he said. Then college football slumped around.
“So I’m concerned that we have some ripple effects that really change who we are in college football. It’s just not my style. I really like college football the way it is, I know it’s going to grow, and I know there have to be changes. But I’m afraid there will be We have a lot of changes that are not well thought of, so we are seeing the consequences of some of those changes.”
There are still fourteen seasons on ACC Television’s contract with ESPN, which was extended in 2016 and expires in 2036. If one school leaves the ACC and moves to another conference, breaking the league’s rights-granting deal would require an exit fee of perhaps 120 million dollar.
The estimated payouts for each ACC team under its TV deal highlight the widening revenue gap the league faces compared to the SEC and the Big Ten. The ACC should pay about $40 million to each team in the coming years, while the SEC and the Big Ten should pay out more than $70 million to each team for their upcoming deals.
Brown referred to this aspect because he remembers the circumstances surrounding Florida’s accession to the ACC in 1991, which increased the league to nine members at the time.
ACC football expanded in 2005 (with Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College), in 2013 (with Pittsburgh and Syracuse) and in 2014 (with Louisville). Notre Dame, an ACC sports member but not for football, has played a rotation of five ACC opponents each season since 2014.
Before that it was just ‘Independent Florida, are they going to come here or go to the Securities and Exchange Commission?’ Now you’re talking about rights. You’re talking about poaching people from other leagues. You’re talking about losing some people from your league and are there enough rights to be paid for by TV? So you’re talking about a lot of different things now about what I was at it then. It’s more complicated now than it used to be.
“You’re really talking about changing the scope of college football if you go to two major leagues: very different from what we have now. College Football Playoff is based on five Power Five conferences with five commissioners, and if you have two leagues that play at the Power Five level, you obviously change So many different things. It filters along the way. You don’t just change the leagues, you change the direction of college football.”
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Adam Smith is a sports reporter for the Burlington Times-News and USA TODAY Network. You can contact him at [email protected] or @adam_smithTN on Twitter.
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