ACC officials keep quiet on TV concerns

ACC Commissioner John Swofford.
ACC Commissioner John Swofford. AP

The ACC’s television committee was scheduled to meet from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, the first day of the conference’s annual spring meetings but, apparently, things came up.

When the clock struck 3, the meeting room doors were still closed with ACC Commissioner John Swofford and the league’s athletic directors behind them. Thirty more minutes went by, then 45 and then an hour passed and the meeting continued.

All the while, the league’s football coaches – men who preach the importance of punctuality with their players – milled about in a hallway here at the Ritz-Carlton, the annual host of the ACC’s spring meetings. By now the TV committee meeting was running more than an hour past schedule, making the coaches late for the own meeting with the athletic directors.

Finally the TV meeting ended, and the athletic directors and other officials departed with their walking orders clear from on high: not a word about what was said inside. Not even when it comes to the obvious.

The ACC is undoubtedly concerned about where it fits into the financial hierarchy of college sports, an order that is determined most of all by a conference’s TV rights contracts. Recent news surrounding the Big Ten suggests the ACC could be falling further behind.

The Sports Business Journal reported last month that the Big Ten had sold half of its media rights to Fox Sports for $250 million annually, which means that each of the conference’s schools would annually receive nearly $18 million alone from that deal. But that would only be the start.

There’s also the Big Ten Network. And whatever figure the conference receives for the other half of its rights, which figure to be more lucrative than the ones the conference sold to Fox Sports. Add it up and Big Ten schools could soon be making close to $40 million annually off of TV contracts.

Or, in other words, almost twice as much as the about $20 million ACC schools receive annually from the league’s deal with ESPN. Asked whether he was concerned about the recent news involving the Big Ten, Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox smiled.

“Commissioner,” he said, as if programmed. “That’s all I’m saying – ‘Commissioner.’”

As in, Commissioner Swofford. More than one athletic director said on Monday that the league is taking a “one-voice approach” to the ever-popular topics of TV rights and the prospect of an ACC channel.

Swofford in recent years has perhaps received more questions about an ACC channel than anything else reporters have asked about. It will come up, again, when he addresses reporters on Thursday at the conclusion of the league’s meetings.

There wasn’t any indication Monday, at least not publicly, of whether Swofford will change his talking points. Up to this point, those have remained the same: that the ACC is evaluating the marketplace and will decide, along with ESPN, if an ACC channel is viable; that an announcement isn’t ready; that when we know, you’ll know.

The question now is simple enough: Does the ACC know? Does Swofford know whether a dedicated ACC channel is, at last, a feasible option? Or is there a chance that the ACC might restructure its deal with ESPN to maximize the conference’s profits?

Though nobody would say anything in an official capacity on Monday, the league’s financial status remains a great concern. The ACC is already behind both the SEC and the Big Ten. Now it could fall significantly behind, and the ACC’s contract with ESPN doesn’t expire until 2027.

As recently as two weeks ago, at least one ACC athletic director expressed public concern about the league’s financial health in light of the Big Ten’s deal. Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich told The Clemson Insider, a website that covers the school, that there was “urgency” for an ACC channel.

“The ACC has had its best two years in competitive national rankings than it has had in a lot of years,” Radakovich told the website. “Football, basketball … There are some really good things going on in this league. The real question is, without some additional revenue, can we sustain it?”

It was more than anyone else would say after three hours of TV-related discussion Monday. The reaction was a departure from the norm.

Athletic directors had never had a problem, for instance, talking in general terms about the league’s TV situation. But not this time.

“Any comment is supposed to come from Commissioner,” said North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham.

Anything that anyone could have said might have been obvious enough, anyway: The ACC needs a more lucrative TV contract, whether it’s through the creation of a channel or some other means.

“You always want more money from the TV packages,” Larry Fedora, the UNC football coach, said.

Fedora said he hadn’t paid much attention to the numbers floating around about the Big Ten. He also made clear that he and the league’s other football coaches have no say about TV matters because, as he put it, “they don’t listen to us, anyway.”

“I just know when I’m looking at North Carolina, we have 28 Division I sports that we have to support,” Fedora said. “And obviously, if there’s more pieces of the pie to be able to do that, that’s good for all of them.”

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter