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Conference Realignment Carousel Continues Spinning and Miami is Watching Closely

ACC “Magnificent 7” negotiate uneven revenue sharing while the Pac-12 is on life support

Georgia Bulldogs and the TCU Horned Frogs during media day for the College Football Playoff championship game at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles.
Big XII Conference Commissioner Brett Yormark
Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

This upcoming season will be the first for a new look Big-XII featuring the addition of Cincinnati, Houston, UCF, and BYU. It will also be the one-and-only season where those teams will play conference games alongside Oklahoma and Texas before the Sooners and Longhorns depart for the SEC on July 1, 2024.

Media deals are the major driving force behind conference realignment, and the fledgling Pac-12 is now negotiating its next media deal. Those negotiations are reportedly not going well. A couple weeks ago, our SB Nation colleague Joseph Acosta noted that ESPN dropped out of those negotiations and Acosta astutely hypothesized that the Pac-12 is screwed. With the imminent departure of Pac-12 stalwarts USC and UCLA to more lucrative B1G Ten pastures, the flagship western conference appears to be on life support.

Recent reports from the Swaim Show are that Colorado and Arizona are jumping ship to the Big-XII. That’s not an even replacement for Oklahoma and Texas, but it’s not bad and should serve to stabilize the Big-XII which has had to endure: Missouri, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Texas heading to the SEC; Nebraska joining the B1G Ten; and, awkwardly enough, Colorado joining the Pac-12.

Meanwhile, Miami is stuck with the ACC in one of the worst media rights deals in modern history. That deal lasts through 2036 and includes a “grant of rights” which contractually transferred Miami and each of its conference brethren’s media rights to the ACC. Put another way, should Miami ever leave the ACC it couldn’t sell its media rights because the ACC, not Miami, owns those rights through 2036. All that seemed like a good idea to avoid poaching back in 2014 after Maryland left for the B1G Ten, but this deal presumed that the ACC would do a good job of selling those media rights. It has not.

Nevertheless, the Hurricanes aren’t so helpless...

The “Magnificent 7” strategy seems straightforward. A mass exodus by these schools would surely destroy the ACC. If there’s no ACC, there may be nobody holding their media rights. The implicit threat seemingly worked because the ACC approved a modified unequal revenue sharing model. Previously, all conference members were receiving the same payouts from the media rights contracts. Now, the distribution will be “success-based” resulting in disproportionate payouts depending on which schools generate the best ratings. This shift is widely expected to benefit the “Magnificent 7” because, with apologies to Duke basketball, these schools have historically generated the best ratings for the conference.

The unequal revenue sharing appears to be a stop-gap compromise while the Big-XII, Pac-12, SEC, and B1G Ten continue playing musical chairs. Yes, Miami should earn more as long as it continues to be in the top half of the league in viewership. But the total pot size for distribution is still dwarfed by the pots belonging to the B1G Ten and the SEC, and the ACC’s pot size is more or less locked in through 2036. The gap between the ACC and the B1G Ten or SEC will only grow over the next 13 years, and the temptation to leave the ACC will also grow each year as the exit penalty decreases.

It’s good to see Miami Athletic Director Dan Radakovich actively pushing the envelope. The new “success-based” revenue sharing is a promising development. Even if the ACC cannot be salvaged, and the “Magnificent 7” pursue the nuclear option of a mass exodus from the ACC, you can be confident that Radakovich is posturing Miami as best as possible. Some recent good news is that Miami is now a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), which is a widely known selling point for schools seeking to join the B1G Ten. There may also be opportunities for coast-to-coast partnerships with valuable, left-behind Pac-12 members such as Oregon, Utah, and Washington. After all, Radakovich was rumored to be on the short list for Pac 12 Commissioner in 2021 before he joined Miami. He’s probably very, very glad he doesn’t have that job.

The possibilities are endless as the situation unfolds. For now, the University of Miami will pick up a few extra dollars at the expense of the lesser watched ACC programs while the Hurricanes wait for the music to stop out west.