Jue. Abr 18th, 2024

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In a significant move that could continue to alter the rapidly shifting landscape of college sports, Clemson filed a lawsuit against the ACC on Tuesday that portends its exit from the league.

In a filing in the court of common pleas in Pickens County, South Carolina, Clemson calls into question both the ACC’s grant of rights and exit fees, calling the withdrawal penalty «unconscionable» and «unenforceable.»

It also calls the ACC’s view that the league’s grant of media rights would allow the league to own Clemson’s media rights after it left the league a «nonsensical reading,» «wrong» and «inconsistent with the plain language of that agreement.»

Clemson asks in the suit for a declaration that the ACC would not own the rights to Clemson’s games «after Clemson ceases to be a member of the ACC.» Clemson also wants the ACC exit fee — three times the ACC operating budget, an estimated $140 million — ruled as «an unenforceable penalty in violation of public policy.» (The total cost of the exit with the rights and the fee was cast as $572 million in Florida State’s lawsuit.)

The lawsuit is the second one filed against the ACC in recent months, as Florida State filed in late December. The Clemson suit is significant because it indicates that the league’s two clear-cut football powers — and only College Football Playoff participants who play annually — both want to leave the league.

The ACC preemptively filed against Florida State in Mecklenburg County, and the sides are haggling over the venue.

The suit comes on the same day that the College Football Playoff is expected to announce a deal with ESPN that further amplifies the financial gap between the Big Ten and the SEC and the rest of college sports. Annually, each Big Ten and SEC team is expected to earn more than $21 million under the new CFP agreement, which starts in 2026. ACC teams are expected to earn more than $13 million.

Clemson makes clear that the current ACC television contract, which lags well behind the upcoming SEC and Big Ten deal, looms as an inhibitor to Clemson competing at the highest level. Clemson took part in six College Football Playoffs and has won national titles in 2016 and 2018.

«The ACC’s actions interfere with Clemson’s free exercise of its rights and are fatally detrimental to Clemson’s efforts to ensure that its athletic programs can continue to compete at the highest level,» the suit claims, «which is critically important to Clemson even beyond athletics.»

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