The Atlantic Coast Conference is moving forward allowing schools to earn more money generated from their own postseason performances, a move coming as the league tries to find ways to close a growing financial gap with two power-conference peers.
The ACC announced Wednesday that its board of directors have endorsed a “success incentive initiative,” with details being worked out in the coming months for implementation for the 2024-25 season. The league has long distributed revenue evenly among its membership, including money coming from revenue-generating postseason events like the College Football Playoff and the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
The timing of the change would coincide with CFP expansion to 12 teams. The rest of the equal revenue-distribution structure — which would cover money tied to an ESPN TV contract running through 2036 — would remain unchanged.
In a statement, Duke president Vincent E. Price said league leadership is still "committed to exploring all potential opportunities that will result in additional revenues and resources for the conference.
“Today’s decision provides a path to reward athletic success while also distributing additional revenue to the full membership,” said Price, the board's chairman.
The move comes after a long-running series of discussions by the ACC, from commissioner Jim Phillips talking openly numerous times about evaluating ways to generate more revenue to recent spring meetings in Florida where the topic was a clear priority among administrators.
That's because the ACC is falling farther behind the Big Ten and Southeastern Conferences even as the ACC continues to generate its own record revenue hauls.
For example, the league reported a record $578.3 million in total revenue for the 2020-21 season while distributing an average of $36.1 million per school. Yet the SEC reported nearly $833.4 million in revenue and an average distribution of $54.6 million for that same season, while the Big Ten checked in at $679.8 million and an average $47.9 million payout.
The ACC's revenue increased to nearly $617 million by the 2021-22 season with an average distribution of nearly $39.5 million per school for full members — Notre Dame receives a partial share as a football independent — in another year of gains. Still, that left ACC schools receiving about $10 million less per year than SEC schools ($49.9 million), according to tax documents. Both leagues are partnered with ESPN in TV deals that include their own channels.
That has fueled speculation about the long-term health of the ACC in a time of realignment, though the grant-of-rights provision in the ESPN deal — signed in 2016 to ultimately launch the ACC Network — offers a significant obstacle to movement. It means the league controls media rights for any school that attempts to leave for the duration of the contract, which would deter defections since a school would not be able to bring TV value to a new league.
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