After the ACC presidents’ meeting Wednesday night, Cal and Stanford’s quest for conference membership encountered “significant hurdles,” sources told ESPN.
No vote took place, but talks over an expansion are expected to continue among league presidents as they wrestle over how best to position the league going forward, sources said.
Talks about Cal and Stanford increased after the Pac-12 broke up last week, but the likelihood that the schools would join the conference has always been high because there was no significant monetary value. For a league facing a looming revenue gap with the SEC and the Big Ten that could amount to $30 million a year, increasing revenue must be a major consideration.
SMU has also been mooted as a potential complement to the ACC, and those talks aren’t going anywhere either, sources said. Cal and Stanford remain far more attractive to a faction of league presidents because of their academic value and brand value, even if they would not bring financial gain.
Sources confirmed that one school that has pushed to add Cal and Stanford is Notre Dame, which is a member of the ACC in all sports except football. Notre Dame gets a vote on expansion and has a long history with Stanford. The fit is also attractive from an Olympic perspective. But several sporting directors have wondered why anyone in the league should listen to Notre Dame when the Irish are so adamant about their independence.
That was just one of the dynamics at play on Wednesday. The day started with several sources indicating that they assumed the presidents might be ready to vote for Cal and Stanford since their discussions had already gone on for several days. According to a source, an expansion could help strengthen the league’s security in the long term. “It’s a numbers game,” the source said. “Number of league members.” Given the way some ACC schools have been investigating media rights grants, one might assume that adding members could help strengthen the league if exits do occur — too if their additions would not represent a large financial gain.
By Wednesday night, however, it became clear that there weren’t enough presidents willing to say yes to even vote. With 15 schools of different sizes and different interests, agreeing on a plan was not enough. The possibility of programs being eliminated is causing the more established schools within the league to consider what the next iteration of the ACC might look like, making it nearly impossible to achieve unanimity in the space. In order for the ACC to vote at Cal and Stanford, three-fourths of the conference presidents/chancellors, 12 of the 15 schools, must approve.
The ACC presidents had met Tuesday morning over Cal and Stanford, but sources said at the time the league was “still evaluating” the potential additions, with no decisions imminent and another call from athletic directors to look further into finances, is expected The near future. The sports directors met on Monday as part of the first exploratory talks.
The ACC’s deliberations on Cal and Stanford came at an intriguing moment, as several disaffected schools must make a decision within the next week on whether to leave their league.
There is a Tuesday deadline for schools to notify the ACC if they wish to leave and switch conferences for the 2024 season. This appointment was highlighted due to Florida State’s vocal dissatisfaction with the league’s revenue. (To make matters worse, seven schools — FSU, Clemson, Miami, NC State, North Carolina, Virginia, and Virginia Tech — communicated about options outside of the ACC earlier in the year.)
While the general expectation remains that no school will leave school just yet, the sheer possibility and FSU’s vocal unrest is causing confusion at the conference.
The ACC has been generally quiet during the recent rebalancing. The SEC strengthened two summers ago, with Texas and Oklahoma joining next year. The Big Ten has been joined in the past 13 months by USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington, and all are joining next year. The Big 12 added four news schools — Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah — in recent weeks and will debut in their new league next year as well.