Business LawLitigation InsightsFlorida State University sues the ACC in First Step to Leave Conference

December 22, 2023

In a significant legal move, Florida State University (FSU) has initiated proceedings to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). FSU has been a member of the ACC for 32 years. On December 22, 2023, the university’s Board of Trustees filed a lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court, accusing the ACC of antitrust violations and breach of contract.

The lawsuit alleges that the ACC has failed to maximize revenue and athletic opportunities for its member institutions, citing poor management of their media rights agreement with ESPN. This mismanagement has reportedly resulted in financial losses for member schools, placing them at a competitive disadvantage compared to institutions in other major conferences.

A central point of contention in the lawsuit is the ACC’s handling of withdrawal penalties. The conference is accused of using prohibitively high fees, estimated at $572 million, to deter members from exiting. These penalties are claimed to be the most severe in college sports.

Peter Collins, Chairman of the FSU Board of Trustees, expressed disappointment with the ACC’s performance, highlighting recent issues as a culmination of long-standing problems. FSU President Richard McCullough supported the legal action, stating that the university’s athletic and institutional goals are no longer aligned with the ACC’s direction.

The lawsuit also challenges the ACC’s media rights agreement with ESPN. It notes that while the ACC has locked in terms with ESPN until 2036 without significant financial benefit, other conferences have secured more favorable, lucrative deals. This disparity has reportedly widened the revenue gap and diminished the ACC’s prestige and fiscal stability.

FSU’s decision to sue follows what they describe as years of inaction from the ACC in addressing these issues. The university seeks to challenge the ACC’s restrictive policies and advocate for the rights and interests of its member schools in this legal battle. The ACC has already indicated it intends to uphold its Grant of Rights agreement with FSU and defend against this lawsuit.
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