Where the ACC and SEC stand on conference realignment
SEC and ACC media days were this week, and the commissioners of the conferences — Greg Sankey and Jim Phillips — spoke at length about the latest conference realignment news
Will the SEC look to expand? Will the ACC grants of rights hold? Are two super conferences — likely the Big Ten and SEC — the future of college football?
Those are just a sampling of the questions that hang over college football right now, in the wake of Oklahoma and Texas electing to forgo Big 12 membership and join the SEC and USC and UCLA abandoning the Pac-12 for the Big Ten.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and ACC commissioner Jim Phillips fielded those sorts of questions and others related to the future of their conferences at their respective media days this week. Sankey spoke at SEC media days on Monday, and Phillips at ACC media days on Wednesday.
Here’s what they said, according to transcripts provided by College Press Box.
Will the SEC look to expand?
Following the news that USC and UCLA will join the Big Ten in 2024, speculation abounded that the SEC could look to expand again, beyond just adding Oklahoma and Texas in 2025.
Multiple ACC teams have been floated as possible adds by the conference — think Clemson, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia — as well as a few Pac-12 schools.
As far as Sankey is concerned, however, the SEC has no need to expand and is in great shape as presently constructed.
The great news for the Southeastern Conference is that people call and say, ‘Hey, you’re doing something really special.’ They kind of hint around the edges. We know who we are. We’re confident in our success. We’re really looking forward to the expansion and being at 16 teams. Don’t feel pressured to just operate at a number. But we’ll watch what happens around us and be thoughtful but be nimble.
... Again, we’re comfortable at 16. There’s no sense of urgency, no sense of panic. We’re not just shooting for a number of affiliations that make us better. Could they be out there? I would never say they’re not. I would never say that we will. We’re going to be evaluating the landscape. I’m not going to speculate. I actually am watching a lot of this activity operating around us, more so than impacting us directly. — Greg Sankey
Will the ACC remain intact?
The ACC, Big Ten and SEC are the only Power Five conferences as yet untouched — meaning they haven’t been looted by another conference — by the latest round of conference realignment. But the ACC has been viewed as the least stable of the three, in large part because the conference’s revenue falls far short of that of the Big Ten and SEC.
Phillips is confident his conference will continue as currently constructed, however.
I love our 15 schools, and I’m confident in us staying together. That’s all I’ve heard in all the calls that we’ve had. We want to work together to try to provide more resources to our student-athletes, so we’re all on the same page.
I sat here a year ago talking about Notre Dame and whenever I’ve been asked the question, we continue to remain close with Notre Dame. They know how we feel. They know that we would love to have them as a football member in the conference, but we also and I also respect their independence.
Having worked there, having two children there, going to school right now, one a student-athlete, I know what independence means to Notre Dame. So you respect it, and I know that if there comes a time that Notre Dame would consider moving to a conference and away from independence, I feel really good about it being the ACC. — Jim Phillips
Which was the bigger coup: the SEC adding Oklahoma and Texas or the Big Ten adding USC and UCLA?
In the eyes of Sankey, this isn’t really a question. Oklahoma and Texas are slated to join the SEC in 2025, and the conference believes it acquired the best two schools possible. At least in regard to fit in the SEC.
Yes (Texas and OU trump USC and UCLA). I’m not sure we want to use the word ‘trumped’ all the time these days. Got to be careful about that.
Yeah, we’re in contiguous states, southeast quadrant. I do have a few letters about what ‘southeast’ means. We are in the southeast quadrant of the United States. Those two additions actually restore rivalries. The Texas-Arkansas game last year was pretty special, but that goes back a long way. Obviously Texas and Texas A&M rivalry will be like our in-state rivalries across the league. You have Missouri and Oklahoma that are a quarter of the Big Eight that are now part of the Southeastern Conference and the opportunity for Arkansas and Oklahoma to play regularly.
I think that’s right. That’s who we are. Those fan bases get it. One of the very first calls it had, Hey, we watch how you’ve made decisions in the Southeastern Conference and how you want to achieve as universities and athletically, and we want to be a part of that. Absolutely, it’s right. — Greg Sankey
Can the ACC’s grant of rights really keep schools in the conference for 14 more years?
The ACC grant of rights has been a point of discussion throughout the summer. Considered a nearly ironclad legal agreement and extremely punitive — it has been estimated that it could cost schools as much as $500 million to get out of the agreement — many believe it is the reason ACC schools haven’t jumped ship yet.
In Phillips’ view, that should continue to be the case.
So I can just go by what history has told us with the grant of rights, including in current times. People talked about Oklahoma and Texas leaving immediately. I think that’s pretty well-stated now that that’s not the case. They’re going to wait until their grants of rights is over.
Listening to UCLA and USC at the end of June, June 30th, and subsequent days after they clearly are going to stay in the PAC-12 until their grant of rights is over. So you can follow the logic there. I would think that the significance of what that would mean, the television rights that the conference owns as well as a nine-figure financial penalty, I think it holds, but your guess is as good as mine.
... Everything is on the table. We understand what that means. We understand what that revenue means moving forward, but I will also say, as I look at the next few years, I like where we’re going. But, again, the window is through ‘36, so we’re going to have to address it, no question. — Jim Phillips
Will Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC earlier than 2025?
Ever since news broke that the Sooners and Longhorns were leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, there has been speculation that they would leave earlier than the reported 2025.
Many power brokers have already spoken on the subject, including ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro — almost all saying Oklahoma and Texas will remain in the Big 12 for two more years — and according to Sankey, the SEC has little to no say in the matter.
That’s not up to me. That’s about the relationship between Oklahoma, Texas and the Big 12. We are focused on the addition being effective July 1st, 2025. — Greg Sankey
Are two super conferences the future of college football?
While many assume that the future of college football will involve fewer power conferences — and possibly as few as two — Phillips believes that such a shift wouldn’t be the healthiest move for college athletics.
Revenue is certainly one piece and a really big piece as we move forward, but I will say it again, we need all communities healthy. When you think about where we’re at right now, we’re probably in the gated community as one of five. Maybe people have a different line of demarcation about who is in there. It really doesn’t take away from. We’re going to continue to try to find new ways to generate revenue for our conference.
... All neighborhoods need to be healthy. It’s not good for college athletics if we’re not, and, again, you heard my reference earlier. We understand where those two leagues (the Big Ten and SEC) are. No one is ignoring that. We’re all trying to find ways to close that gap.
So I know where our ... 15 schools are. We are really aligned to try to find some solutions to that revenue gap, but it can’t be at the expense of all the other things that we’re doing. So there’s I think a really good plan for us as we move ahead. Again, considering all of are our options. In these kinds of times you have to do that. This is unique what’s happened over the last 12 months. — Jim Phillips