Two days after adjourning spring meetings fixated on revenue, the ACC on Friday released its 2021-22 tax document, showing record highs for income and average distribution to member schools.
Commissioner Jim Phillips foreshadowed the uptick in October, and the numbers delivered. The conference’s average distribution to its 14 full members increased 9.7% to $39.4 million, while revenue climbed 6.7% to $617 million.
Pitt, the ACC’s 2021 football champion, received the largest share at $41.3 million. Virginia Tech collected $40.4 million, Virginia $39 million. Partial member Notre Dame received $17.4 million.
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For all the hand-wringing over the ACC’s long-term contract with ESPN, television rights were the driving force, rising 11.7% to $443.7 million. The league’s TV revenue has more than doubled in the past seven years and figures to increase markedly again in 2022-23, the first full fiscal year in which the nation’s leading cable provider, Xfinity/Comcast, carried the ACC Network.
Also encouraging for the conference: The ACC’s record finances occurred during a year when its contracted New Year’s Six bowl, the Orange, hosted a College Football Playoff semifinal, meaning the league did not receive its usual $25 million payout from that event. In previous seasons that the Orange Bowl hosted a playoff semifinal, 2015-16 and 2018-19, conference revenue declined 7.4% and 2%, respectively.
Yet even as the ACC trends upward, the Big Ten and SEC continue to dominate college athletics’ relentless, and often exhausting, financial arms race. That revenue gap has long hovered over the ACC, never more so than earlier this week at the league’s spring meetings.
There, in debate that was, shall we say, heated, athletic directors crafted a plan to abandon the conference’s decades-old policy of essentially sharing all revenue equally. If at least 10 of the ACC’s 15 presidents approve, the league will use windfall from the expanded College Football Playoff and reward its top football and men’s basketball performers.
Friday’s news is unlikely to dent the ACC’s collective angst.
As USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz reported, the Big Ten ($58.8 million), SEC ($49.9 million) and Big 12 ($42 million-$44.9 million) distributed more money to their schools in 2021-22. The Pac-12 trailed among the Power Five at $37 million.
Moreover, with upcoming new TV deals, the Big Ten and SEC are poised to collect even more troughs o’ cash. Conversely, the ACC’s contract with ESPN runs through 2036, an agreement all 15 schools embraced seven years ago in exchange for ESPN creating the ACC Network.
Also in 2016, ACC schools extended their grant of media rights through 2036. That document confers each member’s broadcast rights to the conference, which in theory prevents any school from exiting the group.
But as Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock confirmed this week, the Hokies, Virginia, North Carolina, N.C. State, Clemson, Miami and Florida State have studied the grant for potential loopholes. That said, none of them has a standing invitation from another conference.
“I feel like we have a really connected group, I really do, and I’m not just saying that,” Phillips said Wednesday. “They understand what we’re faced with, and having discussions and thinking about what’s best for my school, I don’t know how you can completely criticize that because that’s the nature of this business that we’re in in college sports.”
The ACC’s internal projections have the conference trailing only the Big Ten and SEC in average distribution for the remainder of the 2020s, and the league’s athletic directors and Phillips are bullish on plans developed by their consultants, Fishbait Solutions, to further monetize the ACC Network.
Phillips said he awakens each day mindful of his charge: “We need to close the gap between (the ACC) and the top two conferences that have started to run away from us.”
@ByDavidTeel on Twitter