In college football realignment, the SEC, Big Ten and ESPN may decide ACC fate

After Clemson followed FSU in legal action against the ACC, college football realignment may speed up again. ESPN's partnership with the SEC may be the deciding factor.

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This week the biggest news in the world of college football was not Clemson's lawsuit against the ACC. The Tigers were just following along with what FSU had already done. The bigger news concerned what could happen to the ACC within the next year.

Along with other disagreements, FSU and Clemson want to be released from their Grant of Rights deals with the ACC. It is clear both programs want a move to either the SEC or the Big Ten and without those rights, neither can do so for many years.

The legal maneuvering could go on for years. However, far sooner the recent lawsuits against the ACC could become moot. In a recent podcast by Josh Pate a new date was explained as a potential tipping point for the ACC.

According to Pate, less than a year from now, in February 2025 ESPN could walk away from its current deal with the ACC. The impact of such a decision could result in another Power Five conference being relegated to a college football also-ran, similar to what happened to the Pac-12.

The answer to why ESPN might take momentous action is simple. It is the SEC. Two to four top ACC brands such as FSU, Clemson, and North Carolina moving to the SEC would financially benefit ESPN.

As Pate reiterated, it is important to remember the team brands matter, not the size of their media markets. ESPN has been saying this for years. An example is Clemson and FSU would be more desirable than Georgia Tech or possibly Miami.

Yahoo's Ross Dellenger recently explained one possible scenario, "... the league is held together by the deal with ESPN. There are largely two ways that ESPN itself could set fire to the contract: If the league drops below the requisite 15-member threshold; or if ESPN elects next February to decline to opt into the final nine years of a contract that extends through 2036."

Dellenger recounted that last May, seven ACC schools were engaged "in a concerted effort to find an exit path from the conference and its television contract." With the addition of SMU, Stanford, and Cal, the ACC has 17 members. If just three of the 17 decide to leave, the ESPN deal can be voided.

Is a bigger SEC good for college football?

Many SEC fans think going much above 16 teams is a bad idea. If the current SEC schools and Greg Sankey agree, the SEC might look to the SEC for just two teams. The most likely ones would be Clemson and North Carolina, along with Florida State, but the Big Ten will compete for all three.

247's Brad Crawford recently projected that Clemson and North Carolina would move to the SEC. Per Crawford, Florida State and Miami would join the Big Ten.