CLEMSON FOOTBALL

Important dates coming up in Clemson's case versus the ACC
Clemson AD Graham Neff and ACC commish Jim Phillips are involved in a number of lawsuits for conference schools and the ACC. (Photo: Ken Ruinard / USATODAY)

Important dates coming up in Clemson's case versus the ACC


by - Senior Writer -

July 12 looms as the next big court date between Clemson University and the Atlantic Coast Conference, but a judge’s decision in Charlotte might provide clarity before then.

At stake is the heart of Clemson’s endeavors to leave the ACC—under the Grant of Rights, the league claims that it owns all of Clemson’s media rights until 2036, that Clemson entered into the agreement willfully, and that an exit fee of $140 million would be due should the Tigers leave the conference.

Clemson is asking for a declaration that the ACC only owns its broadcast rights for games played while the school is a member of the ACC and that granting the league Clemson's rights for the entirety of the ESPN deal — that 2036 date — is not "necessary" to fulfill its obligations in the contract.

Why is this date significant? ACC schools have until Aug. 15 to notify the conference of an intention to leave, if a school wants to play in another conference starting the next academic year (2025). If the court ruled in Clemson's favor, it would improve Clemson's position ahead of that date. If Clemson has the ability or intention to become a free agent, another conference could offer an invitation to join (at this point, the two main suitors and desired destinations would be the SEC and the Big 10).

A North Carolina judge on Tuesday morning promised to issue rulings on two motions in the ACC vs. Clemson case playing out in Charlotte before those two parties face each other again on July 12th in a suit filed by Clemson.

The pending decisions by North Carolina Business Court Chief Judge Louis A. Bledsoe III will resemble another step in the dueling lawsuits and could clarify where they will ultimately be heard.

Bledsoe committed to issuing rulings on Clemson’s motion to dismiss the ACC’s lawsuit and Clemson’s motion to stay the ACC’s lawsuit by late next week.

A little history - Clemson sued the ACC in Pickens County on March 19, challenging the conference’s grant of rights and $140 million exit fee required of any school hoping to leave the ACC for another conference (something the Tigers are heavily considering amid realignment) in the case Clemson vs. ACC.

The ACC, in turn, counter-sued Clemson in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina (where its Charlotte headquarters are located) and asked a court to declare its grant of rights and exit fee were “valid and enforceable” while seeking damages from Clemson for breaching that GOR in the case ACC vs. Clemson.

I’ve pored through court filings and have listed some interesting—at least to me—language used by the league and the university in the Pickens County suit.

*The ACC says North Carolina courts have jurisdiction in this matter because Clemson attends conference meetings in the Tar Heel state, plays games in the state, and its representatives serve on different committees and boards within the conference, an unincorporated nonprofit association in North Carolina.

*The ACC touts its success, saying, The ACC has led the Football Bowl Subdivision conferences in the best average rank in the U.S. News and World Report rankings for the past 17 years. It has a graduation success rate of 96% for all of its sports, and 147 of the teams in the ACC had a 100% graduation success rate. Seven of its 15 present Members have graduation rates of more than 91% for Football.

In the past two years and across all sports, ACC athletic teams have won 20 NCAA championships (including 14 championships in 2023), more than any other conference. The Conference has placed the second-highest number of teams in the College Football Playoff and is tied for the second most national championships in Football over the past decade. In Men’s Basketball, ACC teams appear in the Final Four consistently, and its programs have won more national championships than any other Conference over the past 30 years. In 2023, 24 ACC teams advanced to the finals or semi-finals of NCAA championships, and both the Men’s Lacrosse and Women’s Tennis Championships featured all-ACC finals. Eighteen ACC teams finished 2023 ranked first or second in the final 2023 polls, more than any other conference. The ACC sponsors 15 women’s sports, the highest number among major conferences, and 28 sports overall.

*The legal dates listed for leaving are as follows: a school must notify the league of its intentions by August 15th to leave by June 30th of the next calendar year.

*We posted earlier this week that the league was “disappointed” that Clemson turned down requests from the league and ACC to move this year’s rivalry game against South Carolina – scheduled for Saturday, November 30th, to a primetime game on Friday night, November 29th.

The league and ESPN agreed to several concessions regarding Clemson’s future scheduling:

1. November 23 game versus The Citadel scheduled at noon.

2. Confirmed prime time game time for the Friday, November 29 game.

3. Agreement to switch the scheduled 2027 Labor Day Monday conference game featuring Clemson (at NC State) to a Clemson home ACC game.

4. Limit of two (2) road ACC games in 2024 played in prime time.

5. Agreement that the University of South Carolina would reciprocate with hosting a future Clemson vs. South Carolina game on “Black Friday”.

The league said that despite having secured these concessions, and despite other ACC teams having agreed to play on “Black Friday” in previous instances (e.g., Georgia Tech vs. Georgia, Florida State vs. Florida, North Carolina vs. Notre Dame, Virginia vs. Virginia Tech, North Carolina vs. NC State, etc.), Clemson declined to move the game.

In an email from the ACC to Clemson Athletic Director Graham Neff, Michael Strickland, the Senior Associate Commissioner for Football, wrote:

As has been indicated to you during this process, the Conference Office is disappointed in Clemson University’s lack of cooperation on this matter. As all ACC members know, it is incumbent upon the ACC and its institutions to work in good faith with ESPN on football scheduling issues. This cooperation maximizes the value of our relationship with our media partner and strengthens our collective future. Clemson’s decision not to do so in this instance is harmful toward that goal.

With regards,

MICHAEL STRICKLAND

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