ACC files legal challenge against Clemson after school’s suit over grant of rights, withdrawal fee


The Atlantic Coast Conference on Wednesday filed a legal challenge in a North Carolina court against Clemson University, an expected move one day after Clemson filed its legal challenge in South Carolina in an attempt to get out of the conference’s grant of rights and exit fee.

The ACC filed a similar lawsuit against Florida State in North Carolina in December as FSU first put forth its attempt to get out of the conference agreements with a filing in Florida. The ACC wants these cases to be decided in its backyard, not those of the schools, arguing that the agreements are North Carolina contracts, where the conference headquarters are located.

The crux of the ACC’s claim against Clemson on Wednesday was the same it made against FSU late last year: the school agreed to these contracts and is not allowed to get out of them or challenge them.

“In 2012, Clemson voted to increase the withdrawal payment … to ‘an amount equal to three times the total operating budget of the Conference,’” the ACC filing said. “Clemson also agreed in 2013 and 2016, along with every other Member of the ACC, to grant its media rights, ‘irrevocably and exclusively,’ to all of its ‘home’ games to the Conference through 2036, ‘regardless of whether such Member Institution remains a member of the Conference during the entirety of the Term’ (the ‘Grant of Rights’). Indeed, Clemson celebrated these developments.”

The ACC filing opened with a 2016 quote from Clemson president and then-ACC board chair Jim Clements lauding the ACC’s new grant of rights and ESPN agreement.

FSU has estimated the cost of getting out of both agreements at around $572 million, between an exit fee and loss of media rights revenue. Clemson on Tuesday claimed the ACC exit fee is around $140 million. Both schools seek to get out of these agreements because the Big Ten and SEC have begun to surge ahead of the ACC in conference revenue by tens of millions per year, and FSU and Clemson are currently bound to the ACC grant of rights into 2036 and therefore less revenue. Clemson said in a statement on Tuesday that it has not given official notice about leaving the ACC.

Clemson’s legal filing on Tuesday argued that the grant of rights should not apply to a member if that member leaves the conference. A clause in the grant of rights signed by every school plainly says the opposite.

“Each of the Member Institutions acknowledges that the grant of Rights during the entire Term is irrevocable and effective until the end of the Term regardless of whether the Member Institution withdraws from the Conference during the Term or otherwise ceases to participate as member of the Conference in accordance with the Conference’s Constitution and Bylaws,” the clause said. Both copies of the grants of rights were included as an exhibit in the ACC filing.

Whether or not a court agrees is yet to be seen. This is expected to be a protracted legal fight. The ACC and FSU have a hearing scheduled for Friday in North Carolina over FSU’s motion to dismiss the ACC’s case. (The ACC has also filed a motion to dismiss FSU’s case in Florida).

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One peek behind the curtains from Wednesday’s filing was a claim from the ACC that Clemson sought to work with the conference on a “business solution” after the FSU filings in December and avoid going to court, only to later file against the league.

“Following the filing of these lawsuits, Clemson indicated a desire to work with the Conference regarding its own membership in the Conference and requested assurances of confidentiality and protections that the ACC would not file a lawsuit against it,” the ACC filing said. “The ACC agreed to work with Clemson, seeking a business solution rather than resorting to litigation. While these assurances were being documented, and without provocation by the ACC, on March 19, 2024, Clemson filed a Complaint against the ACC in Pickens County, South Carolina …

“On information and belief, Clemson had authorized the filing of litigation against the Conference as early as 2023 and, while it indicated to the ACC a desire to engage in productive conversations, it was actually finalizing and preparing its lawsuit seeking to file first in South Carolina.”

Thus, the ACC filed its legal challenge against Clemson on Wednesday. The conference now faces two pillars trying to break out.

“The ACC remains confident that its agreements with all its members will be affirmed by the courts,” the conference said in a statement Tuesday. “Clemson, along with all ACC members, voluntarily signed and re-signed the 2013 and 2016 Grant of Rights, which is binding through 2036. In addition, Clemson agreed to the process and procedures for withdrawal. The Conference’s legal counsel will vigorously enforce the agreement and bylaws in the best interests of the ACC’s current and incoming members.”

(Photo: Lee Coleman / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)





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