As conference alignment continues, Florida colleges are turning to athletics to stay competitive
A shakeup in athletic conferences has some of Florida’s top institutions feeling pressed to generate more revenue.
Florida State University President Richard McCullough recently discussed the school’s budget with his board of trustees. The conversation shifted into a discussion over the future of FSU sports.
“I believe FSU, at some point, will have to very seriously consider leaving the ACC unless there was a radical change to the revenue distribution," said McCollough.
McCullough’s comment refers to the university’s media rights deal with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Back in 2016, FSU signed away their TV rights to the ACC—which later sold them to ESPN.
FSU’s home broadcasts and media revenue are controlled by ESPN for the next 20 years. But under that deal McCollough says, the school will lose out on millions of dollars, because of how the revenue is distributed. He told the board the Noles may have to cancel construction projects and redo the coaches’ contracts to keep from going under.
“FSU helps to drive value for any partner," said McCullough. "We have spent a year trying to understand how we might fix the issue. There are no easy fixes to this problem, this challenge.”
Earlier this month, FSU floated the idea of cutting ties with the ACC, but nothing happened—largely due to a hefty exit fee of around $120 million dollars, and no clear path toward how the school would regain their media rights. Therefore, the deal between the ACC and FSU remains intact, for now.
Other Florida schools have been able to negotiate new deals
Both the University of Central Florida and Florida Atlantic University got their wish earlier this year to compete in a new conference.
FAU will be participating in the American Athletic Conference (AAC), while UCF will play in the Big 12. The new partnerships would give both institutions a shot at improving recruitment and receive more nationally televised games.
“What we need to do is make sure that we get our message out there and there’s no better vehicle for that than athletics," said UCF’s President Alexander Cartwright at a press conference. "The fact we have ads on major games that can be seen around the country, that matters to us academically. People will see what is coming out of UCF”
While the Big-12 or the AAC may not bring in the same amount of revenue as other leagues, both schools still could expect a favorable bump in pay compared to their old conferences.
Since the switch, UCF has had record-breaking donations to support athletics. With that, paired with the millions of dollars expected to come in from the school’s new media deal, UCF could finally break ground on a new $340 million on-campus stadium that’s been in the works since 2021.
But as always, there’s a catch
Both institutions had to put up money to join their leagues. UCF’s President said that the school paid $10 million in exit fees and another $2.5 million into escrow to join the Big 12 or what he calls “the cost to be exceptional.”
“When you’re an exceptional institution, you decide you’re going to be exceptional in everything and athletics is one of those things,” said McCollough.
Data obtained from USA Today reveals that FSU, UCF, and FAU brought in over $289 million last year in just athletics alone. As each university continue searching for its next big hit, some fans are likely questioning whether college sports are still "just a game."
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