Welcome to March, SporticoU readers. While you may be wondering how the heck we are already two full months into the new year, I have good news: March means madness.
The full 68-team brackets for both the men’s and women’s tournaments will soon be set—Selection Sunday falls on March 12 this year.
If your team seems like a sure No. 1 seed, I come bearing more good news. Top seeds have won 19 of the past 28 men’s national championships and 22 of the past 28 women’s titles. Long story short, top seeds have a solid track record in both tournaments (yes, I am a Virginia alum, and yes, I do remember the UMBC game).
If you’re currently on bubble watch, that fact might not instill much hope about your team’s chances of dancing all the way to Houston, but let me offer you two reasons for optimism. First, it’s basically a rule at this point that every tournament has a Cinderella team. (Saint Peter’s wore the glass slipper last year all the way to the Elite Eight as a No. 15 seed!) On top of that, No. 11 seeds cause the most chaos on the men’s side. From 1985 to 2021, as many No. 11 seeds as No. 5 seeds made it to the Elite Eight. Now, I’m no expert, but if you’re looking for a bracket-buster, tuck that fun little fact away.
March Madness is the NCAA’s biggest cash cow, its billion-dollar baby, the bedrock of the governing body’s financial success. Comparatively, that’s what Florida State and Clemson believe they are to the ACC. The Seminoles and Tigers are frustrated, to put it nicely, about the widening financial gap between the ACC and the Big Ten and SEC and how far they feel they’re falling behind. We’re not necessarily talking about anyone jumping ship right this second, but both schools do want some sort of solution.
To be clear, Florida State and Clemson would make more money as members of the Big Ten or SEC conferences, especially in a few years when their respective new media deals kick in at full force. But it would also cost them a ton to make a jump right now. We’ve talked about the amount Oklahoma and Texas will cough up—but these numbers make the $100 million they’ll pay to depart the Big 12 a year early look like chump change.
Here’s the skinny: TV revenue is a huge chunk of change for college athletics conferences. The ACC is, rather unfortunately, locked into its contract with ESPN through 2036. With what the conference makes right now, it distributed about $42 million to each of its members this past year. But … schools in the SEC and Big Ten are on track to get more than $70 million annually. Even worse, both of those conferences will renegotiate their contracts again before the ACC’s deal with ESPN expires, really widening the gap.
To help alleviate some of the disparity, Florida State proposed a new, unequal revenue distribution model based on the percentage of revenue each member school generates. That would mean schools like Clemson and Florida State get bigger pieces of the pie to help them stay competitive with their SEC and Big Ten rivals, but it doesn’t seem like the ACC is all-in on the idea. And yes, we’re mostly talking about college football here, which commands the bulk of the biggest conference’s television dollars.
Anyway, Florida State’s athletic director Michael Alford is frustrated about his department falling financially behind, and he said as much last week during a board of trustees meeting. The same day, Clemson athletic director Graham Neff shared a similar feeling.
FSU’s general counsel told trustees it would cost about $120 million for the school to leave its home conference early, which doesn’t seem too terrible if you think you’ll make $30 million more a year as a member of another conference. But that number only accounts for the exit fee (which is three times annual revenue). There’s also the Grant of Rights to consider, which runs for another 13 years in the ACC and legally gives members’ media rights to the conference. So, as ESPN’s Dave Hale neatly spelled out, FSU “would not be able to earn media revenue or possibly even broadcast games until 2036. That’s a matter of more than $350M…”
Texas and Oklahoma, on the other hand, only had one year left on their Grant of Rights, making it much easier to negotiate an early exit. It’s safe to say, leaving is not a cheap option for either Florida State or Clemson right now, but with tension still rising, it’s worth keeping an eye on until a solution is found.