In a significant development that will reshape the college sports landscape, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) has unanimously voted to admit Stanford University, the University of California (Cal), and Southern Methodist University (SMU) as its newest members. This expansion reaffirms the ACC’s status as a premier super conference in collegiate athletics.

Commissioner Jim Phillips expressed his excitement, declaring, “This marks a transformative day for the ACC.” With the addition of these three esteemed institutions, the ACC will bolster its football roster to 17 teams and expand to 18 teams in most other sports, while Notre Dame remains independent in football.

The decision to welcome Stanford, Cal, and SMU into the ACC was not without its challenges. Notably, both the University of North Carolina and Florida State University initially voted against expansion, citing concerns about the ACC’s revenue distribution model. However, after further deliberations and negotiations, the majority of ACC members rallied behind the expansion, recognizing it as an opportunity to enhance the conference’s competitiveness and financial strength.

The ACC’s geographical footprint will now span from the Northeastern city of Boston to the sun-soaked beaches of Miami, extending westward to the heart of Texas in Dallas and reaching all the way to Northern California, where Stanford and Cal are located. This coast-to-coast presence aligns the ACC with other major conferences like the SEC, Big Ten, and Big 12, each spanning multiple time zones.

ACC Expands its Dominance with Stanford, Cal, and SMU

To address concerns about increased travel for student-athletes, the ACC is actively exploring ways to minimize the impact, with Dallas serving as a potential central location for games involving eastern members and Stanford/Cal. The goal is to maintain the integrity of competition while considering the practicalities of a widespread conference.

This expansion marks the conclusion of a wave of realignment among the nation’s most powerful conferences. The ACC’s move to admit Stanford, Cal, and SMU follows the Pac-12’s recent losses to the Big Ten and Big 12, leading these institutions to seek new conference affiliations.

For Stanford and Cal, joining the ACC represents a strategic move to secure competitive infrastructure and long-term media revenues, crucial for their student-athletes’ continued success. The ACC’s media rights revenue, derived from its partnership with ESPN, will provide a substantial financial boost to both institutions over time.

Under the terms of their entry into the ACC, Cal and Stanford will initially receive a partial share of ACC Tier 1 media revenue, estimated at approximately $25 million annually. This arrangement will last for nine years before transitioning to a full payment in the final three years of the conference’s deal with ESPN. The specifics of SMU’s entry indicate that the Dallas-based university will forgo all ACC media rights distribution for nine years, with expectations of higher revenues down the line.

Despite the revenue challenges, all three schools will immediately enjoy full revenue shares from the ACC Network, College Football Playoff, bowl games, and NCAA men’s basketball tournament units. The ACC’s commitment to an incentive-based plan ensures that new members have multiple avenues for funding beyond media revenue.

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With this expansion, the ACC welcomes Stanford, Cal, and SMU into its fold, creating a dynamic mix of academic and athletic excellence. As these institutions prepare to embark on this new journey, the ACC stands poised to enter a new era of competition, collaboration, and growth, further solidifying its position as a dominant force in college athletics.