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Exit strategy: Florida State board votes to sue ACC


Florida State’s board of trustees filed a lawsuit on Friday against the Atlantic Coast Conference alleging “years of mismanagement” and challenging the league’s “draconian” withdrawal penalties.

The suit filed in Leon County Circuit Court claims it would cost at least $572 million for the Seminoles to leave the conference they have called home since 1992.

“The underperformance by the ACC has ramped up dramatically in just the last few years,” Florida State board chairman Peter Collins said. “The ACC has also unfairly — and we believe illegally — sought to prevent members from exploring their fundamental right to withdraw by threatening to impose an astounding and pernicious half-billion-dollar penalty. It’s simply unconscionable.”

The lawsuit claims the ACC failed to fulfill its obligations to generate substantial revenues and to maximize athletic opportunities for its members.

Florida State also argues that the league’s mishandling of negotiations with ESPN deprived its members of tens of millions in annual revenues.

The suit accuses the ACC of restraint of trade, breach of contract and a failure to perform.

“I fully support the Board’s decision to take this legal action against the ACC,” school president Richard McCullough said. “It is becoming painfully apparent that Florida State’s athletic ambitions and institutional priorities are no longer served by the ACC’s leadership.”

The College Football Playoff snub of the unbeaten ACC champion Seminoles earlier this month is seen as the final straw for leaving the conference, particularly since one-loss teams from the SEC (Alabama) and Big 12 (Texas) were selected along with unbeaten Michigan and Washington.

The lawsuit argues that the CFP’s “stunning decision” to exclude Florida State “crystallizes” years of ACC failures.

“The ACC has negotiated itself into a self-described ‘existential crisis,’ rendered itself fiscally unstable and substantially undermined its members’ capacity to compete at the elite level,” the suit says. “In doing so, the ACC violated the contractual, fiduciary and legal duties it owed its members.”

The ACC released a lengthy statement from commissioner Jim Philips and ACC board of directors chairman Jim Ryan.

“Florida State’s decision to file action against the Conference is in direct conflict with their longstanding obligations and is a clear violation of their legal commitments to the other members of the Conference. All ACC members, including Florida State, willingly and knowingly re-signed the current Grant of Rights in 2016, which is wholly enforceable and binding through 2036. Each university has benefited from this agreement, receiving millions of dollars in revenue and neither Florida State nor any other institution, has ever challenged its legitimacy.

“As a league, we are proud of the successes of our student-athletes and that the ACC has won the most NCAA National Championships over the past two and half years while also achieving the highest graduation success and academic performance rates among all FBS conferences, so it is especially disappointing that FSU would choose to pursue this unprecedented and overreaching approach.

“We are confident that the Grant of Rights, which has been honored by all other universities who signed similar agreements, will be affirmed by the courts and the Conference’s legal counsel will vigorously enforce the agreement in the best interests of the ACC’s current and incoming members.”

–Field Level Media

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