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May 13, 2009

Commentary: SECs TV deal a big deal to ACC

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CLEMSON - A lot of topics were broached this week at the ACC spring meetings in Amelia Island, Fla.

Conference officials, athletics directors and coaches discussed ways to trim expenses during these perilous economic times.

They talked about expanding conference schedules in men's basketball from 16 to 18 games.

They talked about an early signing date in football.

They talked about a lot of important things.

But by far the most monumental issue facing the ACC right now was a mere footnote at the meetings, if the media coverage of said meetings provides any indication.

Last August, the Southeastern Conference signed long-term television deals with ESPN and CBS for unfathomable amounts of money. The kind of money that will inflict large-scale and long-lasting repercussions for the ACC and other conferences.

Evidently, the ACC and its member schools aren't fretting much about this publicly. But rest assured that lots of folks - including folks here at Clemson - are privately bracing themselves for the seismic impact of this development.

The SEC's new contracts, which take effect this year, will bring $3 billion to the conference's coffers over a 15-year stretch.

Yes, billion.

That translates into about $205 million per year that'll be divvied up among the SEC's 12 schools.

Do the math, and each school could get $17 million per year from the SEC in TV money alone.

That's about $6 million more than the schools were raking in under the previous deal. And we all know they weren't exactly slumming it before last August's blockbuster agreements came along.

"You obviously have some concern about someone having more access to resources than you do," said Katie Hill, Clemson's senior associate athletics director in charge of finances.

Hill estimates Clemson gets $6.5 million per year from the ACC's broadcast contract.

Doesn't take much number-crunching to spot the vast chasm in revenue.

And it doesn't take much deduction to realize that the SEC, which has long enjoyed a status as the superpower of college sports, is on the verge of lapping the competition.

This is resoundingly important to Clemson because the Tigers, like Georgia Tech and Florida State, have an in-state SEC rival to deal with.

Clemson has wiped the Gamecocks off the floor in football, claiming 10 of the past 12 meetings. The same dominance has unfolded on the basketball court of late, with the Tigers on a five-game winning streak.

But you'd better believe the folks in the Jervey and McFadden buildings are wary of what could happen if the hated Gamecocks have that much more cash to play around with.

To put the SEC's numbers into perspective, Notre Dame gets $9 million annually from the deal that made NBC the Irish's official network.

So teams like Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and, yes, South Carolina, are now going to be bringing in dough that makes Notre Dame's deal look like chump change.

The repercussions are evident already, even though the SEC's deal doesn't take effect until the coming football season.

Tennessee is shelling out the cash to football coach Lane Kiffin and his staff. Kiffin's assistants are making $3.25 million, including $1.2 million for defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Heck, the salary of defensive line coach Ed Orgeron ($650,000) isn't far behind that of Clemson's head coach ($800,000).

Don't think the coming windfall didn't play a role in Kentucky's willingness to commit $4 million a year to new basketball coach John Calipari.

And don't think it wasn't a factor in Georgia and Alabama throwing out some gaudy numbers -- $2 million, according to reports - in their searches to land big-name basketball coaches.

Remember John Chavis? He was Dabo Swinney's top candidate to replace defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, and Clemson was willing to pay him a salary ($400,000) that far eclipsed Koenning's deal ($260,000).

LSU's Les Miles swooped in and offered Chavis even more money.

How about facilities? Think SEC schools will be able to take this so-called arms race to another level with millions more rolling in?

The SEC's TV deal will have an impact on recruiting, too. When you can say that every single one of your conference games will be televised by CBS or one of ESPN's various platforms, it tends to leave an impression.

The ACC's seven-year, $258 million broadcast deal was signed in 2004 and is up after the 2010-11 season. Commissioner John Swofford has reportedly said negotiations will commence next spring, at the latest.

The SEC, which has claimed three consecutive BCS title games, has more leverage when it comes to these things.

As CBS executive Mike Aresco said in August after the deal was completed: "The SEC is the gold standard in college athletics."

The ACC, which was 1-9 in BCS games before Virginia Tech's Orange Bowl win over Cincinnati last season, desperately needs some bargaining power.

No one will be pulling harder than Swofford for the economy to turn around (The SEC, by the way, hit the jackpot by inking its deal before the worst of the economic plummet).

No one will be pulling harder for the ACC to follow through on its predicted resurgence on the gridiron. Some prognosticators have Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and North Carolina in the top 15 of their early polls.

But still…

You thought the SEC enjoyed an advantage already? This is akin to a 20-handicapper squaring off with Tiger Woods … and giving Woods strokes.

The ACC and other conferences need the round of their lives just to stay in this game.

*** To chat with other Clemson fans about this article please visit The West Zone message board.


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