- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Back in December, the ACC Council of Presidents released a statement, hoping to try to put an end to rampant speculation that the league was on the verge of falling apart.
The statement began, "We, the undersigned presidents of the Atlantic Coast Conference, wish to express our commitment to preserve and protect the future of our outstanding league. ... "
Most fans and pundits chuckled. Not many believed that collection of words. Folks had heard pledges of undying loyalty and commitment before, from coaches, administrators and leagues before college athletics went haywire with expansion, changing the landscape forever.
Well, maybe folks should have believed the presidents four months ago.
The ACC Council of Presidents announced Monday that each of its current and future 15 members has signed a grant of media rights, effective immediately, essentially squashing expansion. The grant of rights would run through the 2026-27 season and guarantees if a school leaves for another league in the 14-year window, that school’s media rights -- including revenue -- for all home games would remain with the ACC and not its new conference.
Add that on top of a $50 million exit fee, and, well, it is just about guaranteed that nobody is going anywhere.
Not anytime soon.
The ACC becomes the fourth league with a grant of rights, joining the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12. The SEC is the only conference among the Power Five leagues that does not have a grant of rights. So, essentially, if the Big Ten or Big 12 wants to go expanding again, it is going to have to find somebody other than Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Georgia Tech to start bugging.
One league source told ESPN's Brett McMurphy: "It was pretty cut-and-dry to unify this league. The ACC has been a really good league and now it can become really special."
The ACC has been a league under siege for nearly a year. Let's go back to last May, when Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher had to try to defuse a major storm over comments he made saying the Seminoles should look at all their options for league membership. Those were coupled with comments from board of trustees chairman Andy Haggard, who told Warchant.com his school should talk with the Big 12.
Speculation has continued to follow Florida State and the Big 12. Clemson, too.
When Maryland left for the Big Ten last year, some speculated the Terps' departure was only the beginning. Then, when the SEC and Big 12 agreed to form a bowl partnership beginning in 2014, some suggested this signaled a death knell for the ACC. Add in growing speculation that the Big Ten had its eyes on several ACC schools as it considered an even greater East Coast push, and you see why many were not so high on the idea that the league would survive.
All the while, commissioner John Swofford sat back, watched, and never once showed any outward sign of concern. You can see why now:
He got league schools to agree to ratchet up the exit fee some $30 million to $50 million back in September, even as Florida State voted no on the increase.
He got a long-term agreement with the Orange Bowl, placing the ACC champion annually in the game against either an SEC or Big Ten team, or Notre Dame.
He added Notre Dame in all sports but football, though he did manage to wrangle a five-game football scheduling partnership between Notre Dame and the league.
He swapped Maryland for rising Louisville, a program that just had its football team in a BCS game, its men's hoops team win a national championship and it's women's hoops team play in the national title game.
And now, the grant of rights, a document that should halt expansion for now.
Every time his league has been threatened, Swofford has come up with an answer. Monday, however, brought the greatest answer of all.
Perhaps now, the ACC and its fans can rest easy. And Swofford can finally get the credit he deserves for batting away one threat after another, and keeping the ACC well positioned into the future.