How conference realignment could impact the ACC and Duke

Conference realignment has occupied the lead up to college football, putting the ACC in a challenging position.
Conference realignment has occupied the lead up to college football, putting the ACC in a challenging position.

Ah, conference realignment, how nice to have you back.

As if this summer was not hectic enough for college athletics, Oklahoma and Texas finalized a 2025 move to the SEC last month, creating a future 16-team super conference. Now, the other four power conferences are in scramble mode to keep up. In the ACC’s case, multiple options are on the table, but a lengthy deal with ESPN complicates things. Let’s take a deep dive on how all this reshuffling roulette impacts the ACC, and by extension, Duke. 

Duke’s place 

In general, Duke’s position in all this is tough to judge. As one of the founding members of the ACC, the University’s stature as a leading voice in the conference is secure. Keeping Clemson and Florida State from joining an SEC-driven super league is an imperative, a task that could be accomplished by making key additions and potentially renegotiating the deal. It’s obvious that Duke wants the ACC to stay intact, which means from the Blue Devils’ perspective, anything should be on the table.

Media rights 

Some eye-popping numbers here. For years, SEC on CBS was one of the most undervalued entities in sports television, as the conference received $55 million annually. Last December, though, the SEC struck a 10-year deal with ESPN/ABC, a partnership that kicks off in 2024 and will bring in roughly $300 million annually to the league. For context, the ACC’s contract with ESPN—a deal that began in 2019 to coincide with the birth of the ACC Network—pays $240 million a year and lasts until 2036. That’s a gap of about $4.3 million per school, not a massive differential but one that will likely expand thanks to the ratings potential that Oklahoma and Texas bring. Add in the fact that the Big Ten's and Pac-12's current media rights deal will expire in 2023 and before the 2024 season, respectively, and the ACC is at clear disadvantage in the TV realm. If only there was a major brand out there that could help offset those relative deficits…

Notre Dame 

Well well well. The Fighting Irish, despite their stated preference to remain independent, always find themselves inserted into the conversation, and this edition of realignment frenzy is more of the same. But despite a scheduling agreement with the ACC since 2014 and a conference affiliation for the 2020 season, the Fighting Irish remain firmly independent when it comes to football. That does not mean that the ACC will not, and should not, continue to view adding Notre Dame as a viable option. 

For starters, the Fighting Irish’s deal with NBC brings in $15 million annually to the university. Last season, when Notre Dame joined the ACC and played a 10-game conference schedule, that TV revenue was added to the total amount from ESPN and divided up among all 15 schools. That sort of trade-off makes sense for both sides, as the Fighting Irish were able to compete in the ACC championship and could have represented the conference in the Orange Bowl. 

Besides, with an expanded 12-team playoff on the horizon, the ACC could coax Notre Dame into joining to remove the uncertainty surrounding a shot at a national title. It’s worth a phone call—a lot of phone calls in fact—and could also add to the academic standing of the conference, which would likely appeal to Duke.

West Virginia 

Another possible addition could be West Virginia, which makes geographic and cultural sense. The Mountaineers have always felt a little out of place in the Big 12 since joining nine years ago, so reuniting with old Big East foes such as Syracuse, Pittsburgh—did somebody say Backyard Brawl?—and Louisville could pay dividends for all parties. The ACC has struggled to identify traditional football rivalries that engage a national audience outside of Miami-Florida State, making this a natural maneuver. Additionally, from a men's basketball perspective—again, right up Duke’s alley—West Virginia joining would be a plus. 

Editor's note: A Duke spokesperson declined The Chronicle's request for comment from incoming athletic director Nina King on the impact of conference realignment on the ACC and Duke. 

Max Rego profile
Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.


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