Sources: Cal, Stanford to ACC hits ‘significant roadblocks’


After ACC presidents met Wednesday night, the pursuit of Cal and Stanford for conference membership “hit significant roadblocks,” sources told ESPN.

No vote was taken, but conversations about expansion among the league presidents are expected to continue as they wrestle with the best way to position the league into the future, sources said.

Talks about Cal and Stanford picked up after the Pac-12 broke apart last week, but there had always been long odds the schools would join the conference because there is not a significant financial value add. For a league that is staring at a looming revenue gap with the SEC and Big Ten that could reach $30 million annually, adding revenue must be a major factor for consideration.

SMU also had been bandied about as a potential addition to the ACC, and those conversations aren’t headed anywhere, either, sources said. Cal and Stanford remain far more appealing to a faction of league presidents because of their academic and brand value, even though they would not bring in a financial windfall.

Sources confirmed one school that has been pushing for the addition of Cal and Stanford is Notre Dame, which is a member in the ACC in all sports except football. Notre Dame does get a vote on expansion, and it has a long history with Stanford. The fit from an Olympics sports perspective is attractive, too. But multiple athletics directors have questioned why anyone in the league would listen to Notre Dame because the Irish remain so steadfast in remaining independent.

That was just one of the dynamics at play Wednesday. The day began with multiple sources indicating they felt presidents could be ready to vote Cal and Stanford in because their discussions had already encompassed several days. One source indicated expansion could help bolster the security of the league long-term. “It’s a numbers game,” the source said. “Number of league members.” Given the way some ACC schools have studied the media grant of rights, it could be reasoned that adding members could help bolster the league if there were any defections — even though their additions would not be a huge financial win.

By Wednesday evening, however, it became clear there were not enough presidents willing to say yes to even take a vote. With 15 schools of various sizes and different interests, there was not enough to coalesce around one plan. The potential of programs leaving has the more entrenched schools within the league pondering what the next iteration of the ACC could look like, making unanimity nearly impossible to reach within the room. For the ACC to vote in Cal and Stanford, it would require the approval of three-fourths of the conference’s presidents/chancellors, which means 12 of the 15 schools.

The ACC presidents had met Tuesday morning about Cal and Stanford, but sources said at the time that the league was “still evaluating” the potential additions, with no decisions expected imminently and another call of the athletic directors to further dig into the finances expected in the near future. The athletic directors had met Monday as part of the initial pair of exploratory calls.

The ACC’s deliberations on Cal and Stanford have come amid a fascinating moment, as multiple unhappy schools need to make a decision within the next week about whether they want to leave their league.

There is an Aug. 15 deadline for schools to notify the ACC if they want to leave and change conferences for the 2024 season, a date that has been highlighted because of Florida State’s vocal unhappiness about league revenues. (Also complicating matters was that seven schools — FSU, Clemson, Miami, NC State, North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech — were communicating about options outside the ACC earlier this year.)

While the general expectations remain that no school will leave just yet, the mere possibility and FSU’s vocal unrest leave the conference in a muddled place.

The ACC has been generally quiet during the latest ripples of realignment. The SEC fortified itself two summers ago, with the additions of Texas and Oklahoma coming next year. The Big Ten has added USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington in the past 13 months, with all of them also arriving next year. The Big 12 has added four news schools — Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah — in recent weeks, and they also will debut in their new league next year.


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