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Clemson joins Florida State in push to leave ACC, files lawsuit

Nakos updated headshotby:Pete Nakos03/19/24


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Clemson University has filed a lawsuit against the ACC in Pickens County, South Carolina, according to new court filings on Tuesday.

The 28-page complaint is the first step by the Tigers to ultimately leave the conference, similar to its peers at Florida State. The Seminoles are also entrenched in a court battle over the ACC’s Grant of Rights. Florida State believes it should be allowed to leave the ACC without penalty, despite agreeing to the grant of rights in 2013.

A grant of rights agreement gives conferences the right to broadcast all member schools’ home games for the duration of the media rights deal. In the ACC’s case, the GOR binds the league, schools and broadcast partners until the rights deal with ESPN expires in 2036. 

In the lawsuit, Clemson challenges that the ACC’s Grant of Rights “hinders Clemson’s ability to meaningfully explore its options regarding conference membership.”

“Without clarity as to its legal rights and obligations, Clemson cannot protect and advance its interests, or the interests of its student-athletes, in current and ongoing negotiations within the Conference, with the Conference’s existing media partner ESPN, and in collegiate athletics more generally,” the lawsuit states.

Clemson has been preparing to start its legal fight against the ACC for months. But lawyers have operated in the shadows compared to Florida State’s vocal fight with the league. The Tigers are seeking the rights to their games after leaving the ACC, according to the filing.

“The ACC’s actions interfere with Clemson’s free exercise of its rights and are fatally detrimental to Clemson’s efforts to ensure that its athletic programs can continue to compete at the highest level, which is critically important to Clemson even beyond athletics,” the lawsuit reads.

Clemson asks for no exit fee

This comes the same week Florida State and the ACC are set to meet for the first time in court, scheduled for Friday in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, court. Another motion hearing set for 9:30 a.m. ET on April 9 in Leon County.

Clemson’s filing on Tuesday also notes that the ACC never held a vote requesting its members approve of its lawsuit against Florida State. The Tigers are asking the court to rule that they are not required to pay an exit fee and it does not owe fiduciary duties to the ACC.

“Without a judicial declaration of its legal rights, which have been openly challenged by the ACC, Clemson is unable to pursue a wide range of strategic alternatives that may be necessary for its continued success in collegiate athletics and as an institution,” the complaint states. “By espousing an inaccurate interpretation of the grant of rights agreements and allowing that interpretation to proliferate throughout the media, the ACC has cast a harmful cloud of doubt on Clemson’s ability to engage in meaningful discussions with other conferences and media providers regarding potential future collaborations and/or to negotiate alternative revenue sharing proposals among ACC members.

“For Clemson to move ahead and ensure that it may continue to act in furtherance of its institutional mission, that cloud must be lifted.”