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FSU AD Michael Alford cautiously optimistic over ACC revenue plan

Michael Alford’s vantage point next to the 18th green at Grayhawk Golf Club allowed him unfettered access to watch the Florida State’s women’s golf team compete in the NCAA championships.

With temperatures already climbing into the triple digits in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Seminoles’ athletics director found a quiet respite for a moment of peace.

It’s been a busy few days for Alford, who watched FSU clinch the NCAA softball regionals in Tallahassee before heading west. He’ll also watch the men’s golf team here before returning to Florida Friday to watch the softball team host the Super Regional.

A week ago, Alford was in Amelia Island taking part in the ACC’s annual spring meetings, where much of the focus centered on a possible new revenue distribution model.

“I can tell you we had very open and transparent discussions for really the first time since I’ve been AD,” Alford said. “Talking to other [ADs], it was the most transparent open discussions amongst the ADs we’ve ever had. It was very welcome and I felt very satisfied with the discussions.

“Now, some of us think differently than others, which is fine, but I’m going to position Florida State differently than maybe some other schools, but at least we’re talking about solutions.”

It was Alford’s comments, taken from an FSU board of trustees meeting in February, where he voiced his concerns over the growing revenue gap between the ACC and the Big Ten/SEC, that set the tone for last week’s meetings.

Alford projected a $30 million revenue gap that would grow larger over the next decade under new media rights deals by the Big Ten/SEC. Meanwhile, the ACC remains locked into its current grant of rights deal with ESPN through 2036.

While the ACC reported record revenue for its 2021-22 fiscal year while distributing an average of $39 million per institution, those figures remain behind those of the Big Ten ($58.8 million with slightly less going to Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers), SEC ($49.9 million), Big 12 ($42 million to $44.9 million) and slightly ahead of the Pac-12 ($37 million).

Florida State was one of seven schools that reportedly sent lawyers to study the league’s grant of rights to determine whether it was feasible for an exit. Under the deal, any school leaving the ACC would be forced to pay a $120 million exit fee and forfeit media rights to its home contests until 2036.

Alford confirmed FSU did study the grant of rights.

“We did like others and I would hope all 14 [member institutions] have gone in and looked at it as well, but I don’t know,” he said. “I can tell you we’ve been in [to look at it] several times to evaluate the contract and get a look at the contract because with the collegiate landscape changing daily like it is, we’ve got to make sure we’re prepared and we have all of our options.”

“I’m a big decision tree guy and we have a decision tree of all our options.”

Alford said the school is constantly examining and looking at those options.

Florida State would be an attractive option if there were another round of conference realignment, mainly if the Big Ten or SEC looks to expand. But with both leagues already adding major brands like USC and UCLA (Big Ten) and Oklahoma and Texas (SEC) in 2024, it appears unlikely expansion could happen before their next round of media rights deals expire in 2030 or 2034 respectively.

Alford said he hasn’t spoken with any other leagues regarding expansion, noting that talking about it with them would be considered tampering.

Meanwhile, the ACC’s Board of Directors is meeting this week in Charlotte to discuss a new revenue distribution format that could help relieve some member schools. It’s based on a success initiative model that rewards institutions that perform well, like qualifying for the College Football Playoff or earning a spot in the NCAA basketball tournament.

“It will help and while it won’t close the gap, it will provide some assistance,” he said.

While Alford has seen some of the proposals, he remains optimistic about the outcome.

“I’m in favor of anything that benefits Florida State,” Alford said. “This gives everybody in the conference an opportunity. If you have success, you are rewarded for it. At the same time, I believe the media value should also be changed and divided differently, and right now, that’s not being looked at.”

As last week’s meetings wrapped up, ACC commissioner Jim Phillips stressed that league officials were on the same page regarding this process.

“What I’ve been told is we’re all in this thing together — emphatically,” Phillips said. “We believe in the ACC and we believe where we’re going and we want to continue to work together.”

Alford agrees with that sentiment but cautions FSU will continue to look at what’s best for the institution.

“Everybody’s on the same page regarding looking and trying to find a solution to the revenue gap. Now what’s that going to be? I’m anxious to see what solution will come from our meetings and discussions,” Alford said. “As far as Florida State goes, we’ll continue to monitor the collegiate landscape and continue to be good partners within the conference and work with the conference to find a solution and keep trying to find solutions for revenue opportunities.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Matt Murschel at mmurschel@orlandosentinel.com or follow him on Twitter at @osmattmurschel.