FSU vs. ACC lawsuit: Florida State alleges conference ‘mischief’

Florida State is accusing the ACC of a “hide-the-ball” game involving its confidential contracts with ESPN. That relatively harsh sentiment comes from the Seminoles’ latest legal filing against their conference, and it has potentially significant consequences.


The ACC and FSU disagree on whether discovery — the phase of producing relevant documents — should begin in the case FSU started in Leon County. The conference doesn’t want the process to start yet because other issues are unresolved. FSU and the ACC are still litigating where they’ll litigate (North Carolina or Tallahassee), and a Leon County hearing is scheduled for April 9.

FSU, however, wants discovery to be accelerated because “the record thus far demonstrates the extreme hazard of taking the ACC’s word for it.” Florida State made that claim in a document filed Wednesday.

FSU’s argument

Florida State’s counsel points to several instances where, the latest filing contends, the ACC has participated in “mischief.” The issues stem, in part, from the fact that the ACC and ESPN say their TV contracts are confidential, so they go to great lengths to shield them from public view. But the terms are relevant to this half-billion-dollar dispute.

The ACC has argued it had a contractual obligation to defend its contracts, even if that meant suing FSU. But the part of the contract that spelled out its obligations had not been shared with the court; FSU called them “never-before-seen contract terms.” Florida State argues the language of those now-seen terms is murkier than the ACC let on, so the ACC’s defense is murkier, too.

Another FSU argument is easier to understand. The ACC referenced a contractual clause with ESPN that said member schools would have to keep the deal confidential. But the ACC left out a key part of the clause: “subject to the law applicable to each such Conference Institution.” That means the ACC-ESPN contract might not be confidential if it’s subject to disclosure under Florida’s open records laws.

Lastly, Florida State borrows an argument Clemson made in its recent lawsuit against the ACC: The conference’s deals only apply to member schools as long as they are, in fact, member schools still in the league.

Why it matters

Though attorneys have strategic reasons for wanting all relevant information, it’s possible the FSU-ACC case never makes it to trial in Leon County or North Carolina. Even so, discovery could still be meaningful and, as importantly, messy. Are there documents the ACC doesn’t want to produce publicly? What about FSU? The sooner discovery begins, the sooner any unflattering or supposedly secret records — from either side — could become part of the court record for anyone to see. We’ll see what, if anything, that means for a possible negotiated settlement.

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