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Cal, Stanford believe move to ACC was needed for survival

Move said to benefit non-revenue Olympic sports at universities

By JOSH DUBOW, AP Sports Writer
Published: September 1, 2023, 2:35pm

The move by Stanford and California to the Atlantic Coast Conference was one born out of need not convenience.

After watching seven fellow Pac-12 schools follow conference flagships Southern California and UCLA to new homes last month, the success-rich programs at Stanford and Cal had no viable options left other than joining a conference based on the other side of the continent.

The Bay Area schools located just miles from the Pacific Ocean accepted invitations, along with Dallas-based SMU, to the ACC on Friday to be part of a conference with schools almost exclusively in states on the Eastern seaboard.

“We’ve talked a lot to our student-athletes and got feedback that they want to play at the highest level,” Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton said. “They want to still have opportunities to compete for national championships, to produce Olympians and they want to compete against schools like us.”

The seeds for the move were planted when USC and UCLA accepted invitations in June 2022 to join the Big Ten next season. With a diminished Pac-12 unable to get a media rights deal with the revenue and distribution to satisfy many of the remaining schools, the conference started to break up this summer.

Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah left for the Big 12, with Oregon and Washington headed to the Big Ten. That left Stanford, Cal, Oregon State and Washington State as the only Pac-12 schools.

The Bay Area schools had more options because of their location and rich athletic traditions. Both schools felt the move to the ACC was the best financially and to allow the nonrevenue Olympic sports to compete at the top level of college athletics, which would have been difficult in a Pac-12 made up of the remaining four schools and other available additions.

“The athletes care deeply about being able to play at the highest level of competition and to play with like schools,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said. “This move guarantees or achieves those two goals. A reconstituted Pac-12, though there’s a lot of imaginative attractiveness about that, it’s also very uncertain about whether it would achieve those two goals.”

Stanford and Cal have been two of the most successful athletic departments in the country even if their recent struggles in football contributed to the desperation that made this move necessary.

Stanford has won a record 134 NCAA championships — including at least one in 46 straight years — and produced 296 medals at the Summer Olympics. Cal is not far behind with 103 national championships and 223 Olympic medals.

The move doesn’t come without costs with increased travel in many sports and a reduction in revenue.

Cal and Stanford will receive a partial share of ACC Tier 1 media revenue for the next nine years before getting a full payment in the final three years of the conference’s deal with ESPN, according to a person familiar with the terms. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the ACC and the schools have not disclosed the finances.

Cal and Stanford will get a 30% share in the first seven years, followed by 70% and 75% the next years before getting the full amount, the person said. The schools will immediately get full shares of money from the ACC Network, the College Football Playoff, bowl games and NCAA men’s basketball tournament units.

There will be an initial gap of about $15 million a year from what the schools were currently getting from the Pac-12. Cal will make up some of that gap through a “tax” that the UC Regents placed on UCLA for going to the Big Ten, which will be between $2 million and $10 million a year. Christ said the final determination will be made after the regents get the full details of the contracts.

Neither school plans to cut any sports and will seek to close the funding gap through other campus sources.

“Conference affiliations and the broadcast revenue they generate provide key financial support for the wide array of sports that Stanford offers,” athletic director Bernard Muir said. “Joining the ACC will ensure the power conference competitive infrastructure and long-term media revenues that are critical for our student-athletes to compete.”

As for travel, both Cal and Stanford said the majority of their teams will see little or no impact on their schedules. Both school have several teams (six at Cal and 11 at Stanford) that compete in sports not sponsored by the ACC.

For sports like golf, tennis, gymnastics, track and swimming that mostly participate in tournaments and meets, there will be little need to travel East other than for the conference championships with some in-season meets possibly being held in the Dallas area.

For nonrevenue team sports like soccer, baseball, softball and volleyball, teams at Cal and Stanford will likely only need to make two regular season trips to the East Coast. Most of those teams typically make one trip East for nonconference play but will now only do it for ACC games.

The basketball and football teams will likely make three of four trips East each, with some of the basketball trips likely aligned with school breaks.

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“I just feel like we’ll just have to switch our traveling and just stay home in November and December and travel in January and February,” Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer said. “Our players want that kind of competition.”

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AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report

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