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Clemson Gets Football Clarity, But Notre Dame Muddies Financial Picture

Clemson University Operates In Limited Capacity Amid Coronavirus Pandemic Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Clemson and the ACC have taken another step towards a 2020 season with the announcement of a revamped 2020 schedule. You’ve likely read the highlights already, but to recap, Clemson will play a 10 game conference schedule with 1 out-of-conference game. This will almost certainly be the annual game against South Carolina. There will also only be 1 division this year with the top two teams playing in the ACC Championship Game.

In addition to this, the Notre Dame game will be on the schedule and will count as one of the 10 conference games. The surprising change this year is that Notre Dame will be a de facto conference member in football. The Fighting Irish will play a 10 game conference schedule, be eligible for the ACC Championship, and be part of the ACC bowl selection process. Oh, and they will also be sharing their NBC TV revenue with the conference. Everything will be put into the pot to distribute equally among the 15 schools for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

This agreement between the ACC and Notre Dame is an elegant solution to a difficult problem. It allows all teams to get close to a complete season while playing within a closed set of partners. And if teams play an out of conference game, the requirement is for the game to take place in the state of the ACC school, as well as for the opponent to follow ACC COVID-19 guidelines. This helps limit the chance of spread the illness. But, most importantly, especially from a Clemson perspective, it allows annual rivalry games against out-of-conference foes to still take place. Clemson can play South Carolina, Georgia can play Georgia Tech, etc. Until the SEC decided to go to a conference only schedule on Thursday.

Critics may point out that all this is really doing is cancelling one game from the season, one that was likely a body bag game against a G5 or FCS opponent. And while true, by going to a 10 game conference schedule and eliminating divisions it allows the ACC to cancel a week or two of the season without causing complete chaos. It is possible we will see some teams, or possibly the entire conference, have to take a week or two break during the season. This plan allows for that to occur and then for teams to continue on with the season.

But, that said, there is one downside. And that downside comes with the media rights money distribution, at least according to publicly released figures. The ACC distributed $29.5 million to each of the 14 full member schools in the 2017-2018 fiscal year. They also gave Notre Dame $7.9 million for rights to non-Football sports. Notre Dame earns a reported $15 million a year from NBC as part of their current 10-year TV deal. This is supplemented by the ACC distribution to give Notre Dame $22.9 million for the year.

That means adding Notre Dame actually causes a decrease in the distribution per team for the 2020-2021 year, to the tune of approximately $500,000. Now these numbers may be slightly different depending on how the ACC Network performs, as well as any other contractual adjustments, but unless the gap between the ACC and Notre Dame narrows substantially the addition of the Fighting Irish is going to cost schools money in a time when athletic budgets are going to be tightening spending as much as possible.

Now there are two questions that would need to be answered to avert this problem. The first is the College Football Playoff money Notre Dame receives every year. That is $3.2 million which would bring Notre Dame’s annual revenue to $26.1 million and reduce the hit every school would take. However it is not known if that Playoff money would be part of the pot or if Notre Dame would keep it and not count it towards the ACC TV money pot.

The other hope would be that any contract language altering the TV deal if Notre Dame joined the ACC could be applied to this season. There is no information suggesting that this could happen, nor is there any knowledge of such a clause, but in the last round of expansion there was mention of clauses with similar language.

Wednesday night I was ready to say that overall this was a good move for the ACC, and Clemson in particular. However with the news today that SEC will be playing a conference only schedule there is no real benefit to Clemson playing an OOC game. And the financial penalty to bring in Notre Dame looks a little bigger now. Ones perspective on this whole endeavor is really about what you think Notre Dame brings to the table from a financial perspective and a non-football perspective because keeping the relationship stable is really the only benefit to bringing the Fighting Irish into the ACC for 2020.