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Lawsuits & Litigation

Clemson Files Lawsuit Against Atlantic Coast Conference, Seeks Court Order Against “Unconscionable” Exit Penalties

— March 19, 2024

Attorneys for Clemson claim that the ACC is attempting to enforce “unconscionable” exit penalties, including a provision that would leave the league with exclusive media rights to Clemson events–even after the university exits the conference.

Clemon University has filed a lawsuit against the Atlantic Coast Conference, asking that it be released from its “unconscionable” and “unenforceable” contract with the organization.

According to ESPN, the lawsuit was filed earlier this week in a South Carolina county court. In its complaint, Clemson criticized the ACC’s grant of rights and its exit fees, claiming that the conference’s practices are broadly unlawful.

“The ACC’s position regarding the Grant of Rights, the exit penalty, and obligations owed by members to the conference, as detailed in its public statements and other court filings, leaves Clemson with no choice but to move forward with this lawsuit,” the school said in a press release.

Attorneys for Clemson have also said that the Atlantic Coast Conference is attempting to weaponize a “wrong” and “inconsistent” reading of the league’s grant of media rights, which would let the conference hold media rights for Clemson events even after the university’s exit is complete.

The complaint more specifically alleges that the ACC’s television contract is inferior to recent agreements negotiated by the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten—a discrepancy that the school says could prevent its athletes from competing at higher levels, despite Clemson having won national College Football Playoff titles in 2016 and 2018.

A gavel. Image via Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/user: Brian Turner. (CCA-BY-2.0).

“The ACC’s actions interferes 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 levels, which is critically important to Clemson even beyond athletics,” the lawsuit alleges.

ESPN notes that the lawsuit is significant, in part because Florida State filed its own claim against the Atlantic Coast Conference this past December. Clemson and Florida State, writes ESPN, are the league’s two most successful teams—and the only College Football Playoff participants who participate in the tournament annually.

On Tuesday, though, the Atlantic Coast Conference released a statement expressing confidence that a court will find the terms of its agreement with Clemson University valid and enforceable.

“Clemson, all with all ACC members, voluntarily signed and re-signed the 2013 and 2016 Grant of Rights, which is binding through 2036,” ACC officials said in a statement. “In addition, Clemson agreed to the process and procedures for withdrawal. The Conference’s legal counsel will vigorously enforce the agreement and bylaws in the best interests of the ACC’s current and incoming members.”

However, Clemson appears likely to remain a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference for the foreseeable future—either until the lawsuit is resolved at trial, or the university reaches an agreement with the ACC.

“Clemson has not given notice that it is exiting the ACC, and remains a member of the conference,” Clemson said in a statement.


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