Florida State is seeking a court order letting it withdraw from the Atlantic Coast Conference, or ACC, without having to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in financial penalties.
Florida State University attorneys have filed a lawsuit against the Atlantic Coast Conference, or ACC, hoping to find a way out of the league without being forced to incur massive financial penalties.
According to Yahoo! Sports, the school’s Board of Trustees cast a unanimous vote on Friday, electing to take legal action against the conference. In their complaint, attorneys for Florida State explicitly referenced the Atlantic Coast Conference’s decision to exclude the undefeated Seminoles from the College Football Playoff.
“The stunning exclusion of the ACC’s undefeated football champion from the 2023-2024 College Football Playoff (“CFP”) in deference to two one-loss teams from two competing Power Four conferences crystalized the years of failures by the ACC to fulfill its most fundamental commitments to FLORIDA STATE and its members,” the lawsuit alleges, adding that the conference’s purported failures are multiple and manifest.
“The ACC’s failures transcend this single national championship opportunity lost or even just football,” the complaint says. “The ACC’s incompetence at the bargaining table unfairly impedes the overall institutional of all its members, including FLORIDA STATE. By depriving its members of the full media value of their football programs the ACC has undermined its members’ ability to fund other vital sports such as women’s and Olympic sports as well as soccer, across, and tennis.”
The lawsuit serves several purposes, but is largely intended to secure a court finding that the Atlantic Coast Conference’s “grant of rights” document is unenforceable.
As it is currently written, the grant of rights binds the Florida State Seminoles and all other Atlantic Coast Conference programs to the league and its media partner, ESPN, through the 2035-2036 school year.
On Friday, Florida State outside counsel David C. Ashburn detailed the school’s case against the conference, saying that the ACC’s withdrawal penalty structures and grant of rights violate Sunshine State law.
The complaint, for instance, accuses the conference of “restraint of trade, breach of contract and a failure to perform.”
It also challenges the legality of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s withdrawal penalties, which can extend into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
“I feel we are left with only this option as a way to maximize our potential as an athletic department,” Florida State University President Richard D. McCullough said during a virtual boarding meeting on Friday.
The conference, for its part, has said that Florida State’s complaint is in “direct conflict” with the school’s contractual obligations to the league.
“We are confident that the Grant of Rights, which has been honored by all other universities who signed similar agreements, will be affirmed by the courts and the Conference’s legal counsel will vigorously enforce the agreement in the best interests of the ACC’s current and incoming members,” the Atlantic Coast Conference said in a statement.
Attorneys for the Atlantic Coast Conference have also filed a separate lawsuit against Florida State University, asking that a court find the terms of the school’s contract with the ACC valid and legally enforceable.
“Florida State now intends to breach its contractual obligations not to challenge the validity or enforceability of the Grant of Rights, to breach its promise that its Grant was “irrevocable” and “exclusive,” to intentionally violate the warranties of the ESPN agreements, and to challenge the Grant of Rights under which it has accepted hundreds of millions of dollars over the last decade,” the conference’s complaint states.
Yahoo! Sports notes that, even if Florida State succeeds in departing the Atlantic Coast Conference, its exit would not take effect for at least another year. As it stands, the Seminoles have already committed to compete in the conference next academic year, and would have to notify the ACC by August 15, 2024, if it chooses to compete in another league for the 2025 football season.