The Bay Area tandem would begin competition next fall
Stanford and California, longtime pillars of major college sports on the West Coast, have relocated their athletic departments to the Atlantic Coast.
The ACC presidents approved membership invitations for the Bay Area’s academic powerhouses and SMU to begin next summer in a historic vote that reshapes the college sports landscape. They will participate in all sports sponsored by their new stadium, including football and men’s and women’s basketball.
The ACC will now have 18 schools in total, with Notre Dame competing as an Independent in football.
The lifeboat arrives exactly four weeks after the Pac-12’s demise forced the schools to seek salvation 3,000 miles away — potentially dealing the final blow to their longtime home.
With USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington joining the Big Ten next summer and Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, and Colorado joining the Big 12, the 108-year-old conference was reduced to four schools.
With Stanford and Cal also leaving, Washington State and Oregon State may join another league (the Mountain West or American Athletic) or try to reform the Pac-12.
Shelter from the realignment storm comes with a long commitment for the Bay Area duo. The ACC’s media contract likely binds the schools to their new home until 2036 — an eternity in the rapidly changing landscape of college sports.
Logistically, the move makes no sense. Each ACC campus is in the Eastern Time Zone. The closest ACC football stadium to the Bay Area is in Louisville, which is only 2,300 miles away.
However, the same wave of realignment that brought UCLA and Rutgers together in the Big Ten and Arizona State and Cincinnati together in the Big 12 has swept up the Bay Area schools.
According to sources, the Cardinals and Bears preferred to join the Big Ten, where USC, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon will compete beginning next summer. The Big Ten, as a six-school West Coast arm, could have devised regional schedules to limit cross-country travel for Olympic sports teams.
However, the Big Ten and its media master, Fox, refused to extend membership invitations, leaving Stanford and Cal with few options for their football programs:
— Advocate for admission to the ACC.
— Make an effort to rebuild the Pac-12.
— Compete as Independents in football and move their other sports to a West Coast-based conference.
Each option presented significant challenges, with travel logistics being the most difficult in the ACC. But why would the ACC agree to accept two West Coast teams? Money for the football powers (Florida State and Clemson) and safety for the rest of us.
The ACC presidents, like their colleagues in the Big 12, understand the value of heft: There is strength in numbers in the realignment game. Stanford and Cal provide academic credentials, Olympic sports clout, and security in the event that Florida State and Clemson leave for the SEC or Big Ten.
However, Stanford, Cal, and SMU are not seen as financially additive — their presence in the ACC does not increase revenue for the 15 existing members, according to the contract with ESPN.
As a result, Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina, and North Carolina State reportedly opposed expansion in a straw poll last month. According to reports on Friday, North Carolina State reversed its decision, allowing Cal, Stanford, and SMU admission.
There is, however, a workaround. Stanford, Cal, and SMU are expected to join the ACC at reduced revenue shares, resulting in a plethora of leftover expansion cash (via ESPN’s contractual commitment) that could be funneled to the football powerhouses.
With smaller shares, newcomers will be at a competitive disadvantage. Unless they find alternative revenue streams, they will not have as much cash as their peers for coaching staff salaries, recruiting budgets, and facility upgrades.
Stanford could use its vast resources to direct more funds to the athletic department, whereas Cal could benefit from the so-called Berkeley tax imposed by the University of California Board of Regents.
The regents left open the possibility of UCLA subsidizing Cal for reduced Pac-12 revenue as a result of the Bruins’ move to the Big Ten, ranging from $2 million to $10 million per year.
Cal and Stanford will receive a portion of the ACC’s media rights deal, which will grow over time until they reach full ownership after a decade.