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Florida State sues ACC in fight to leave conference over revenue complaints

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The College Football Playoff has always been controversial, with more than four teams making a compelling case for inclusion in it just about every year. This year, the selection committee who decides the final four teams to compete for the national championship took that controversy to new heights when it excluded Florida State from the bracket. The Seminoles had gone undefeated and won their conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference, among other compelling arguments to be in the mix.

The controversy happened at a moment where college football is being realigned, with big conferences expanding and disappearing as schools compete for major money. It exacerbated other tensions already in the works and now could lead to a football divorce. Florida State has sued the ACC. The ACC has sued Florida State.

Lynn Hatter is news director at member station WFSU in Tallahassee and joins us now. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

LYNN HATTER, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

DETROW: I mean, Florida State to me is synonymous with the ACC. It's been in the ACC for 30 years. Why does FSU want to leave now?

HATTER: Well, it comes down to what a lot of college sports come down to nowadays - right? - which is money. FSU has long argued it's not being paid what it's worth to the conference. And with each passing year, the revenue gap between it and its competitors and other conferences gets larger and larger. Other conferences, like the Southeastern Conference, are just generating more money for their schools. Then there are concerns that the conference is weak in football, which has come up in FSU's title snub and also its lawsuit.

DETROW: Yeah. I mean, there are so many contracts involved in college sports at this point, particularly the big ones like football. How easy would it be for any type of split to occur?

HATTER: It's going to be hard, right? There are a series of complicated contracts here that are going to need a lot of unwinding. First is the financial penalty FSU would have to pay the ACC to leave. Last year, that figure was reportedly around $130 million. So that's already a lot. Then comes the mess that constitutes the media rights. During a meeting of FSU's board of trustees yesterday, we learned that the total cost of leaving would be more than half a billion dollars. In fact, this is what the university president, Richard McCullough, had to say about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICHARD MCCULLOUGH: That means we're essentially bound by this onerous penalty which was created completely superfluous by the ACC.

HATTER: So the university is now suing the ACC and accusing it of violating antitrust laws, and arguing that that $570 million hit is excessive.

DETROW: What happens next?

HATTER: No idea. The ACC has already signaled they're going to fight this, and it's anyone's guess how long this is going to take. So if FSU wins, the ACC and maybe some of its other members schools could appeal the decision because FSU's departure also weakens them. The whole reason the ACC schools effectively signed over their media rights way back when was to prevent a single school from jumping ship like FSU is trying to do now. So it's not a stretch to say that this is a mess, and it's going to take a lot of legal work to see if, and even how, it's possible to unwind it.

DETROW: That's Lynn Hatter, the news director at member station WFSU. Thanks so much.

HATTER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.

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