ACC-Maryland exit fee suit could stall power conference realignment

It seems a faction of college football is waiting for the Big Ten to blow into the East Coast and, there goes Jim Delany again, poaching more schools and feasting on opposing conferences. Even Michigan State athletics director Mark Hollis thinks the Big Sixteen will be upon college football eventually.

That very well might happen, but right now seems to be a time of patience for all the power conferences as the ACC and Maryland settle its legal dispute over exit fees from the Terrapins’ move to the Big Ten.

If the ACC collects its $50 million -- and it believes the deal is ironclad -- the league can point to security. If that total somehow gets negotiated down significantly, the ACC might want to issue another press release about a unified front.

“I think (the Big Ten) will stay quiet until that happens,” said an athletic director from a power conference who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “When that decision is rendered, that will create a whole nother series of questions. It will either create concern or strengthen the (ACC).”

Even if the figure doesn’t change, that might not stop the Big Ten from pursuing teams. It snagged Maryland even with the hefty price tag. But it still makes sense to wait because, why strike if the $50 million might be lower? And remember, the Big Ten showed patience through the first wave of realignment three years ago.

The ACC believes the $50 million is binding after its membership formally agreed to the terms. Florida State and Maryland were the only detractors in the original vote. Maryland is gone, and Florida State is a full-fledged member of the ACC unless they think the league becomes a sinking ship.

One school of thought is the ACC will spend $50 million in lawyer fees just to protect that $50 million exit fee. Though that makes sense symbolically, an ACC source says the lawsuit expenses will be manageable for the league because its owed retainer work from previous dealings. The league's been legally advised in the past that the exit fee plan will work.

For now, most of the realignment movement will come from the lower levels as the Big East tries to make sense of it all. The Mountain West is trying to keep Boise State, which is scheduled to join the Big East over the summer. The smaller conferences aren’t really affected by the ACC’s lawsuit.

The other power conferences have the luxury of sitting back and reacting to any seismic shifts, but they can still be aggressive if they choose.

This is a mountain-sized if, but the SEC would deliver a powerful counter-punch in the realignment game that no one would expect if it jumped to 16 first.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive has a penchant for high-end cigars, which is fitting since the SEC plays it cool when it comes to realignment. Slive says the league is happy at 14, and for good reason. After six straight national titles and going for a seventh, the SEC doesn’t need to recruit. It doesn’t need to do anything, really. Schools come to them. The league also greatly values tradition and doesn’t want to dilute the product.

But on the other side, certainly the league’s future renegotiations with CBS/ESPN and the in-the-works SEC Network project leave room for major additional revenue. I’m guessing CBS’ $825-million first-tier rights to the SEC could demand a much higher payment just for Texas A&M alone, considering the allure of that program in the next two years thanks to Johnny Manziel and Kevin Sumlin.

Wake Forest athletics director Ron Wellman is taking the wait-and-see approach to it all.

"The landscape right now is so unpredictable," Wellman said. "Whatever is going to happen in the future is just a guess."

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