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Florida State suing the ACC over grant of rights, exit fees

FILE - Florida State players pose after defeating Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Charlotte, N.C. Florida State announced it will hold a Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, Dec. 22, and a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press the future of the athletic department and its affiliation with the Atlantic Coast Conference will be discussed.(AP Photo/Erik Verduzco, File)

(AP) — Florida State University sued the Atlantic Coast Conference on Friday, challenging a contract that binds the school to the league for the next 12 years and creating a potential path to leave without paying more than $500 million in penalties.

“I believe this board has been left no choice but to challenge the legitimacy of the ACC grant of rights and its severe withdrawal penalties,” Florida State Board of Trustees chairman Peter Collins said during a trustees meeting to approve the legal action.

The lawsuit was filed soon after in Leon County Circuit Court, claiming the ACC has mismanaged its media rights and is imposing “draconian” exit fees.

ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips and Virginia President Jim Ryan, chairman of the conference’s board of directors, said Florida State’s actions are “in direct conflict with their longstanding obligations and is a clear violation of their legal commitments to the other members of the conference.”

“All ACC members, including Florida State, willingly and knowingly re-signed the current Grant of Rights in 2016, which is wholly enforceable and binding through 2036,” their statement said. “Each university has benefited from this agreement, receiving millions of dollars in revenue and neither Florida State nor any other institution, has ever challenged its legitimacy.”

Florida State outside counsel David Ashburn said during the board meeting the ACC’s grant of rights violates antitrust law and has unenforceable withdrawal penalties. Ashburn said it would cost a school $572 million to withdraw from the conference. The lawsuit also accuses the ACC of breach of contract and violation of public policy.

Florida State is looking for a way out of the conference it has been a member of since 1992 because it believes the ACC is locked into an undervalued and unusually lengthy media rights deal with ESPN. School leaders also say the league refuses to change its revenue distribution model to match FSU’s value.

“It is a simple math problem,” Florida State athletic director Michael Alford said. “A very clear math problem.”

Florida State leaders have been pushing for unequal distribution of revenue for more than a year. The ACC has agreed to create a bonus system that would direct more revenue to schools that have postseason success in football and basketball, but that has not solved the frustration at Florida State.

“It’s time for us to try to do something about it,” Florida State President Richard McCullough said.

McCullough said the trustees’ approval of the legal challenge was not a direct reaction to Florida State recently being left out of the College Football Playoff, despite having an undefeated record.

“This is not a reaction, but something we’ve done a lot of due diligence on,” he said.