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ACC continues to lag behind SEC and Big Ten in revenue

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College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

If the money bubble is going to burst on major college athletics, it doesn’t look like that will be anytime soon. The SEC announced recently that it hauled in over $650 million during the 2019 fiscal year, putting its per-school payout at nearly $45 million.

As Bruce Feldman and Andy Staples explain in this article for The Athletic, the SEC and Big Ten are soaring well ahead of the other power conferences in revenue. The schools in those two leagues are investing accordingly, and the disparity is most striking in football—SEC and Big Ten programs are able to spend more on coaches, sure, but also facilities, recruiting, and support staff. Support staffs have been ballooning in major college football—Feldman and Staples note that national champion LSU has more than a dozen analysts and interns on staff—and it makes a considerable difference for the programs that can afford them.

The ACC’s 2019 earnings aren’t public yet, and while the league should show continued revenue growth, it’s still going to be way behind those other two conferences. The ACC made $465 million in 2018, for example.

That figure put the league’s payouts on par with the Pac-12 and a little behind the Big 12. But the ACC’s outlook is certainly better than the Pac-12’s, thanks to the ACC Network, and may be better off than the Big 12 as well. The Pac-12 has actually reported shrinking revenues because its network has been such a disaster. While the other league networks have a major media partner (FOX in the Big Ten’s case, ESPN for the SEC and ACC), the Pac-12 decided to run its own show, and the result has been a struggle for distribution.

The thing to watch for the ACC is how much its new network bumps revenue in the first year. It’ll help relative to the Pac-12 and Big 12 but isn’t going to close the gap on the others, which have better-established networks in higher demand. Both the SEC and Big Ten are set to negotiate new television deals in 2023, and you can bet the SEC will be making a whole lot more by leaving CBS for an ESPN package.

It’s a tough reality for most of the schools in the ACC, NC State certainly among those, It’s tough enough to build a winning program here, and harder still when you can’t even match resources with, like, Purdue or Mississippi State.

The ACC’s prognosis is by no mean’s terrible—it will out-pace the Pac-12 and at least stand level with the majority of the Big 12—but the uphill battle with the SEC and Big Ten ain’t going anywhere.