Clemson sues ACC over 'exorbitant' exit fee.

In a significant move that could continue to shake up the rapidly changing landscape of college sports, Clemson filed a lawsuit against the ACC on Tuesday that heralds its exit from the league.

In a filing with the Court of Common Pleas of Pickens County, South Carolina, Clemson questioned the ACC's award of rights and exit fees, calling the opt-out penalty “unreasonable” and “unenforceable.”

It also describes the ACC's view that granting the league media rights would allow the league to own Clemson's media rights after it left the league as an “irrational reading,” “erroneous” and “contradictory to the plain language of that agreement.”

In the lawsuit, Clemson requests a declaration that the ACC will no longer own the rights to Clemson games “after Clemson ceases to be a member of the ACC.” Clemson also wants the ACC exit fee — three times the ACC's operating budget, estimated at $140 million — to be ruled an “unenforceable penalty that violates public policy.” (The total cost of exiting with rights and fees was estimated at $572 million in Florida's lawsuit.)

This is the second lawsuit filed against the ACC in recent months, having been filed by the state of Florida in late December. Clemson's lawsuit is significant because it signals that the two clear-cut powers in league football — and the only College Football Playoff participants who play annually — want to leave the league.

The ACC has filed a preemptive action against the State of Florida in Mecklenburg County, and the parties are negotiating venue.

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The lawsuit comes on the same day the College Football Playoff is expected to announce a deal with ESPN that further exacerbates the financial gap between the Big Ten, the SEC and the rest of college sports. Annually, the Big Ten and SEC teams are each expected to earn more than $21 million under the new CFP, which begins in 2026. ACC teams are expected to earn more than $13 million.

Clemson explains that the current ACC television contract, which lags far behind the upcoming SEC and Big Ten deal, looms as a disincentive to Clemson competing at the highest level. Clemson has made six College Football Playoff appearances, winning national titles in 2016 and 2018.

The lawsuit alleges that “the ACC’s actions interfere with Clemson’s free exercise of its rights and fatally harm Clemson’s efforts to ensure that its athletic programs can continue to compete at the highest level,” which is critical to Clemson even outside of athletics. “

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