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ACC is latest conference to expand by adding Stanford, Cal and SMU


Major athletic conference is expanding. The Atlantic Coast Conference is welcoming schools from the Pacific. Cal and Stanford are joining in in 2024, along with Southern Methodist University in Texas. In just over a year, all but two schools have announced plans to leave the once mighty Pac-12 conference. At issue are the big piles of money that the conferences rake in from multimedia deals. Daniel Libit is a reporter at Sportico. He joins us now on Skype. Good morning.

DANIEL LIBIT: Good to be with you.

ESTRIN: So why is the ACC expanding?

LIBIT: The ACC is expanding because, as you pointed out, schools are chasing all new kinds of revenue. And the money that really is to be had is with these television and multimedia rights deals. We saw the dominoes begin to fall when Texas and Oklahoma announced about a year ago their intention - or made good on their intention to leave the Big 12 to go to the SEC. And then USC and UCLA followed suit, saying that they were going to leave the Pac-12 to go to the Big Ten. And Oregon and Washington recently joined them. And so now the Pac-12, a 108-year-old athletic conference, is virtually on the brink of extinction as members play the game of following the money and trying to stay in the highest echelon of college football, which is increasingly narrowing to fewer and fewer schools.

ESTRIN: Wow, the game of money. So what does this realignment say about, you know, the fundamental mission of college sports?

LIBIT: Well, I think it sort of ripped off the patina, you know, I think that's probably been there for anybody who's really paid attention the last several decades - that, you know, at the end of the day, this is really a commercial enterprise that has increasingly little to do with academics or the fundamental missions of the universities that these schools are ostensibly attached to. But it's really hard, even for the most credulous college sports fanatic, to think that this is anything other than professional sports with the names of universities attached to it. And now it doesn't seem like anybody is making any bones about it being anything but that.

You know, you don't hear the same kinds of noises about amateurism and education as you might have heard even just a few years ago. We're seeing a real financial and economic consolidation of this industry, which is very viable, and the numbers bear that out. In terms of popularity and television value, this is a very valuable piece of entertainment. And that's still the case even though the connections to education and to the higher ideals of college athletics seem to be frittering away right before our eyes.

ESTRIN: So bottom line, do these moves make a better conference for sports fans?

LIBIT: It might make, at a national level, a more compelling group of games for fans. It's going to leave people that care about certain schools, such as Oregon State and Washington State, and others that are no longer in the party - it's going to leave them on the outside looking in. But the bet from TV networks and other streaming companies is that this is going to create the most compelling package going forward.

ESTRIN: OK. Daniel Libit, a reporter at Sportico. Thanks so much.

LIBIT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRIOSENCE'S "WALTZ FOR ANDREA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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