Judge orders FSU, ACC to mediation to settle suit

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Tallahassee judge has ordered Florida State and the Atlantic Coast Conference to enter mediation in hopes of settling a high-profile lawsuit that could dramatically impact the future of the league.

Judge John C. Cooper technically approved the ACC’s motion to dismiss Monday but gave FSU seven days to amend its complaint because the university needs more specificity regarding key facts in a case he said “is worth up to half a billion dollars.” The conference would have 20 days to respond afterward, and another hearing would be set.

“The case is not over,” Cooper said. “The case will continue.”

Cooper ordered the sides to begin mediation within 120 days. But a mediator cannot force an agreement, so the case could end up back in court.

“I send every case to mediation except mortgage foreclosures,” Cooper said. “This is not being done any differently.”

The Seminoles are pushing to exit the ACC and explore a more lucrative landing spot, potentially the Big Ten Conference.

The hearing Monday was the latest in dueling lawsuits lodged in December. They include back-and-forth arguments pertaining to jurisdiction, a highly guarded grant-of-rights agreement between member schools and the league, and a confidential TV deal between the ACC and ESPN.

The ACC wants the case heard in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the league is headquartered, and doesn’t want the broadcasting contract made public. Florida State wants to move the venue to Tallahassee and prefers the documents be unsealed for financial transparency.

FSU had been signaling discontent for a year about the ACC falling further behind the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference in payouts even while raking in record revenues.

The ACC’s revenue increased to nearly $617 million during the 2021-22 season, with an average distribution of nearly $39.5 million per school for full members. Still, that leaves ACC schools receiving about $10 million a year less than SEC schools even though ESPN is partnered with both leagues in broadcast deals.

Clemson, another ACC school, has joined FSU in challenging the ACC’s right to charge hundreds of millions of dollars to leave the conference.

Clemson’s complaint filed in South Carolina said the ACC’s “exorbitant $140 million” exit penalty and the grant of rights used to bind schools to a conference through their media rights should be struck down.

Neither Clemson nor Florida State has filed formal notice to withdraw from the ACC.

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