The Atlantic Coast Conference has cleared the way for Stanford, California and SMU to join the league next year, according to multiple reports, providing a landing spot for two more teams from the disintegrating Pac-12.
The conference’s university presidents and chancellors met Friday morning and voted to extend invitations to the three schools. An official announcement is expected soon.
The additions make the ACC the latest power conference to expand its membership and footprint westward. Starting in August 2024, the league with Tobacco Road roots in North Carolina will increase its number of football schools to 17 and 18 in most other sports, with Notre Dame remaining a football independent.
Notre Dame is currently the westernmost ACC school in South Bend, Indiana, with Louisville the farthest west among football members.
But now, like the Big Ten, the ACC will be a cross-country conference. The ACC will span from Boston in the Northeast to Miami in South Florida, out to Dallas in the heart of the Southwest and up to Northern California, where Stanford and Cal reside.
The move appears to be a marriage of desperation for the Bay Area schools, in need of a Power 5 conference to call home after the Pac-12 was picked apart by the Big Ten and Big 12.
For the ACC, adding three schools will increase media rights revenue from its long-term deal with ESPN, and allow the conference to spread much of that new money to existing members.
New conference members typically — though not always — forgo a full share of revenue for several years upon entry.
Stanford and Cal will be the ninth and 10th schools to inform the Pac-12 that this will be their last sports seasons in the self-described Conference of Champions.
The Big Ten lured away Oregon and Washington earlier this month. That came a little more than a year after USC and UCLA started the Eastern migration by West Coast schools when they announced they were leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024.
The Big 12 has poached four Pac-12 schools for next year: Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah.
The Pac-12 will now be down to Oregon State and Washington State.
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Officials at both Pacific Northwest schools have said their desired path forward is to rebuild the Pac-12, but without Stanford and Cal that becomes even more complicated. Joining the Mountain West or American Athletic Conference now becomes more likely.
Stanford and Cal have athletic programs with rich histories of producing Olympians, All-Stars and Hall of Hamers, including Super Bowl-winning quarterback John Elway and swimmer Katie Ledecky from Stanford and NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and swimmer Missy Franklin from Cal.
The Cardinal won the women’s NCAA basketball tournament 2021 and last year earned for the 26th time the Directors’ Cup, which measures overall athletic department success.
Success has been harder to come by in football lately for the Big Game rivals.
After a decade that included three Pac-12 championships and six double-digit victory seasons under coaches Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw, Stanford sunk to 14-28 the past four years and now have a new coach in Troy Taylor.
Cal has been mired in mediocrity — and athletic department debt — since not long after Rodgers was drafted by the Green Bay Packers 2005. The Golden Bears have just three winning football seasons since 2010.
For SMU, the ACC is a return to major conference football for the first time since the program infamously was shuttered by the NCAA as part of sanctions for paying players back in the early 1980s.
While the schools are a long way from their new conference mates, they do have some similarities to smaller private schools such as Duke, Wake Forest and Boston College, along with flagship state schools such as North Carolina and Virginia, that make up the ACC.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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