Clemson Tigers dressed mannequin, near other ACC teams, on display in the Westin Charlotte hotel lobby, during the ACC Kickoff Media Days event in downtown Charlotte, N.C. Wednesday, July 26, 2023. Credit: The Greenville News

The college football season might be underway, but conference realignment talk isn’t going anywhere.

On Thursday, The Post and Courier released a new report stating that Clemson is eyeing a move from the ACC and that a departure from the conference could occur “sooner than later.”

While there have been no shortage of big moves in the last year alone — USC and UCLA leaving the Pac 12 for the Big Ten and Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC — the ACC has largely remained unaffected. That’s primarily because the conference’s schools are locked into their (largely panned) media rights deal with ESPN until 2036 and face a reported $120 million exit fee for leaving the conference before then.

That, however, hasn’t stopped ACC schools such as Florida State and North Carolina from testing the waters. And as ESPN’s role in helping Texas and Oklahoma lessen the financial burden of their Big 12 exits shows, exit fees aren’t always as exorbitant as they might seem.

Unsurprisingly, the two conferences that have been the most aggressive in expansion, the SEC and the Big Ten, are the two likeliest landing spots for Clemson, according to the report. It appears the SEC — which makes the most sense geographically is the preferred destination — is the preferred destination, although the report notes that in-state rival and current SEC member South Carolina could stand in Clemson’s way.

While Clemson is “politicking hard” with both the SEC and South Carolina, the Big Ten remains a viable option. As conferences expand from regional to national, Clemson would give the Big Ten its first southeastern representation and also fits well in the conference’s preferred academic profile.

While the ACC has remained aggressive in its own right with the additions of Stanford, Cal and SMU earlier this month, at this point, it appears to be a matter of if not, but when it will lose one of its tentpole programs. And once that happens, it could open the floodgates for the others to soon follow.

[The Post and Courier]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.