Four ACC expansion candidates the conference could target if Florida State leaves

Four ACC expansion candidates the conference could target if Florida State leaves

For college football fans who assumed that conference realignment was all wrapped up, there now appears to be an encore waiting in the wings.

Florida State hasn’t been thrilled with the ACC for quite some time, and according to On3’s Andy Staples, we could be seeing realignment start quite soon because of it.

“If the ACC is willing to negotiate with Florida State — as its most recent court filing suggests — then we could be looking at the next round of realignment sooner rather than later,” Staples wrote on X.

For context, Florida State is currently suing the ACC for mismanaging the conference’s media rights and imposing what they called ‘draconian’ exit fees that essentially prevent programs from leaving. There are obviously still things that need to be settled in the courthouse, but one result has already been made abundantly clear, which is that Florida State wants out and will do anything it can to get out. There hasn’t been public confirmation that the Big Ten or SEC would take them, but that’s a bridge that will be crossed when needed.

If the ACC was smart, it would do anything in its power to keep Florida State, or make sure they have a plan in place for if/when they do leave. Unlike the Pac-12 who was somehow blindsided by the two programs in the second biggest market in the country leaving for the Big Ten, the ACC is quite aware what could be happening. Florida State has made its choice clear, which means the ACC needs to start heading to the drawing board and determining which programs are viable targets.

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Here are the four expansion candidates that currently would make the most sense to target, based on their projected willingness and attractiveness to the conference. It is worth noting that the ACC could check in on Big 12 programs to see if any of them would budge, but that would include a hefty buyout fee if one or two were to leave.

San Diego State

While a lot of people, businesses, and programs were affected by the collapse of the Pac-12, San Diego State may have a case for being at or near the top of the hung-out-to-dry list. Players were told that they were joining the Pac-12, and the school, whether they meant to or not, was viewed as beginning the process of exiting the Mountain West only to have to return. If the ACC wants to venture more into the West Coast, this would be the perfect way to do so, but considering Stanford and Cal barely got in, it could be a tough sell to the remaining conference members. It is also worth noting that the fee to leave for San Diego State if they do attempt to leave in the next couple of years is $34 million.

Tulane

Tulane would likely love to get back into a Power 4 conference, albeit the last time they were in what we now consider to be a Power 4 was when they were in the SEC back in 1933-65. They don’t have the best track record of on-field success over the last decade, but they did have 12 wins in 2023 which included a Cotton Bowl victory, and 11 wins in 2024. Basketball-wise they wouldn’t add much, having not made the tournament since 1995. However, New Orleans is a prominent market that is more so in their footprint, and Tulane is one of the best academic institutions in the country which people forget does mean something in college athletics still.

USF

If the ACC would like to have a second school in the state of Florida after Florida State’s departure, USF is right there. They happen to be in one of the bigger markets, are investing more in their program, and are trending upward in football under Alex Golesh. The basketball program is also currently in the middle of its best season possibly ever, as they sit atop the American standings. They are viewed by many as the next program to make the jump, and they sit right in the heart of ACC country.

UConn

Uconn has already been linked to the Big 12, but things have since seemed to have fizzled. Realistically, they can continue to just be a basketball school that dominates the Big East which many view as where they belong, but joining the ACC would generate more money and may help out the football program along the way. They could be the one rare case of a program that it may make more sense to them to remain where they are, rather than jump up to the Power 4. As for how this helps the ACC, adding a championship contender to a conference that was once the pinnacle of college basketball is certainly appealing.

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