ACC welcoming SMU, Cal and Stanford in 2024

Stanford and California bring their exciting annual rivalry, known as the Big Game in football, to the ACC starting in 2024. // Photo courtesy of Godofredo A. Vásquez

The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) officially expanded beyond the Atlantic Coast on Friday, Sept. 1st. After expansion in the Big 12, Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the ACC was in a precarious position that warranted immediate action in either adding more teams or renegotiating revenue distribution among its members. Despite a strong push from Florida State University President Richard McCullough to renegotiate revenue deals, the conference officials instead pursued the addition of new teams. When news broke of the ACC favoring expansion, the response was mixed. 

Many felt the ACC was too late to the party of expansion, as a majority of the Pac-12 teams had been poached by other conferences, and opening the door for teams in the Group of 5 conferences would not generate more revenue than what was already coming in. The ACC’s charter also states that 80 percent of the member schools must vote in favor of adding a new school, meaning that 12 of the 15 member institutions had to vote any proposed teams into the conference, which would be a difficult task.  

Expansion odds looked very slim until former President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began lobbying for the additions of Stanford University, a Pac-12 member, and Southern Methodist University (SMU), an American Athletic Conference member, to join the ACC. The ACC added the University of California-Berkeley, a Pac-12 member,  into the mix and called for a vote among current member presidents on admitting California, Stanford and SMU to the conference. In an initial vote, the three teams were not admitted as Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina and North Carolina State all voted no to the proposal. 

Because the vote was one school away from passing, many of the schools in support did not give up on expansion in hopes of a revote or a change of heart from one of the schools who voted no. Notre Dame among other institutions pushed for a revote and got their wish when a meeting was called on Friday, Sept. 1 among ACC officials. A revote was taken where exactly 12 schools voted in favor of the addition of Stanford, California and SMU, thus successfully adding them to the conference. North Carolina State served as the swing vote that grew the conference from 15 to 18 members.

Stanford, California and SMU are three storied programs that bring a lot of academic and athletic caliber to the conference. The schools will be joining as full members that participate in all major sports as of the 2024 season. However, the puzzling factor for most fans came with the fact that none of the three schools are on the Atlantic Coast; in fact, California and Stanford are on the Pacific Coast. This will most likely lead to some rebranding on the ACC’s part, but nonetheless, the teams will be making significant travel during the sports season.

Stanford University, located in Stanford, California, is the most achieved school of the three new additions. The Cardinal will bring 38 varsity sports to the ACC: 16 men, 20 women and two coed. As of summer 2023, those 38 teams have brought 134 NCAA team championships to the school, which is the most of any institution in the country. Stanford has won an NCAA Championship in a sport for 47 straight years and has won 26 of 29 NACDA Directors’ Cups, an annual award given to the most successful collegiate athletic program. The Cardinal look to continue their storied success as they shift into the ACC. 

The University of California-Berkeley, located in Berkeley, California, brings 30 varsity sports to the conference: 14 men’s and 16 women’s. The Golden Bears have won 113 team NCAA championships as of summer 2023 and continue to build on this number. California has been home to some of the most storied and successful players in recent years: running back Marshawn Lynch, tight end Tony Gonzalez and more. The Golden Bears also have a deep rooted rivalry with Stanford that will be coming to the ACC. The two teams battle in the “Big something” every year (i.e. football is the Big Game, basketball is the Big Tip Off, etc.). Only women’s basketball changes, being named “the Battle of the Bay.” California looks to continue and build on their athletic success as they move into the ACC in 2024. 

Southern Methodist University, located in University Park, Texas, fields 17 varsity teams: 6 men’s and 11 women’s. The Mustangs have nine NCAA team championships and over 200 conference championships. SMU may not be as storied as the other two joining members, but the team has invested deeply in growth. SMU is the only NCAA Division I FBS program in the Dallas, Texas area and, since 2013, has invested over $250 million in its athletic programs. Admittance to the ACC is bigger for SMU than the acquisition of SMU is to the ACC, but that only adds to the value of the Mustangs’ programs and should assist in their growth and development. SMU looks to continue elevating their circumstance as they take this new step.

An 18 team ACC is definitely a new look for the conference and whether Florida State, North Carolina and Clemson remain in the conference going into the 2024 campaign is still a question, but excitement awaits as conference realignment continues.