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In wake of Pac-12 collapse, lifeboat emerges for Stanford and Cal as ACC offers membership

In wake of Pac-12 collapse, lifeboat emerges for Stanford and Cal as ACC offers membership

Stanford and Cal, bastions of major college sports on the West Coast for more than a century, are on the brink of securing a new home for their athletic departments — on the Atlantic Seaboard.

In a momentous vote that reshapes the college sports map, the ACC presidents on Friday approved membership invitations for the Bay Area’s academic powerhouses and SMU starting next summer, according to multiple sources close to the process.

No other details were immediately available. However, the schools are expected to accept — the ACC is viewed as the best available option — and compete in all sports sponsored by their new home, including football and men’s and women’s basketball.

With the additions, the ACC will have 18 schools in total, although Notre Dame does not compete in football.

For Stanford and Cal, the lifeboat arrives exactly four weeks after the collapse of the Pac-12 forced the schools to seek salvation 3,000 miles away — and potentially deliver the final blow to their longtime home.

With USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington entering the Big Ten next summer and Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado bound for the Big 12, only four schools remained in the 108-year-old conference.

Now that Stanford and Cal are fleeing the scene, as well, Washington State and Oregon State could join another league (the Mountain West or American Athletic) or attempt to reform the Pac-12.

For the Bay Area duo, shelter from the realignment storm comes with a lengthy commitment. Under the terms of the ACC’s media contract, the schools likely are bound to their new home until 2036 — an eternity in the rapidly changing landscape of college sports.

The move makes zero sense logistically. Every ACC campus is located in the Eastern Time Zone. The closest ACC football stadium to the Bay Area is located in Louisville, a mere 2,300 miles away.

But the same wave of realignment that turned UCLA and Rutgers into Big Ten partners and joined Arizona State to Cincinnati in the Big 12 has swept up the Bay Area schools.

Sources believe the Cardinal and Bears preferred to join the Big Ten, where USC, UCLA, Washington and Oregon will begin competition next summer. As a six-school West Coast arm, the Big Ten could have crafted regional schedules to limit the cross-country travel for Olympic sports teams.

But the Big Ten and its media overlord, Fox, declined to extend membership invitations, leaving Stanford and Cal with limited options for their football programs:

— Push for entrance into the ACC.

— Attempt to rebuild the Pac-12.

— Compete as Independents in football and move their other sports into a conference based on the West Coast.

Each option carried immense challenges, with travel logistics as the primary obstacle in the ACC. But why would the ACC agree to add two teams from the West Coast? Money for the football powers (Florida State and Clemson) and security for everyone else.

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Like their colleagues in the Big 12, the ACC presidents understand the value of heft: There’s strength in numbers in the realignment game. Stanford and Cal add academic bona fides, Olympic sports clout and security in case Florida State and Clemson eventually leave for the SEC or Big Ten.

Stanford, Cal and SMU are not viewed as financially additive, however — their presence in the ACC does not increase the revenue for the 15 existing members based on the contract with ESPN.

For that reason, Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina and N.C. State reportedly opposed expansion in a straw poll taken last month.

However, a workaround exists. Stanford, Cal and SMU are expected to join the ACC at reduced revenue shares, creating a pile of leftover expansion cash (via ESPN’s contractual commitment) that could be funneled to the football powerhouses.

The newcomers will face a competitive disadvantage with smaller shares. They won’t have as much cash as their peers for coaching staff salaries, recruiting budgets and facility upgrades — unless they find alternate revenue streams.

Stanford could tap its immense resources to funnel more cash from campus to the athletic department, while Cal might have access to cash via the so-called Berkeley tax imposed by the University of California Board of Regents.

In December, the regents left open the possibility of UCLA subsidizing Cal, from $2 million to $10 million annually, for diminished Pac-12 revenue resulting from the Bruins’ move to the Big Ten.

Details of the ACC vote, and the financial terms for Stanford and Cal, are not publicly known at this point.

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