ACC adds Stanford, Cal, SMU as it expands to 18 colleges

California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., will host ACC football games starting in 2024. Photo by Kilfmuny/Wikimedia Commons

Sept. 1 (UPI) -- The University of California Berkeley, Southern Methodist University and Stanford University will join the Atlantic Coast Conference, pushing its membership to 18 colleges, the conference announced Friday.

The ACC board of directors voted to admit the new member schools. SMU will join the conference July 1. Stanford and Cal will join Aug. 2.

"This is a significant day for the ACC as we welcome Cal, SMU and Stanford to this incredible conference," ACC board chair James E. Ryan, the president of the University of Virginia, said in a news release.

"This expansion will enhance and strengthen the league now and in the future. We greatly appreciate the tireless efforts of commissioner Jim Phillips throughout this entire process, especially his focus on minimizing travel burdens for student-athletes, and we are excited about the ACC's collective future."

The union represents yet another move in the revolving door of college athletic programs switching conferences in recent years, as they pursue revenue from broadcast deals.

"We are very pleased with the outcome, which will support the best interests of our student-athletes and aligns with Berkeley's values," University of California Chancellor Carol T. Christ said in a news release.

"We are confident that the ACC and its constituent institutions are an excellent match for our university and will provide an elite competitive context for our student-athletes in this changing landscape of intercollegiate athletics.

Sources told ESPN, Front Office Sports and The New York Times that the newest ACC members, who faced financial stress in their athletic departments in recent years and concerns about their long-term sustainability, joined the conference at a discount.

Those reports said Stanford and Cal will only receive 30% of their shares from the ACC's media rights revenue deal for the first seven years they are in the conference, while SMU will not receive any of that revenue for seven years.

"Throughout this process we have been driven by the imperative to provide excellent opportunities for our student-athletes," Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir said. "Conference affiliations and the broadcast revenue they generate provide key financial support for the wide array of sports that Stanford offers.

"Joining the ACC will ensure the power conference competitive infrastructure and long-term media revenues that are critical for our student-athletes to compete."

The departures of Cal and Stanford will leave the Pac-12 conference with just two programs -- Washington State and Oregon State, in 2024-25. The conference has lost eight teams since July. Current Pac-12 programs Washington, Oregon, USC and UCLA announced in 2022 that they were moving to the Big Ten.

Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah announced plans to go to the Big 12.

SMU, which competes in the American Athletic Conference, will be the ACC's lone Texas-based program. Cincinnati, Houston and UCF left the conference to join the Big 12 in 2023.

The AAC, which is set to include 13 teams in 2024, added former Conference-USA programs Charlotte, FAU, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA.

"From early on in my tenure here on the Hilltop, we had a vision to reestablish SMU Athletics as a nationally recognized and relevant program, one to complement our outstanding academic reputation," SMU president Gerald Turner said.

The Big Ten is set to compete with 18 football teams in 2024. The Big 12 and SEC will include 16 teams apiece. The ACC will include 17 football teams.

Financial terms of the ACC's union with Cal, SMU and Stanford were not disclosed. The schools will compete in the conference in all sports sanctioned by the ACC.

That means athletes will travel from Texas and California frequently play schedules including mostly teams along the Atlantic coast. Outside of SMU, Louisville will be the closet foe for the California-based teams, which are still separated by more than 2,300 miles.

Cal said the move will result in "some increased travel" for athletes and staff, but projects 19 of its 30 sports to experience "no or minimal change with regard to travel to the east."

Stanford said it will work with the ACC to "optimize scheduling" and find "other solutions to mitigate the impact of traveling." SMU said ACC commissioner Jim Philips also was focused on "minimizing travel burdens" for the Dallas-based school.