Recent Developments in Sports-Related Disputes 2024


Walter “Fritz” Metzinger

Stone, Pigman, Walther, Wittmann, L.L.C.
909 Poydras Street, Suite 3150
New Orleans, LA 70112
(504) 593-0922
[email protected]

§ 5.1. Introduction

Thanks to several landmark decisions and burgeoning conflicts, the calendar year 2023 could mark something of an inflection point in the field of sports law. From a number of cases revolving around the rapidly shifting landscape of college athletics; to a landmark European decision that pried open the door for the revival of a European Super League; to the merger (in principle) of the PGA Tour and LIV Golf; to a number of other high-profile decisions and suits, 2023 left plenty for sports litigation scholars to ruminate on. This chapter details many of 2023’s sports-related dispute highlights (or lowlights, for some of the losing litigants) and provides critical context when appropriate.

§ 5.2. Part I – NCAA

Atlantic Coast Conference v. Board of Trustees of Florida State University (Case No. 23-cv-040918, Mecklenberg County, N.C., December 21, 2023); Florida State University Board of Trustees v. Atlantic Coast Conference (Fla. 2nd Cir. Ct., December 22, 2023).

In the dying days of 2023, the Atlantic Coast Conference (“ACC”) and the Board of Trustees of Florida State (“FSU”) sued each other in an escalation of the dispute over whether (and under what conditions) FSU can finagle its way out of the “Grant of Rights” agreement that ostensibly tethers the university to the ACC until at least 2036.[1]

FSU’s athletics programs have competed in the ACC since 1991, in which time they have amassed nine national championships, including three in football.[2] In 2013, after long-time member the University of Maryland bolted for the Big Ten Conference, FSU and other member schools entered a new “Grant of Rights” agreement with the ACC. Under the Grant of Rights, FSU and the other members agreed to grant the ACC exclusive media rights over all their teams’ home games until 2027, irrespective of whether the schools remained in the ACC.[3] The ACC and its members later extended the Grant of Rights to 2036.[4]

Disgruntled by the value of the ACC’s media rights deal with ESPN and cognizant of the flurry of conference realignment in recent years—including the near-total implosion of the Pac-12 Conference in August 2023—FSU began publicly intimating that it intended to explore departing the ACC.[5] The invitation of Stanford, California (Berkeley) (“Cal”), and Southern Methodist University (“SMU”) and FSU’s controversial exclusion from the 2023–2024 College Football Playoff only further exacerbated FSU’s discontent with the conference.[6] By December 2023, it became evident that, to pave the way for a move to another conference, FSU would attempt to sue the ACC to vitiate or otherwise avoid any further obligations under the Grant of Rights.[7]

The ACC struck first, suing in North Carolina (where it is headquartered) for a declaratory judgment requiring FSU to abide by the Grant of Rights and precluding FSU from challenging its validity or enforceability.[8] According to the ACC, the Grant of Rights (as amended) remains a valid and binding contract under which FSU irrevocably and exclusively transferred media rights to the ACC through 2036.[9] The ACC further argues …

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