So long, Stanford. Farewell, Cal. Auf Wiedersehen, any sense of rationality or reason.

The Bay Area schools — along with Dallas-based SMU — are joining the ACC beginning with the 2024-25 season, the latest parry in the never-ending fencing match that is college athletics realignment. Oregon State and Washington State, as expected, are left twisting in the wind, with no good options in front of them.

The Cardinal and Bears will join the ACC at drastically reduced rates — they won’t earn a full media rights share until their 10th year in the season. Same with the Mustangs.

For Stanford and SMU, the move makes sense — and cents. For cash-strapped Cal, not so much.

But in the game of musical chairs that is realignment, you find yourself a seat at the table or you get left in the dust.


It’s one thing to be a private school in today’s day and age, even if Stanford and SMU have vastly different financial profiles.

Up in Palo Alto, the “Harvard of the West” boasts a reported endowment of $36.3 billion, third in the country behind the actual Harvard and Yale. SMU’s endowment, meanwhile, is a paltry $1.958 billion, behind the likes of Washington and Lee, Case Western Reserve, Tufts and Bowdoin. But what the Mustangs do have is boosters with fat pocketbooks and almost 40 years’ worth of shame and humiliation, courtesy of a “death penalty” in the mid-80s that set the program back a generation.

It’s another thing to be a public school, albeit one that is the flagship of the University of California system. Stanford has a slush fund the size of a small country’s GDP, SMU has Texas oilmen who have the bellies and bravado to pay their way to greatness.

Cal has neither.

What it does have is a budget deficit of $439,974,051, based on the 2021-2022 fiscal year report, more than $100 million more than the next-highest shortfall.

This deal will do little to get Cal ahead, but it at least prevents the Bears from falling further behind. While they and the Cardinal come in at a reduced media share, they do receive a full share of other conference payouts coming from the College Football Playoff, NCAA basketball distribution, bowl games and more.

Compared to other possibilities — you really want to be Oregon State or Washington State right now? — this was the best option.

“We are very pleased with the outcome, which will support the best interests of our student-athletes and aligns with Berkeley’s values,” Cal chancellor Carol T. Christ said. “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. I want to thank UC President Michael Drake, Director of Athletics Jim Knowlton and ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips for the partnership, hard work and leadership that made this agreement possible.”

But is this temporary salve worth the headaches — and back aches, and shoulder aches — that it is going to cause its student-athletes?

I can’t imagine the women’s soccer team is going to enjoy going cross-country for a conference game.

There is a reason this took so long. Unlike the Big 12 gobbling of Arizona, Arizona State and Utah in short order, there was plenty of waffling by the ACC’s powers-that-be.

Stanford, Cal and SMU don’t move the needle in football and would be a massive downgrade to the ACC’s phenomenal basketball legacy. Sure, this gives the hysterically named Atlantic Coast Conference an entree into the Bay Area and Dallas-Fort Worth television markets. But locked into a media rights deal until 2036, this does little to appease the Florida States and Clemsons of the world who desperately want out. They could afford to wait this process out.

The next time around? Not so much. We’d be foolish to think the biggest, baddest conferences in the land are going to end here.

This was a half-measure, at best.

But one that had to happen for the major players involved, even if it says something about the sad state of affairs in college athletics.

“We are thrilled to welcome three world-class institutions to the ACC, and we look forward to having them compete as part of our amazing league,” Phillips said in a statement. “Throughout the evaluation process, the ACC Board of Directors, led by([University of Virginia) President (James) Ryan, was deliberate in prioritizing the best possible athletic and academic experience for our student-athletes and in ensuring that the three universities would strengthen the league in all possible ways. Cal, SMU and Stanford will be terrific members of the ACC and we are proud to welcome their student-athletes, coaches, staff and entire campus community, alumni and fans.”

Hollow words, sure.

But in this cockeyed era of college athletic, what is real anymore?