By David Glenn

When the Atlantic Coast Conference was the wealthiest college sports league in America, which was the case for most of the 1990s and early 2000s, its members won a lot of national championships.

Now that the ACC has fallen far behind the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference on money matters … well, the league somehow still is winning a lot of national championships.

In fact, during the recently completed 2022-23 academic year, the ACC again won more NCAA team titles (nine) than any other league, setting its own all-time single-season record in the process. Six of its 15 conference members contributed at least one national crown.

The ACC’s national team champions were in women’s cross country (NC State), fencing (Notre Dame), field hockey (North Carolina), women’s golf (Wake Forest), men’s lacrosse (Notre Dame), men’s soccer (Syracuse), women’s swimming and diving (Virginia), men’s tennis (Virginia) and women’s tennis (North Carolina).

“It has been an extraordinary year for the ACC,” ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said, “and we are so proud of the continued success of our student-athletes, coaches and programs.”

One truly extraordinary aspect of this sensational story is the fact that ACC schools have been operating at a financial disadvantage, compared to the Big Ten and SEC, for more than a decade. A very important gap — the differences among the top leagues’ annual distributions of their shared conference revenue — recently reached tens of millions of dollars per school.

Just twenty years ago, the ACC consistently was the NCAA’s richest league, at least on a per-school basis, and it was winning a lot of national championships then, too. In 2002-03, for example, as a nine-team league, the ACC won four national crowns, in field hockey (Wake Forest), men’s golf (Clemson), men’s lacrosse (Virginia) and women’s soccer (North Carolina).

Here are the average shared-revenue totals distributed by the nation’s wealthiest conferences for the 2002-03 academic year.

2002-03 Average Distribution Per School

  1. ACC — $10.9 million ($98 million distributed to nine schools)
  2. Big Ten — $10 million ($109 million distributed to 11 schools)
  3. SEC — $8.6 million ($103 million distributed to 12 schools)
  4. Big East — $7.8 million ($62 million distributed to eight schools)
  5. Pac-10 — $6.9 million ($69 million distributed to 10 schools)
  6. Big 12 — $6.4 million ($77 million distributed to 12 schools)

The ACC’s total revenue has mushroomed over the last two decades, such that recently its annual per-school payouts reached almost four times what they were in 2002-03. That’s the good news.

So, what’s the bad news, at least from the ACC’s perspective?

The Big Ten and the SEC both have soared past the ACC financially because their revenue has grown at even greater rates, thanks in part to the earlier launches and impressive growth of the Big Ten Network and SEC Network. (The ACC Network didn’t launch until August 2019 and didn’t gain full distribution on the major pay-TV providers until November 2021.) The Big Ten and SEC also routinely draw much larger average football TV audiences than other leagues, significantly increasing the value of the rights they sell to their various TV/streaming partners.

Below are the average shared-revenue totals distributed by the nation’s wealthiest conferences for the 2021-22 academic year. The ACC now has 14 full members, plus Notre Dame (still a football independent), and while it sets its own new revenue record virtually every year, the value of its annual per-school payout gradually has dropped from first to fourth nationally.

2021-22 Average Distribution Per School

  1. Big Ten — $58.8 million per school ($845.6 million in total revenue)
  2. SEC — $49.9 million per school ($802 million in total revenue)
  3. Big 12 — $42-44.9 million per school ($480.6 million in total revenue)
  4. ACC — $37.9-41.3 million per school ($617 million in total revenue)
  5. Pac-12 — $37 million per school ($580.9 million in total revenue)

Nevertheless, the ACC keeps winning, and not just this past season. The league claimed seven NCAA team titles in 2021-22, setting another conference record, with 16 national championships over a two-year period.

“The ACC’s historic accomplishments over the last two years are a tribute to the leadership at our member institutions,” Phillips said, “and I applaud them for their ongoing dedication.”

The ACC’s record-setting 2022-23 NCAA team title number could have been even higher. Seven of its teams were national runners-up, including UNC in women’s soccer. Ten additional teams were NCAA semifinalists, including the Tar Heels in men’s golf.

In the NCAA’s annual all-sports rankings, too, the ACC continues to shine. It again placed six schools, led by #4 Virginia and #8 UNC (see below), in the postseason top 20 of the annual Directors’ Cup standings. It was the fourth consecutive top-10 finish and the seventh in the past eight years for the Tar Heels, who captured the inaugural Directors Cup in 1993-94.

2022-23 NCAA Directors’ Cup

Final Standings Top 10

  1. Stanford, Pac-12, 1412.00
  2. Texas, Big 12, 1370.50
  3. Ohio State, Big Ten, 1170.75
  4. Virginia, ACC, 1105.50
  5. Florida, SEC, 1091.50
  6. Tennessee, SEC, 1078.75
  7. Georgia, SEC, 1072.50
  8. North Carolina, ACC, 1068.00
  9. LSU, SEC, 1062.25
  10. Southern California, Pac-12, 1048.00

(Other ACC Schools)

16. Duke, 977.80
17. Florida State, 909.25
19. NC State, 893.00
20. Notre Dame, 884.00
32. Louisville, 672.80
42. Wake Forest, 569.00
45. Syracuse, 559.50
49. Miami, 480.00
51. Clemson, 475.50
52. Pittsburgh, 469.00
55. Virginia Tech, 443.00
78. Georgia Tech, 253.00
105. Boston College, 170.00

“The final 2022-23 Learfield Directors’ Cup standings accentuate the amazing accomplishments of our student-athletes, coaches and programs,” Phillips said. “Our league enjoyed unprecedented athletic success on many levels, and we look forward to building on that momentum as we head into the new academic year.”

David Glenn ( is an award-winning author, broadcaster, editor, entrepreneur, publisher, speaker, writer and university lecturer (now at UNC Wilmington) who has covered sports in North Carolina since 1987. does not charge subscription fees, and you can directly support our efforts in local journalism here. Want more of what you see on Chapelboro? Let us bring free local news and community information to you by signing up for our biweekly newsletter.