Despite Lagging in Money Matters, ACC Still Winning Most NCAA Titles

By David Glenn


When the Atlantic Coast Conference was the wealthiest college sports league in America, which was the case for most of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, its member schools 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 past three academic years combined, the ACC won more NCAA team titles (23) than any other conference. There were seven such crowns in 2021-22, a league-record nine in 2022-23, then seven more in 2023-24.

(AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

There has been impressive variety, too. This past season, seven of the ACC’s 15 members contributed at least one national title. Twelve of the 15 won at least one conference championship, led by North Carolina (six), NC State (five), Florida State (four), Duke (three), Notre Dame (three) and Virginia (two).

The ACC’s seven NCAA team championships during the 2023-24 academic year came in women’s cross country (NC State), field hockey (UNC), men’s lacrosse (Notre Dame), women’s lacrosse (Boston College), men’s soccer (Clemson), women’s soccer (Florida State) and women’s swimming and diving (Virginia).

“It has been another great 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 more than $15 million per school.

Just two decades ago, the ACC still was consistently 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 (UNC).

These were 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 about 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?

Well, 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 the ACC, Big 12 and every other collegiate league, 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 after the 2022-23 academic year. The ACC still had 14 full members then, plus Notre Dame (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 third nationally.

2022-23 Average Distribution Per School

  1. Big Ten — $60.5 million per school ($880 million in total revenue)
  2. SEC — $51.3 million per school ($852.6 million in total revenue)
  3. ACC — $44.8 million per school ($707 million in total revenue)
  4. Big 12 — $44.2 million per school ($510.7 million in total revenue)
  5. Pac-12 — $33.6 million per school ($603.9 million in total revenue)

Nevertheless, the ACC keeps winning. In fact, its 16 combined national championships over the past two academic years tied its all-time two-year record, which had just been set in 2021-22 (seven) and 2022-23 (nine).

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

In the NCAA’s annual all-sports rankings, too, the ACC continues to shine. It again placed six schools, led by #5 Virginia and #7 UNC (see below), in the postseason top 25 of the annual Directors’ Cup standings. It was the fifth consecutive top-10 finish and the eighth in the past nine years for the Tar Heels, who captured the inaugural Directors’ Cup in 1993-94.

“The final 2023-24 Learfield Directors’ Cup standings once again highlight the incredible achievements of our student-athletes, coaches and programs,” Phillips said. “Our conference once again proved its place as a premier conference with unparalleled athletic success, and we look forward to building on this momentum as we approach 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 newsletter.