Blindsided by the news last month that Texas and Oklahoma will be bolting the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference in the coming years, Power Five conferences — particularly the Pac-12 (including Utah), the Big Ten and the Atlantic Coast Conference — knew they needed to combine forces in attempt to offset the SEC’s burgeoning power.
An alliance between the three “like-minded” leagues was officially unveiled Tuesday as the commissioners of each conference fielded questions via Zoom with reporters from around the country.
“There’s turbulence in college athletics,” said Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren. “We need to have strong leadership. We need to work together.”
Said Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff: “The real work begins now.”
In this collaboration, there’s an emphasis on scheduling, creating the potential of intriguing matchups between the 41 schools in the three conferences. But these leagues will also tackle together NCAA governance and College Football Playoff expansion issues.
Certainly, it seems like a bold stroke by the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC. But, for now, there are few answers about what this agreement will accomplish. And it might be years before scheduled games between the three conferences, as part of the alliance, take place.
“We are not going to interfere with any existing contracts,” Warren said.
On top of that, there is no binding deal between the leagues themselves as part of this alliance.
“There is no signed contract,” Kliavkoff said. “There was an agreement among three gentlemen and a commitment from 41 presidents and chancellors. There is no signed document and there doesn’t need to be.”
With the shifting landscape of college athletics, how stable will this alliance be?
The Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC say the alliance is crucial now that Texas and Oklahoma will be part of the SEC, which was already the strongest conference in college football. The Longhorns and Sooners won’t leave for four more years — at least that’s the plan for now. A lot can happen between now and then.
“I have great respect for the SEC,” Warren said, noting the SEC’s move to add Texas and Oklahoma. “I think what that did is allowed all of us in college athletics to maybe take a step back and take a step forward to start evaluating what the (future) looks like in college athletics. … This is a year for seismic shifts.”
What’s the timeline of the scheduling alliance?
The goal, according to the conferences’ press release, is to “create new inter-conference games, enhance opportunities for student-athletes, and optimize the college athletics experience for both student-athletes and fans across the country.”
Matchups between the three conferences in football and men’s basketball and would certainly increase fan interest and provide large sums of television revenue.
But this scheduling arrangement likely won’t happen for a while. It could take years before contracted nonconference schedules will be played out.
“The scheduling alliance will begin as soon as practical while honoring current contractual obligations,” according to the conferences’ press release. “A working group comprised of athletic directors representing the three conferences will oversee the scheduling component of the alliance, including determining the criteria upon which scheduling decisions will be made. All three leagues and their respective institutions understand that scheduling decisions will be an evolutionary process given current scheduling commitments.”
The commissioners said there still will be interest in scheduling Group of Five programs, as well as, presumably, independent programs like BYU.
“There’s no intention to stop our teams from being able to, within the alliance, also schedule games against any other conference that they want to schedule games against,” Kliavkoff said. “They’ll have flexibility in games that they’ll be able to schedule. It’s our hope that they continue to schedule games against other Power Five conferences and other conferences in Division I as well.“
Currently, the ACC plays only eight league games but the Big Ten and Pac-12 play a nine-game schedule. Will the Pac-12 and Big Ten cut their conference slates down to eight also to create scheduling symmetry?
What happens to the Big 12?
Conspicuously absent from the alliance is the Big 12, which is losing Texas and Oklahoma, severely crippling the league and leaving it with only eight schools.
The other three leagues say they want the Big 12 to be successful.
“We want and need the Big 12 to do well,” said ACC commissioner Jim Phillips. “The Big 12 matters in college athletics. The Big 12 matters in Power Five athletics.”
Yet the Big 12 is not part of this alliance and the future of that league is unclear.
“We’ll be watching what occurs here,” Phillips added. “Obviously, this transition isn’t supposed to be taking place for another four years, but this group in particular will be very interested to see what happens and do everything we can to try and make sure college athletics looks similar to what it is today.”
Will the other Power Five conferences try to add the eight remaining Big 12 programs? There’s been speculation that maybe the Pac-12 could annex at least a couple of those schools.
Kliavkoff will make a final decision on expansion this week, according to The Athletic.
“In the history of college athletics, one expansion of a conference has usually led to another to another and to another,” Phillips said. “To the three of us, we felt destabilization of the current environment across Division I and the FBS and the Power Five in particular, this was a chance for a new direction, a new initiative that I don’t think has ever been done before. Expansion doesn’t mean you end up changing membership across multiple conferences in a significant shortened period of time.”
What does the alliance want the College Football Playoff to look like?
Over the summer, the CFP underwent an overhaul and a 12-team model was proposed, increased from the current four-team model.
Kliavkoff said the Pac-12 is “100% in favor” of CFP expansion.
But there’s a lot to be determined still about what the CFP will look like in the future, including access.
The SEC, with commissioner Greg Sankey, had an influential voice in CFP expansion talks. Certainly, the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC want to be more involved in what the CFP looks like in the future.
“Certainly from an ACC standpoint, we haven’t made a final decision about where we will fall,” Phillips said. “We want to take the whole entire period to really vet it thoroughly.”
“I’m a big believer in expanding the College Football Playoff,” Warren said, “but I’m also a big believer in being methodical and doing our homework.”
There are still many unanswered questions regarding this new Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC alliance. But for those leagues, this is a starting point to try to ensure more stability and control during an uncertain time in college athletics.
“To be able to get into a room over these next couple of weeks and months and start rolling up our sleeves and going to work to figure out how this will come together is exciting,” Warren said. “We know the elements are there. We will work together. You will see some really exciting opportunities for our football, basketball and Olympic sport student-athletes as we start unpacking the scheduling component of this.”