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Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 announce alliance to address future of college athletics, combat SEC’s influence

The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 on Tuesday formally announced an alliance that has been the topic of much conversation over the last two weeks. The agreement between the three conferences is being described as a “collaborative approach surrounding the future evolution of college athletics and scheduling.”

The alliance asserts its purpose is to focus on NCAA governance, student-athlete welfare and ensuring the collegiate model continues. It will also include a “scheduling component for football and women’s and men’s basketball designed 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.”

The three conferences also plan to get on the same page regarding future College Football Playoff expansion and other major topics including the reshaping of college athletes as a whole, sources tell CBS Sports.

Realignment among the three conferences has not been part of their discussions and will not be an issue addressed with the alliance. However, the three league commissioners admitted Tuesday that there is no signed document between the conferences and the entire alliance is operating on a handshake agreement of collaboration.

The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 had been actively engaged in discussions about forming a scheduling alliance for at least two weeks.

What will the scheduling component look like?

The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 are poised to play scheduled nonconference games against one another, which will enhance certain teams’ schedule strengths and create interesting matchups for athletes, fans and TV networks. However, any scheduling piece of an alignment will not happen immediately and is unlikely to make massive impact in terms of TV revenue.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 previously discussed a scheduling alliance in 2012. The discussions eventually fell apart, but back then, it was reported that it would take at least five years until nonconference schedules could be adjusted accordingly. One Power Five athletic director speculated to CBS Sports that it could take 10 years to unwind nonconference schedules. 

“The scheduling alliance will begin as soon as practical while honoring current contractual obligations,” the three conferences explained in a 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.”

Football scheduling will be focused on elevating the national profile of teams in all three conferences with games held across the country in different time zones. For basketball, “early and mid-season games as well as annual events that feature premier matchups” will be created between the leagues. Further opportunities will be investigated for non-revenue sports.

Why is the alliance necessary?

The alliance became a priority for the three Power Five conferences after Texas and Oklahoma moved to the SEC from the Big 12. Talks between the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 were described to CBS Sports as a “non-aggression pact” against the SEC after the Big 12 was destabilized following the losses of the Longhorns and Sooners. That power grab tipped the scales toward the SEC in future college athletics dealings.

College athletics as a whole remains wary of the SEC and ESPN dominating … everything. Big 12 revenues will decline by at least 50% with the losses of Texas and Oklahoma. It would serve ESPN well financially if the Big 12 were to fade away as that would be one less set of TV rights to pay out. Even with the alliance, the SEC will likely maintain its advantage as the conference with the most best teams.

Though Texas and Oklahoma leaving for the SEC is still four years away — at this time — the Big 12 faces a bleak future given its remaining eight teams are not needle-movers. Asked about the future of that conference, ACC commissioner Jim Phillips claimed the Big 12 is still important to college sports but did not mention any interest in collaboration.

“We want and need the Big 12 to do well. The Big 12 matters in college athletics. The Big 12 matters in Power Five athletics and our FBS group,” Phillips said. “… We’ll be watching what occurs here. 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.”

However, he and Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren both admitted that SEC acquiring the Longhorns and Sooners created a need for the alliance to get together.

“In the history of college athletics, one expansion of a conference has usually led to another to another and to another. 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,” Phillips said. “… Expansion doesn’t mean you end up changing membership across multiple conferences in a significant shortened period of time.”

“I have great respect for the SEC. I have great respect for Greg Sankey and his leadership,” added Warren. “… I think the SEC had an opportunity, in accepting Texas and Oklahoma to their conference, 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. … I wouldn’t say this is a reaction to Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC, but to be totally candid, you have to evaluate what’s going on in the landscape of college athletics. With all the things that we are facing … this is a year for seismic shifts. I think it’s really important to make sure … that we do all we can to protect our conferences and build strong relationships to protect our student-athletes.”

Will the alliance affect playoff expansion?

Though a 12-team model has been proposed for CFP expansion, there has been substantial pushback about slowing the timeline of increasing the field size with the moves of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC. The structure, access and value of an expanded playoff have yet to be determined, but considering SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was a persuasive member of the CFP expansion committee that came up with the 12-team proposal, it comes as no surprise that the three remaining full-strength Power Five conferences want to press pause.

“[The expansion committee] did excellent work of providing an analysis and an option for us to consider. As we all got together in Dallas in June, the idea was that we were going to spend the rest of the summer until the third week of September — when we reconvene — socializing the playoff. What did we like about it? What did we have issues with? Did it makes sense? Too many games? What did it do tho the bowl structure and bowl system itself? Certainly from an ACC standpoint, we haven’t made a final decision about where we will fall. We want to take the whole entire period to really vet it thoroughly,” said Phillips.

Warren and Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff both said they are in favor of expanding while praising the work of the committee despite still wanting to take a closer look at the proposal.

“I’m a big believer in expanding the College Football Playoff, but I’m also a big believer in being methodical and doing our homework,” Warren said. “… We need to be very methodical as we make decisions because this will impact our student athletes. … The committee … did an incredible job. They spent hours upon hours looking at these different issues. We’re still unpacking this information, but I do think, whenever a decision is made, we need to make sure we have an inclusive voice, keep the student-athletes at the center of our decision, and I’m confident … that we’ll make the right decision and do the right thing at the right time.”

There will likely be interested in opening the CFP deal up for bidding once the field is expanded. In order to do that, the current contract with ESPN will need to expire in 2026. Even if those in power agree on an expanded field, the alliance could wield power in delaying its implementation until that date. The next set of CFP expansion meetings will take place in late September.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 also intend to keep pushing for inclusion of the Rose Bowl — in its traditional form — as part of any playoff expansion talks. Even without the alliance, those two conferences would support the traditional date and time of the game, Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET, with their teams competing in Pasadena, California.

Will the alliance have far-reaching influence?

The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 want to be viewed as three-pronged entity that shares similar views regarding NCAA governance at a key time with the association in the process of being remade. A constitutional convention will be held in November to essentially deregulate college athletics. Going forward, the conferences will have more control over legislation. If three are banded together, they could wield significant influence.

That means the alliance could have considerable impact — perhaps even more than the SEC — on what college athletics look like off the field. The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 could, as a group, support a more conservative model like what exists today. The voting structure hasn’t been worked out, but Power Five conferences currently enjoy a weighted voting advantage in NCAA governance.

“I think it’s a big portion from my perspective,” said Michigan AD Warde Manuel of the alliance’s academic pursuits. “That’s going to be critical long term to what we do.”

While name, image and likeness rights appear to be here to stay, new governance could come down to issues such as roster sizes, coaching staff sizes, eligibility issues and requirements regarding athletes making progress toward a degree. The alliance could draw a line in the sand on those issues. Of course, the way things stand for the future, the SEC could make its own policies.

Other sources said that antitrust issues could arise with a three-conference alliance. There is a fine line to be straddled in terms of potential collusion. An alliance between the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 would represent 60% of the current Power Five.

Sources reiterated that the 41 schools comprising the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 wouldn’t “boycott” the SEC and stand directly opposed to it, but their foremost goal would be to pursue “their own interests”.

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