The ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 officially announced their rumored alliance on Tuesday in a joint press conference with the commissioners of each league.
While the alliance doesn’t carry with it any immediate substantive change, the biggest impact to fans around the country will be impending scheduling partnerships. Each sport will have to tackle what these partnerships look like.
For example, in men’s college basketball the ACC and Big Ten already have an annual challenge that occurs in the non-conference portion of the season. Will the ACC/Big Ten Challenge continue? Will it be expanded? Will it move to a different portion of the season?
In the realm of football, the Big Ten and Pac-12 have an affiliation with the Rose Bowl. Does that continue?
Regardless of the alliance’s content, the willingness to align is a major step forward in leadership for three relatively new conference commissioners. The Pac-12’s George Kiavkoff has held his position less than two months (started June 30). Jim Phillips of the ACC has been in place since earlier this year. By comparison, the Big Ten’s Kevin Warren is a grizzled veteran even though he’s held his title for less than two years (started in January of 2020).
What led to the alliance?
The impetus for this alliance is the currently tumultuous atmosphere in college athletics. NIL is real and active, but still not completely defined or understood. The NCAA’s ability to govern (and its role in governing) is in question. The chief stimulus though is certainly the SEC’s power move of bringing in Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12.
The goal, therefore, of the alliance is to “stabilize a volatile environment”. Expansion or conference realignment doesn’t happen in a vacuum. One move causes multiple other moves to occur so as to balance out the conference landscape. “Very rarely has there ever been a domino that’s fallen that hasn’t knocked over a few other subsequent membership changes,” said ACC Commissioner Phillips.
Interestingly though, the alliance is not a contractual agreement and there is nothing in writing stopping any of the three conferences from stealing a team from one of the others. At the same time, this partnership hopefully helps remove the desire to poach from another alliance member. The affiliation also allows the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 to “try to work through the next several years in a way where [they] collectively can work together.”
When will these new scheduling agreements be enacted?
At this point, everything is on the table, and each conference will have to fulfill existing “contractual obligations” before enacting new plans. Beyond that, scheduling “will begin as soon as practical”.
The chief decision-makers at all 41 schools agreed unanimously to support the alliance (presidents, chancellors, and athletic directors). The 41 schools in question are the 14 Big Ten schools, 12 Pac-12 schools, the 14 full-member ACC schools, and Notre Dame, which is a full conference member in every sport but football.
While this is certainly a major announcement, as previously mentioned the alliance doesn’t carry with it concrete changes for the immediate present. The alliance is more an acknowledgment of a desire to stand united and to not allow the SEC’s recent moves to wreck the entire landscape.
At the same time, there are specific issues that the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 are committed to processing together – the future of the NCAA and its role as a governing body, College Football Playoff expansion, NIL considerations, social justice issues, and more.
As we look to the future, one looming question for the make-up of the Power 5 conferences is the viability of the Big 12 to stay on the same footing with the other four. The SEC is certainly on solid ground as the first 16-team superleague. The other three are now aligned with one another, and therefore also in good shape. Phillips, Warren, and Kliavkoff have each made comments of commitment to desiring to see the Big 12 carry on, but we’ll have to see how those commitments hold as everything continues to unfold over the next several years.
As far as individual schools are concerned, the Notre Dame test case will be interesting to track. Are the Irish able to continue some level of autonomy? Are they finally fully reeled in by the ACC? Do they stubbornly hold onto the way things have been only to find themselves wedged out?
Another dynamic at play is media rights. Each of the three conferences in the alliance have various media contracts expiring at different times. The commissioners will have to continue to process all of this with the various media partners. As always, money will be the bottom line in these discussions. If changes to media agreements are deemed profitable by ESPN, FOX, and others then we will undoubtedly experience change and updates to these agreements.
At this point, there are more questions than answers about the entire entity of college athletics. We can all speculate on the eventual outcomes, but since there is no precedent for the current goings-on, it would be just that – speculation.
Stay tuned as information about the alliance continues to roll out.
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