The busy offseason in the world of college football continued on Tuesday, as the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 announced their intention to form an alliance between the three leagues. If you are confused or wondering what exactly this means for the conferences or college football going forward, you aren’t alone. A press release from the conferences, along with a press event later in the afternoon, didn’t exactly provide many details. Also, at this point, there’s no binding agreement or signed contract between the three leagues.
On the most basic level, this alliance is about slowing down a chaotic offseason amidst a lot of change and bringing stability to the sport. Whether it was the transfer portal, NIL (name, image and likeness), the Alston ruling, CFB Playoff expansion, or conference realignment, change was the only constant this offseason. The addition of Oklahoma and Texas by the SEC has spurred a lot of debate about the future of the sport and whether or not the SEC is too powerful. These three leagues are attempting to restore balance and tip the scales away from the SEC.
Additionally, this alliance could be crucial in shaping the future of the CFB Playoff and basic governance of college football in both the short- and long-term view. The third cog in this alliance is non-conference scheduling. The leagues want to work together to schedule better non-conference matchups in the future, which certainly equals more television dollars.
ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12: Everything to Know About the Alliance
So…What Exactly Does the Alliance Do?
Right now, this is largely symbolic and an announcement to bring a sense of stability and calm to the college football world after a chaotic offseason. Also, this is an attempt to slow the speed of change surrounding offseason events, including the expansion of the College Football Playoff.
According to the release, the three leagues “will be guided in all cases by a commitment to, and prioritization of, supporting student-athlete well-being, academic and athletic opportunities, experiences and diverse educational programming.” The release mentioned a handful of pillars they would provide leadership on, including student-athlete mental and physical health, safety, wellness and support, strong academic experience and support, diversity, equity and inclusion, social justice, gender equity, future structure of the NCAA, federal legislative efforts and postseason championships and future formats.
As mentioned previously, working together to schedule non-conference games, shaping the future of the College Football Playoff, and working together on governance issues are largely at the heart of this alliance.
Why Is This Happening?
Simply, the Big Ten, ACC and the Pac-12 are looking to balance out the power of the SEC. With no overwhelming options to expand to 16 teams in their own leagues, working together is the best (and most appealing option) at this point. A freshly-expanded SEC with Oklahoma and Texas is a league with massive appeal (financially and in terms of overall power) and holds a great deal of weight when it comes to big decisions for the future of the sport. The alliance hopes to dilute or balance out some of that power from the SEC.
Also, (and this comes as no surprise), but this is certainly about money. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have television deals expiring in the near future, and the ACC could use a boost to its agreement, although it’s unclear if ESPN would redo its deal with the conference with just better non-conference games.
What Does it Mean for CFB Playoff Expansion?
A Tuesday press conference between the conference commissioners didn’t produce an ironclad answer. However, all three seemed to be in favor of expanding the playoff – with perhaps some changes to the previous release announcing the 12-team format earlier this summer. Either way, racing towards a fast shift to a 12-team postseason doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
There are a couple of factors in play with a more methodical path to expansion. ESPN has the first rights to an expanded playoff, but some commissioners and conferences want to take this to the open market. Translation: Doing this would allow new television partners to bid on the playoff and hopefully drive up the price, equaling more $$$ for each of the conferences. Also, leagues certainly want to dilute the SEC/ESPN partnership to some extent. Finally, while 12 teams seem to be the consensus position, taking time to flesh out the details and particulars with new conference commissioners at the table may result in changes to the format or the number of programs making the playoff.
Are There Non-Conference Games Coming? And When?
Yes. But the second part is up in the air. Contracts for non-conference games across all three leagues are scheduled well into the future. According to the release from the three leagues, this will begin “as soon as practical while honoring current contractual obligations.” Untangling previous non-conference deals right away is unlikely, so it may take some time before we see a full scheduling grid for these three conferences. Could some games start sooner? Absolutely. But don’t expect the full lineup of conferences or teams to have anything official anytime soon.
Could the Big Ten and Pac-12 Drop from Nine to Eight Conference Games?
Yes. In an effort to schedule non-conference games across the leagues, the Big Ten and Pac-12 could drop to eight league matchups. With the switch to a larger playoff, more losses don’t necessarily hurt teams as much. Quality of games and strength of schedule will matter more, which is why better non-conference games are an appealing option.
What’s Next for the Big 12?
The Big 12 was not part of the Alliance release or press event on Tuesday – an ominous sign for the conference. During the press event, ACC commissioner Jim Phillips commented, “We want and need the Big 12 to do well.” But the conference does not seem to be involved in any way with this alliance for one reason: Uncertainty.
However, there is some potentially good news for the league from this announcement. If the goal is to bring stability and slow the rapid changes of the sport, the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 may choose to not expand, allowing the Big 12 to rebound with its current membership.
What Does the SEC Think of This?
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey doesn’t seem too worried about the alliance. In a statement to several media outlets, Sankey indicated, “We have respect for each of our conference colleagues and look forward to our future collaborations. I believe we remain unified by our shared beliefs around the positive impact college sports has on the lives of student-athletes and throughout our communities. In the SEC, we are proud of our collective academic commitment and athletics accomplishments and look forward to continuing to offer our student-athletes great educational and championship opportunities in the years ahead.”
Finally…Is it Actually Going to Happen or Change College Football?
We’ll see. Many agreements or previous attempts at scheduling alliances in college football have failed or never come to fruition. Small tweaks to the CFB Playoff are probably the most likely outcome from the postseason outlook, and most of the Power 5 leagues agree on several big-picture issues from governance. In other words, a lot of words and time was spent on the alliance announcement. But until the games are actually scheduled, the importance of the agreement could be overblown.
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