The Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC have responded to the latest growth by the SEC by forming an alliance among the three Power 5 conferences. There were not a lot of details when it came to the new college athletics alliance. But scheduling and the current power structure of college sports seemed to be at the forefront of its development.
The informal agreement, announced Tuesday, creates a new voting block among the 41 schools spanning from upstate New York to Southern California, and from Miami to Seattle.
The New College Athletics Alliance
Last month, the SEC lured Oklahoma and Texas to leave the Big XII as early as next year, adding to its college football cache. With the new members, in addition to the SEC’s ties to ESPN, and the network’s stranglehold on the college football playoff rights, the conference was creating a monolith for the control of college athletics. The new alliance is an attempt to stem that tide.
Pac- 12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, and ACC commissioner Jim Phillips addressed the media moments after the three conferences issued a press release.
There is no formal agreement in the new alliance. It doesn’t even have a name, and heretofore will just be referred to as The Alliance. There is no contract. All three commissioners said they had the approval of the athletic directors from all 41 schools to enter into this agreement. Essentially it is being done on a handshake agreement.
How They Got Here
The phrase that came up repeatedly in both the press conference and the release was, “Like-minded partners.” The intended translation is that the schools share academic similarities and focus on sports beyond football. Phillips repeatedly called the current NCAA environment, “Unstable.” He indicated that expansion in one conference generally leads to expansion in others and a resulting seismic shift comes thereafter. The poke, while unspecified, was clearly aimed at the SEC, Texas, and Oklahoma. Phillips said, “This was a time that we felt we had a responsibility to stabilize a volatile environment; to focus in structurally on the things we have to do if we want to see college athletics survive.”
One of the immediate compelling topics is the college football playoffs. Not all of these conferences are represented on the College Football Playoff committee, currently or in the past. There seems to be a desire to slow down the runaway locomotive that is playoff expansion. Phillips said the ACC has made no final decision on where it stands with regards to the playoff expansion proposal. He said he needs more time to, “Socialize about it. What did we like about it? What did we have issues with? Too many games? What does it do to the bowl structure?”
Warren said, “A more inclusive voice,” was needed.
Kliavkoff said he intends to spend time on each Pac-12 campus discussing the potential with each athletic director. The charter, in its current format runs through the 2025 season.
There is one unspoken potential. Each of these three conferences will be in network tv negotiations for their new long-term deal over the next three years. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have agreements with Fox Sports as well as ESPN/ABC. By delaying the implementation of the playoff expansion, it would allow Fox to come to the table with a bid for some of the right post-season rights. That would take away the current monopoly from ESPN…a SEC partner.
One of the fundamental aspects of the alliance is a scheduling agreement among the three conferences. That is going to be easier going forward in basketball and the Olympic sports. College football contracts tend to get locked in years in advance. That is not to say buyouts are not an option. A school could certainly drop a smaller regional opponent, and pay the contractual commitment to do it. It would do so knowing that there is a bigger payout from the tv networks for a bigger game. It would be easier for the ACC. The conference members currently play four out-of-conference games, and eight conference games. The Big Ten and Pac- 12 each play nine conference games and three out-of-conference games.
Kliavkoff did not dismiss potential changes. “We have a contractual commitment through the end of our media rights term to play nine conference games,” Kliavkoff said. That media contract ends in three years. Kliavkoff said the Pac-12 could go to eight conference games sooner, but it would require a sign-off from the media partners. “I think there is a compelling argument that the games we could replace those with, if they were in the alliance, would be very compelling and worth making that move sooner.”
The Big XII
What is clear is that what is left of the Big XII, post Oklahoma and Texas departures, may be on its own. There were no indications that any of the three conferences see an immediate need to expand, although Kliavkoff has said he will have more on that later this week. Warren seemed to indicate how the Big XII does not factor in. “I have the utmost respect for Bob Bowlsby, the commissioner of the Big XII,” Warren said. “He’s been a great leader. So, I am confident under Bob’s leader that he will do what is best for his conference. I’m sure Bob will figure things out and do what is best for the Big XII.”
None of the three commissioners had a timetable as to when actionable items would begin under the new alliance. The scheduling of non-football games can begin immediately. But clearly the bigger focus is on the power structure overall of college athletics.