Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 Announce Alliance To Address Future Of College Athletics, Combat SEC's Influence

Tuesday, August 24th 2021, 1:28 pm
By: CBS Sports

The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 on Tuesday formally announced their long-awaited alliance. The agreement between the three conferences focuses 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 conference 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, a significant portion of alliance conversations have been based on ensuring that athletes' academic success remains integral to the college sports experience.

"Some of things we've been doing to ourselves, that just needs to stop," said one high-profile official from a school within the alliance. "Some of this shit, we're talking about expanding to 12 [teams]. For two teams that [go all the way], that's 17 games. We're going to talk about 'these kids aren't professionals' and we don't pay them? I firmly believe in the academic value of what we're doing, but at a certain point, it looks like professionals. … I firmly believe in the academic piece that we're providing."

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.

Will the alliance affect playoff expansion?

Though a 12-team model has been proposed for CFP expansion, there has been substantial push back 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 ACC commissioner Jim Phillips.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin 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 looks 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".

What did the commissioners have to say?

Jim Phillips, ACC: "The ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 recognize the unique environment and challenges currently facing intercollegiate athletics, and we are proud and confident in this timely and necessary alliance that brings together like-minded institutions and conferences focused on the overall educational missions of our preeminent institutions. The alliance will ensure that the educational outcomes and experiences for student-athletes participating at the highest level of collegiate athletics will remain the driving factor in all decisions moving forward."

Kevin Warren, Big Ten: "Student-athletes have been and will remain the focal point of the Big Ten, ACC and PAC-12 Conferences. Today, through this alliance, we furthered our commitment to our student-athletes by prioritizing our academics and athletics value systems. We are creating opportunities for student-athletes to have elite competition and are taking the necessary steps to shape and stabilize the future of college athletics."

George Kliavkoff, Pac-12: "The historic alliance announced today between the Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten is grounded in a commitment to our student-athletes. We believe that collaborating together we are stronger in our commitment to addressing the broad issues and opportunities facing college athletics."