After much deliberation and speculation in recent week, the Big Ten, ACC and PAC-12 announced a three conference alliance in order to set up a framework for moving forward in the unstable landscape that is college football.
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren had this to say in his prepared statement:
“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.”
While this is great sentiment, it leaves the college football world wondering about the fine print. It appears that other than scheduling out-of-conference opponents from the ACC and PAC-12, for the Big Ten it is business as usual. Does scheduling these alliance games make sense if it means eliminating one conference game each season?
Rutgers is scheduled to play Syracuse this year and Boston College next year. A home and away series with UCLA was scheduled and cancelled. So, the real question moving forward is will Rutgers continue to schedule games against ACC opponents but it will be mandated by the alliance? Will Rutgers drop the Temple’s and Delaware’s from its schedule and instead play PAC-12 opponents? Is playing Wake Forest really better than Illinois?
PAC-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff told reporters on Friday that the scheduling plan appears to be a uniform plan that there are games between these three conferences every season.
It's possible – not plausible – that it happens as early as next year.— Colton Clark (@SpokesmanClark) August 27, 2021
Much of it depends on renegotiating with ESPN and Fox.
"There's a lot of work to be done to get there."
Warren’s statement I believe was purposefully vague as was his performance at the press conference. This issue and so many others still need to be resolved. Does this alliance effectively put both the Big XII and AAC out of competing in whatever new bowl series that the higher-ups decide? Does the AAC and remaining Big XII teams merge and try and force the other three conferences hand?
At the end of the day as is so much in our world, the real motivation behind the alliance is money. But after the SEC, the Big Ten is the second richest of the Power Five Conferences. Most people agree that the ACC and PAC-12 are in a much more precarious situation in terms of both television revenues and susceptibility to poaching, so why did the Big Ten become part of this alliance in the first place?
The PAC-12 had the least to lose and the most to gain. The PAC-12 more so than the ACC and Big Ten needs the college football playoffs to expand to twelve teams as they have been the least represented of the three conferences since the inception of the four-game playoff system.
The alliance appears to make it clear that none of the three conferences will poach each other’s teams. This sounds all well and good but first and foremost there is no signed contract to anything, only a gentleman’s agreement. That is very quaint but unrealistic in today’s cutthroat world of business.
Here is a hypothetical. Notre Dame after years sticking to their independent status puts its finger up to the wind and determines that it is best served by joining the Big Ten. Will the alliance provide for that or would the Big Ten be perceived as poaching the ACC? Or will the alliance allow the flexibility to have schools move to any of the other alliance schools and not be perceived as poaching?
And while the prepared statement seems to focus on everyone working together in order to “stabilize the future of college athletics,” is the remaining teams in Big XII not a part of the future of college athletics? Does the statement imply that college football is moving to the Power Four conferences with the rest participating in the college football version of Lord of the Flies?
Will the alliance give all three conferences improved leverage going forward in negotiations with ESPN, Fox, and regional networks? What role will streaming services come into play moving forward?
For the alliance to truly have meaning the Big XII in some form must be included. Rumors abound that AAC schools and independents are tripping over each other to gain access the Big XII. The critical issue is whether the Big XII decides to add teams or will the conference fall apart giving the remaining teams to fight for admission to the Big Ten, ACC or PAC 12? How would the alliance handle that situation?
Much of this harkens back to the final days of the Big East as a football conference. We all remember the somewhat regular press conferences where all the Big East teams swore up and down that they were a united front and they all pledged to “stick together.” Well, we all know how that played out. At the end of the day every school in the country is going to do what is in their own best self-interest. This is just business and self-preservation.
I think it is an even bet that the Big XII replaces Texas and Oklahoma and adds an additional two teams. If the Big XII does fold, I see Cincinnati, West Virginia and possibly UCF and USF moving to the ACC. If the Big Ten decides to expand, it seems most likely it would be with AAU schools Kansas and Iowa State. The PAC-12 then moves into the southwest market by grabbing two of either Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech or Baylor. Maybe Brigham Young moves over to the PAC-12 and possibly Notre Dame moves to the Big Ten. Everyone else? Well, to those left out in the cold, Hasta La vista.
Finally, I see like most folks that a twelve-team college playoff is inevitable and the alliance leagues working to find ways where the three conferences play at least two games out-of-conference. But unless college football moves to a 14-game season, does scheduling aspect of the alliance really add value and of course, financial gains for the Big Ten schools?
For Rutgers, as the team continues to move up in the Big Ten food chain, the belief here is that the Scarlet Knights will continue to try and schedule games with the likes of Syracuse, Boston College and Pitt. These games are critical for winning the recruiting wars in New York and especially Pennsylvania. While as a fan, I love the idea of a road trip to the west coast, it may pay bigger dividends for the Scarlet Knights to schedule some combination of Miami, Florida and Florida State. Whether they will be allowed to is now in question.
Hang on folks. It is going to be a wild ride.