The commissioners from the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 formally announced an alliance Tuesday.
The Alliance will center on a shared vision for the future governance of college athletics. For now, the Alliance will mean the three leagues can, among other things, form a voting block that will blunt the growing influence of an expanded SEC. It also allows three leagues that consider themselves like-minded to gain voting power on issues as the NCAA’s influence diminishes.
Discussions at the university presidential level have been significant and give the alliance the potential to be much more meaningful. Those talks have included both regular-season scheduling and how an expanded College Football Playoff would operate.
How the Alliance would shape scheduling in Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC
With 40 different schools, three league offices and multiple television partners stretching from coast to coast, a consensus on significant issues may be difficult to reach. But as the leagues dive further into discussions, the Alliance’s most ambitious reaches could include the following:
An agreement where each football team in the three conferences would play one opponent from each of the other two leagues on an annual basis. In most cases, the opponents would rotate. This could help maximize revenue in upcoming television deals for the Big Ten and Pac-12, which have expiring media rights deals in upcoming seasons. (The Big Ten deal is through the 2022 football season and the Pac-12 through the 2023 football season.)
Under such a plan, the Big Ten could drop its conference schedule from nine games to eight, and require each school to play one game against an ACC and a Pac-12 team each year. Wisconsin, for example, would play Virginia and Oregon one year, Florida State and UCLA the next. Big Ten schools would be allowed to schedule the additional non-conference games as they see fit.
If adopted, the Big Ten’s conference season would consist of six games within either the East or West Division and two crossover games. There are currently three crossover games.
ACC teams, which already play eight conference games, would schedule a Big Ten and a Pac-12 opponent annually.
The ACC adding value to its television rights is the tricky part, as it is stuck in a lopsided deal with ESPN until 2036 that it signed in order to obtain a television network. The Alliance is not expected to help the conference get out of the ESPN deal.
The Pac-12, which currently has nine league games, would consider dropping down to eight as well, or just use two of the three non-conference games in the Alliance.
Any Big Ten or Pac-12 team already playing Notre Dame, which has its own scheduling deal with the ACC, would be able to count the Irish as its ACC opponent.
Pac-12 members USC and Stanford have annual series with Notre Dame. Big Ten programs Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue also have future series scheduled with the Irish.
Blunting the SEC and having a louder voice in shaping College Football Playoff
The new scheduling should create additional marquee games and perhaps increased television money, while potentially squeezing the SEC in non-conference scheduling.
Four ACC teams have annual games with in-state SEC rivals — Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia Tech-Georgia, Florida State-Florida and Louisville-Kentucky. Those games would continue, but there would be a decided lack of available non-conference dates for other SEC teams seeking major opponents.
In terms of the College Football Playoff, the leagues appear to prefer a 12-team field like the one that has been proposed, but the Alliance wants more of a say in how that model unfolds. That current plan, which has not been agreed upon, was devised over a two-year period by a four-person group consisting of SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. The ACC/Big Ten/Pac-12 now want more of a voice in how a 12-team playoff is built.
A possible wrinkle the group could propose would be a push for some playoff games to be controlled by conferences, not necessarily bowl games.
That would allow, say, the Big Ten to stage a playoff game at a neutral site within its footprint. That could happen inside the domed stadiums of Indianapolis and Detroit, or maybe outdoors in Cleveland or Chicago. This would replace using only traditional bowl games, which are located in the South or West.
Alliance seeks to influence TV power, halt ESPN's total control
How the playoff's television rights would be put out for bid, how many networks would be allowed to carry the games and how the teams are selected could also be addressed. The Alliance is wary of ESPN, who has exclusive rights to all SEC games starting in 2024, also having full control of the playoff. ESPN has rights to the playoff through 2025 and an exclusive negotiating window. There has long been a strong feeling within the sport that multiple networks broadcasting the playoff would be better financially and for exposure.
Exactly how much of the above becomes the official position of the Alliance remains to be seen. With this many teams and this many opinions, any plan is likely to be altered.
However, just over a month after word broke in the Houston Chronicle of Oklahoma and Texas seeking to join the SEC, the three remaining major conferences are working together and thinking boldly about what they can do going forward.
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