Sooooo… this dropped last night.
The Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC have had preliminary discussions about forming an alliance, likely built around scheduling but possibly other areas, sources told ESPN.
Commissioners George Kliavkoff (Pac-12), Kevin Warren (Big Ten) and Jim Phillips (ACC) have been in regular communication, and have also had some in-person discussions. Kliavkoff and Warren were together this week for Rose Bowl meetings. Pac-12 sources said all three commissioners met last week in Chicago.
“I’ve been in frequent and regular contact with all of the other A5 commissioners the last few weeks about the four or five complex issues that are facing our industry,” Kliavkoff told ESPN on Friday night. “Anything beyond that is just speculation, and I can’t comment on it.”
Needless to say, social media was en fuego over the news. Plenty of spicy takes and rampant speculation. Do I have thoughts? Of course I do!
The underlying motive — “that bastard Sankey… we’ve got to do something to respond!” — is easy to understand. It’s the end game that’s murky.
Athletic directors in two of the leagues discussing an alliance told ESPN that nonconference scheduling likely would be the focus, but that there aren’t many details yet. The SEC’s addition of Texas and Oklahoma, plus commissioner Greg Sankey’s involvement in proposing a 12-team expanded College Football Playoff model, has been seen as an attempt to consolidate power.
“There is some alignment in us against them a little bit,” a Power 5 athletic director said.
Yeah, that’s a pretty good summary in three sentences. Now, on to the bullet points:
- First of all, the hypocrisy is pretty thick here, at least as it pertains to the SEC’s power grab. Colorado was poached from the Big 12 by the Pac-12. Maryland was taken from the ACC by the Big Ten. Hell, the ACC basically destroyed the Big East when it expanded. So you’ll have to forgive me if I’m not totally moved by the bridge too far attitude on display here. There isn’t a single one of these three conferences that wouldn’t have welcomed Oklahoma and Texas with open arms, given the opportunity.
- Second, and this is where the murk starts to seep in, is how this move is seen as some sort of resistance to ESPN’s power, particularly as it relates to the broadcast rights to an expanded CFP. Skipping past the hilarity of the light bulbs suddenly going off over the heads of the three commissioners after years and years of evidence of Mickey’s power, the way to make that work is to hold the four-team field in place until the current contract expires in 2026. That’s something the Ohio State-led Big Ten and the Clemson-led ACC can live with, but is the Pac-12 really prepared to remain irrelevant in the postseason for another five years? That’s quite the sacrifice for the greater good.
- The scheduling aspect of this had all the usual suspects excited: a Big Ten-ACC Challenge! Clemson-Southern Cal, baby! Eh, the high end matchups are the easy part. In fact, college football has already shown over the past couple of years that you don’t need an alliance to schedule high profile non-conference games.
- The tough part of this comes when you have to rearrange many things to get that Georgia Tech-Washington State game that the viewing public so badly craves. Let’s assume the three conferences agree for each of their teams to play a game against a team in each of the other two. What existing games are going to be sacrificed? Does the Pac-12 drop its ninth conference game? Do the
three ACC teams that play state rivalry games against SEC schools ditch those? How much in buyout fees of guarantee games do these schools pay?
- The ironic and depressing thing here is that in one breath these three conferences want to resist ESPN’s vision for the sport while in the next reduce their reliance on regionalism in embracing a more national approach for viewership, which is precisely what the network’s approach has been since the four-team CFP has come into being. It’s as unsurprising as it is shortsighted.
- Oh, and as if we didn’t already know, the Big 12 is well and truly fucked. Kliavkoff meeting with Bowlsby while secretly meeting with the other two P5 counterparts is a page out of the same playbook Sankey ran. If Bowlsby’s schools weren’t already looking for a way off the boat, they’re surely scrambling to find the life rafts now.
Bottom line, I’m not sure why an alliance of sorts is necessary. If the goal is to thwart ESPN, all you need for that is a voting bloc that is big enough to outvote the SEC in order to control the outcome. (Though it’s worth considering that there’s nothing about this alliance that’s attractive for Notre Dame or the G5 conferences, both of which have as much to gain from a 12-team CFP as does the Pac-12.) There’s also nothing about this that’s going to reduce the SEC’s cash flow after it grows to 16.
As far as a scheduling alliance goes, that only works if…
Needless to say, I don’t think Greg Sankey lost any sleep last night.