I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea for the commissioners of the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 to meet the press yesterday, because to say the end result was underwhelming is probably selling that term short. For all the highfalutin jabbering, this would have sufficed instead.
That’s it. That’s the Alliance (or ‘Alliance’, if you’re Dan Wetzel).
It was a presser that was longer on motive than substance.
“I wouldn’t say this is a reaction to Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC,” Warren said, “but I think to be totally candid, you have to evaluate what’s going on in the landscape of college athletics. … This is a year for seismic shifts, and I think it’s really important to make sure that you are aware of all these different things going on, and make sure that from our individual conferences that we do all we can to make sure we protect our conferences and build strong relationships to make sure that we protect our student-athletes.”
When they say it’s not about the SEC, it’s about the SEC. When they say it’s about doing it for the kids, it’s about the SEC.
It’s not a coincidence that trust became a key talking point among these three commissioners. The lack of trust that followed Texas and Oklahoma’s decision to join the SEC was the springboard for creating this alliance, and it’s the underlying reason why other leagues are not currently involved. Kliavkoff even joked that the information surrounding the the 12-team playoff expansion hasn’t changed since the idea was first floated, but “who knows about it has changed” — a not-so-subtle dig at SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who helped design the format while also negotiating with Oklahoma and Texas.
Maybe they think peer pressure will get Sankey to reverse his expansion decision.
So where does this go? Beats me. I doubt the three commissioners and their 41 schools have the first clue.
But the bigger reason for the “gentleman’s agreement” is that no one really wants this to be formal. For one, the Alston case is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and three conferences colluding on the future of the NCAA in any official capacity would be a big red flag with antitrust litigation looming. Moreover, there are 41 schools involved here, and putting any formal language together would likely create some dissent. If there’s no concrete language beyond a general agreement to keep talking, the support is unanimous. Once specific language is on a page and signatures get attached, the potential for blowback ratchets up a lot.
Is conference expansion off the table? For the next fifteen minutes, anyway. But let’s not forget we’re watching the Big Ten, which took Maryland off the ACC’s hands in its last round of expansion, singing in the kumbaya chorus. I doubt these guys really trust each other that deeply; they just trust each other a little more than Greg Sankey. Is it better to be trusted than feared? Ask again after the next round of broadcast deals comes to light.
What about the 12-team playoff?
The most telling comment about the playoff came in a Zoom call the three commissioners had with ESPN after their news conference. “I think that people are really focused on being thoughtful, and very methodical in this issue,” Warren said. “So I know from where the Big Ten stands from is we’re still gathering information. We will be prepared by the time we walk into that meeting on Sept. 28. But I don’t think where we are with the turbulence that exists in college athletics. You know, anything as we go forward will be a rubber stamp, I think everyone is going to look through their decision-making process through critical eyes.”
“There still are some unanswered questions there,” Phillips said. “And that’s why I don’t think anybody could definitively say, ‘Hey, we’re ready to vote yes or no on it.'”
Translation: fuck you, Sankey and ESPN, but, yeah, we’d like the money, anyway.
As Phillips said, “We are bullish on scheduling, as it will elevate the national profile of all of our teams by playing from coast to coast, with college fans across the country as the beneficiaries.” But as for a timeline … nobody was going there just yet. The truth is, we are going to have to potentially wait years for that to happen. First, all three commissioners were clear they are not going to tear up existing scheduling agreements. Because of the way nonconference scheduling is done, many schools are locked into games through at least the next five years.
“This is not about getting out of contracts and blowing anything up,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said. “This is about honoring those existing contracts, but also building relationships between these three like-minded conferences, as we look forward from a scheduling standpoint to see if there’s opportunity to build unique games that will come together.
“We’re really at the beginning stages of this.”
The delicious part of this is that they’re clearly jockeying for a more attractive slate of games to sell to their broadcast partners, but, for example, the Pac-12 would have to convince ESPN that it’s a benefit to reduce the conference schedule by a game.
“To move to fewer games sooner than three years, we need to have partnership with ESPN and Fox to do that,” Kliavkoff said, “although I think there’s 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. We’ll work through that with our media partners and our alliance partners.”
If you think it’s going to be a little awkward to ask the same folks you’re crapping on in a very public way to ignore that and do you a large in the next minute… well, it’s not any more awkward than the ACC’s situation, which involves an exclusive deal with Mickey for the next fifteen years.
As I’ve said for a while, the issue isn’t that ESPN has just now made itself too big to be good for the sport. It’s that they burrowed insidiously into the sport years ago and the Clampetts are coming to the realization — the late realization — that their options are restricted.
There is the spite, though.
And in the end this was all about trying to upset the SEC, which is persona non grata after adding Oklahoma and Texas, which is what the other three leagues wish they could have done.
Maybe they should go all in on this and take a pro wrestling approach to this whole Alliance vs. SEC thing. It’s bound to be less of a bore than what they said yesterday.