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Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 Conferences formally announce alliance agreement

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Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

It is official — in a groundbreaking, but expected decision, the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 have reached an agreement, and the three like-minded conferences will form an “alliance.”

As we mentioned late last week, the conferences were expected to formally announce the alliance early this week, and that has now come to fruition. Max Olson of The Athletic first reported the potential alliance on Aug. 14.

The alliance was unanimously supported by all of the presidents, chancellors and athletics directors at all 41 schools throughout the three conferences, and it “will be guided in all cases by a commitment to, and prioritization of, supporting student-athlete well-being, academic and athletic opportunities, experiences and diverse educational programming.”

The three conferences — which includes Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff and ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips — met with the media today to announce the decision. They feel they share common goals and values, and it is also, at least in part, a move to check the SEC’s ever-growing power after it recently pulled in Texas and Oklahoma away from the Big 12.

Each of the three commissioners provided a statement, via press release.

“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,” Phillips said.

“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,” Warren said. “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,” Kliavkoff said. “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. 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.”

While there were not a lot of specific details or timelines provided on what exactly the alliance will accomplish, and how soon it will accomplish its goals, the three conferences will essentially work together on areas such as academics, athletics, gender equality issues, social justice, College Football Playoff expansion, NCAA governance and eventually scheduling and television deals. The conferences plan to schedule games in football, men’s and women’s basketball and Olympic sports.

Overall, though, the reason for the alliance is a response to the shifting landscape of college football, as the commissioner mentioned multiple times on Tuesday’s Zoom call announcing the alliance, which The Only Colors attended.

One of the more interesting factoids to come out of the media availability session with the commissioners is that there is no legal agreement for this alliance. It is simply an agreement where the leaders are trusting each other and each institution to do the right thing — a sort of “handshake agreement,” but on a much bigger scale.

“There’s no signed contract, there was an agreement among three gentlemen,” Kliavkoff said. “And there is a commitment from 41 presidents and chancellors and 41 athletic directors to do what we say we’re going to do. If there’s any lack of specificity in the press release, it’s because we want to make sure we could deliver 100 percent of what we promised. So we’re aligned in how we want to approach this. But there’s no contract. There’s no signed document, and there doesn’t need to be.”

As far as what drove the conferences to come together and form the alliance, while revenue was of course a factor, the commissioners say there were much bigger issues in play, and money was not top of mind when making the decision. The main goal was protecting the landscape of college football/athletics and making sure the right decisions are being made for the future.

“There may be residual benefits from this alliance related to increased revenue opportunities, but that wasn’t the focus of why we did the alliance,” Kliavkoff said. “We did the alliance to protect the collegiate model to work together on these important issues, and to create unique new opportunities for our next generation of student athletes, and our fans and alumni who want to see these great games that we’ll be able to create. So we weren’t focused on revenue when we were creating the alliance.”

When asked directly about the Southeastern Conference and Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC in the near future, Warren said the alliance was certainly aware of the move, but the move wasn’t necessarily a “reaction,” to it, however he hinted toward it playing a factor.

“We’re always aware of conference realignment,” Warren said. “I mean, the Big Ten has grown over the last couple years by having individuals from other conferences join. So that’s always there. But I just think, you know, from, where we sit, we have to be aware as far as what’s going on. I mean, even one of the things that we learned from COVID last year is that we live in uncertain times. So I wouldn’t say this is a reaction to Texas in Oklahoma joining the SEC. But I think, to be totally candid, is that you have to evaluate, you know, what’s going on in the landscape of college football.”

ESPN reports that the Pac-12 was the most aggressive of the three leagues in forming the alliance, with a source saying “The Pac-12 is driving this.” However, Warren, Phillips and Kliavkoff played coy when asked who got the ball rolling with this idea. But they made it clear they are planning to get this partnership going immediately.

“I think it was three motivated commissioners, for us to come together and do something that we felt collectively was the right thing at the right time,” Phillips said. “The timeline, per se, it’s been over the last month or so that we’ve been literally married to one another and connected more maybe than we have been with our spouses with the time and effort and commitment we’ve had to be together, both in face as well as through (other) normal means of communication. As far as the execution moving forward, it begins now. It begins today.”

Regarding scheduling future games between the three conferences, which would offer the potential for huge ratings and a lot of revenue, the commissioners didn’t talk specifics just yet, but did note they want to keep all current schedule games in place while adding more opportunities in the future. However, when forming the new schedule Yahoo Sports reports the following options could be included:

-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.

As for Michigan State and the rest of Big Ten potentially dropping down from nine conference games to eight, Commissioner Warren had this to say about the issue:

“That’s one of the things we’ll have to address at the appropriate time,” Warren said. “Because, as we said, one, we promised that we’re going to keep all of our existing contracts and games in order. As you are aware, some conferences have eight games, (the Big Ten is) a conference that has nine conference games. So all of those different issues, which we knew were on the horizon over these last couple of years, now with the scheduling alliance, they’re put on the table now. We’ll have to address those to make sure that we’re able to expand the relationship with the ACC and the Pac-12.”

As Warren notes, the Big Ten plans to honor all games that are currently scheduled and have contracts in place. For Michigan State, the Spartans currently have future games planned against Washington (2022 and 2023) and Oregon (2029 and 2030) in the Pac-12 and Boston College (2024 and 2025) in the ACC. MSU also has an unofficial agreement in place with Notre Dame, though contracts are not yet signed for that game. Yahoo reports that Notre Dame could be considered an ACC opponent as far as the scheduling alliance would work. The Spartans also have several other future opponents from non-alliance conferences on the docket.

Yahoo also notes that the ACC is locked into a television deal with ESPN until 2036, and the alliance likely won’t help the conference get out of said deal, which complicates the TV rights negotiations in the future. The Big Ten (through 2022) and Pac-12 (through 2023), however, have expiring media rights deals coming up and will likely leverage the newly-formed alliance when negotiating each conference’s next deal.

It will be interesting to see how exactly this alliance plays out. The landscape of college football is certainly changing.