Tuesday saw the official announcement by the commissioners of the Big Ten and Pac-12, as well as the ACC, that they had formed an alliance between these three leagues. They did not offer any concrete plans for the future.
Jim Phillips, George Kliavkoff, and Kevin Warren spoke extensively about trust, stability, and protecting the future college athletics. However, Tuesday's announcement did not offer any clear pathway forward regarding scheduling, realignment, or expansion of the College Football Playoff.
The group instead announced the alliance in a handshake agreement, with unanimous support from its members. It was born out of a mutual appreciation of academics, sponsoring various Olympic sports and the pursuit of social justice and gender equity, diversity and inclusion.
It's just a beginning. It's anyone's guess where things will go from here.
One AD stated that there was an air of cooperation. "We don’t know what opportunities it might bring."
What are the goals for the alliance?
This announcement had one thing in common: stability. While the announcement contained a lot of lofty rhetoric, from vague scheduling plans to grand-picture goals of plotting the fate for the collegiate model, the true goal of this group was to stabilize a listed ship.
Phillips spoke about his desire not to see another round of conference realignment. Kliavkoff stated that the Pac-12 was still looking at expansion and would announce whether or not to add teams before the week ends.
The larger issue is the stability and viability of the college model. It's part of a wider feeling of uncertainty within college campuses. The absence of national guidelines for name, image, and likeness, Alston's case, the NCAA Constitution Convention, Realignment, and new TV deals are all part of that larger feeling. This alliance hopes to slow down the pace of change.
Warren stated, "Building for tomorrow had to begin somewhere." The [Power 5] was at a crossroads. There was severe turbulence. Three new commissioners have been appointed. The NCAA took a step back, and said that it must evaluate everything using a constitutional convention. CFP expansion was created without any of us being part of it. Name, image, and likeness are all yours. You also have the Alston case, gender equality issues, and social justice issues that we must deal with. They will examine what happened between 2020 and 2021, starting with George Floyd's murder and ending with COVID, and then look forward to the present. The first step had to be taken, and I, as a Big Ten member, was not content to sit back and watch others make those decisions.
This is just a handshake?
Trust is not an accident that these three commissioners became key points of conversation. This alliance was created because of the lack of trust that followed the Texas and Oklahoma decision to join SEC. Other leagues aren't currently participating. Kliavkoff joked that while the information regarding the expansion of the playoffs to 12 teams has not changed since the original idea was floated, "who knows what has changed" -- a subtle dig at Greg Sankey (SEC commissioner), who helped create the format while also negotiating between Oklahoma and Texas.
The main reason for the "gentleman’s agreement" is not that anyone wants it to be formal. First, there is the Alston case at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Third, three conferences colluding about the future of NCAA in any official capacity would signal that antitrust litigation is imminent. There are 41 schools involved in this case, so any formal language would likely cause some disagreement. The support for the proposal is unanimous if there is no clear language other than a general agreement to continue talking. The potential for blowback increases dramatically once specific language is added to a page.
How about marquee cross-conference scheduling
This is the ultimate goal. Phillips stated, "We are bullish about scheduling, because it will elevate national profile of all our teams by playing coast to coast, and college fans across the nation as the beneficiaries." However, there was no timeline. We will have to wait for years before that happens. First, the three commissioners made it clear that they will not be tearing up existing scheduling agreements. Many schools are now locked in to games for at least five years because of nonconference scheduling.
Kevin Warren, Big Ten commissioner, stated that "this is not about getting out contracts and blowing up anything up." "This is about honoring existing contracts and building relationships among these three like-minded conferences as we look forward from an scheduling standpoint to see what opportunities there are to create unique games.
"We are only at the beginning stages."
There are also questions regarding conference scheduling for the Pac-12 Conference and Big Ten. They currently play nine conference games. The ACC currently has eight games. Warren and George Kliavkoff, Pac-12 commissioner, said that the number of conference games they currently play will need to be reduced.
Television is the third aspect. Although commissioners stated that finances were not their main focus, marquee nonconference games among the three conferences' teams will only increase their existing and future television deals and allow them to explore other areas for additional revenue streams. It's great to raise their national profile, but it's even better to increase revenue -- especially since the SEC is moving further away from the money race.
Are the conferences in agreement about playoff expansion?
They agree on being "methodical" during the discussions that continue into September. The CFP Board of Managers will then meet again to discuss the expanded 12-team format. Phillips stated that the ACC has not yet decided whether it will approve the plan. However, the Big Ten and Pac-12 are still in favor of the expansion. However, that doesn't necessarily mean they will vote next month to approve the plan.
The three commissioners discussed in detail the type of discussions that need to take place and the questions that must be answered, especially as none of them was present when the plan was created.
After their news conference, the most striking comment about the playoff was made by the three commissioners in a Zoom conversation with ESPN. Warren stated, "I think people are really focused to be thoughtful, and very methodical on this issue." "So, I know where the Big Ten stands. We're still gathering data. We'll be ready when we arrive at that meeting on September 28. However, I doubt we will be able to cope with the turmoil in college athletics. As we move forward, nothing will be stamped, but I believe everyone will look at their decision-making process with critical eyes.
Phillips stated that there are still unanswered questions. Phillips stated, "And that's the reason why I don't believe anybody could definitively state, 'Hey! We're ready to vote no or yes on it.'
What does this all mean for conference expansion and realignment?
Kliavkoff stated that the Pac-12 would make a decision by the end the week on whether or not to expand, but it is clear that no one conference will be poaching members of other leagues. Not at least not now. Phillips made a pointed comment about his desire for the expansion to be done differently this time around, despite the attention being paid to the "gentleman's deal" between them.
Phillips stated that in the history of college athletics, each expansion of a conference has always led to another. Phillips said, "To us, the stabilization of Division I and FBS, Power 5 in particular, was a chance to move in a new direction. I don't believe that this has ever been done before and that this was the best step at the moment." It is important to have a group who understands that expanding doesn't necessarily mean that you can change membership across multiple conferences in a short time.
What about the remaining Big 12?
Phillips stated this on the Big 12: "We need and want the Big 12 do well." The Big 12 is important in college athletics. The Big 12 is important in Power 5 and FBS. So I can only tell you that we will be closely watching what happens here.
Why not include the Big 12 in this new alliance?
Phillips stated that "at the time we got together there was great instability." Phillips asked, "Is the Big 12 going be together?" Is it possible for them to join another conference. Do they expect to lose members? Is that the end goal? We felt that we were in control of our leagues. That is what I believe the enterprise would most benefit from.
What does this all mean? The future of the Big 12 is uncertain beyond the platitudes and comments Bob Bowlsby, Big 12 commissioner, will make. The alliance will not be leaving to join the Big 12 and nobody is planning to. It is difficult to convince other schools in the Group of 5 to join the Big 12, when their long-term prospects look dim.