The Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC on Tuesday formally unveiled their informal but highly-anticipated alliance with lofty goals but few details.
Created in the aftermath of the SEC adding Texas and Oklahoma — and with rumors swirling of additional realignment and poaching within the Power Five — the three conference commissioners “felt a responsibility to stabilize a volatile environment,” ACC boss Jim Phillips said.
The alliance is not legally binding in any form or fashion.
“There’s no signed contract,” Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff said. “There’s an agreement among three gentlemen and a commitment from 41 presidents and chancellors and 41 athletic directors to do what we say we’re going to do.”
Nor did Tuesday’s development bring any specifics about nonconference matchups; rather, the leagues have committed to create enticing games in the future in football and men’s and women’s basketball.
Per the joint statement:
“The scheduling alliance will begin as soon as practical while honoring current contractual obligations. A working group comprised of athletic directors representing the three conferences will oversee the scheduling component of the alliance, including determining the criteria upon which scheduling decisions will be made. All three leagues and their respective institutions understand that scheduling decisions will be an evolutionary process given current scheduling commitments.”
(The Pac-12 already has more than 100 football games scheduled against other Power Five teams across the next decade.)
The most immediate goal of the alliance, sources believe, is a commitment to delay the expansion of the College Football Playoff until the 2026 season, when the next TV contract cycle begins.
“The Pac-12 is 100% in favor of expansion,” Kliavkoff said. “(But) there are issues at the margins.”
Those margins are potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
If the 12-team format is implemented before 2026, then ESPN, the current rights-holder, would have the option to extend its agreement in a noncompetitive bidding process.
But if expansion is delayed until the current contract cycle ends (at the end of the 2025 season), the CFP could take the event to the open market and accept multiple bids.
The supply wouldn’t change (11 games over four rounds), but the demand would increase, thus driving up the price.
What’s more, a postseason event with several broadcast partners (Fox, CBS, etc.) could spur each media entity to devote more resources to the regular season.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 will renegotiate their Tier 1 contracts in the next few years and would benefit immensely from a landscape in which a slew of networks are motivated to invest in broadcast packages.
But the playoff expansion issue comes with a catch for the Pac-12.
It’s long-term financial interests are best served by delaying the move and welcoming other networks to the bidding process.
But that strategy runs counter to the conference’s short-term competitive interests: The Pac-12 needs the playoff to expand tomorrow.
It has gone four seasons without a CFP berth and suffered greatly, particularly in recruiting: Five-star prospects from the West Coast who care about trophies and glory are frequently lured to powerhouses in other leagues.
There is no ideal outcome for the Pac-12, and the alliance doesn’t provide a solution.
But there is time for the lofty words to turn into meaningful policy.
“Don’t measure us by what we say,” Kliavkoff said. “Measure us by what we do.”