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What to make of the rumored Pac-12-ACC alliance

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Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff fields questions during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles.

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff fields questions during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles. by AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

One of the biggest developments on a busy Tuesday in the conference realignment world came later in the day, when reports surfaced that the Pac-12 and ACC were at least discussing some kind of alliance to bring stability and more money to members of both conferences.

It’s a worthwhile endeavor because, at this point, nothing is too outlandish, unreasonable or outrageous to consider.

But an alliance is an option, not an answer.

And no matter how far the conversations go, I just can’t see that path having legs.

Here’s why.

For starters, we just saw an informal alliance between the Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten fail miserably. That was more of a gentleman’s agreement than anything. And it had mostly to do with scheduling. But the idea was that the three Power 5 conferences would work together to combat the power move made by the SEC when it plucked Oklahoma and Texas away from the Big 12.

They didn't even make it a year before one of them — the Big Ten — decided to devour the shiniest pieces in another, in USC and UCLA.

So save the alliance chatter for the message boards. Unless there’s a formal agreement and a contract, it’s probably not worth much. And even then, we’re learning more and more all the time that contracts can be broken.

One of the popular theories behind why the ACC would want to make such a move is to encourage/push its television partner, ESPN, to come to the table with more money. But we already know that the remaining members of the Pac-12 don’t carry as much value alone as they did with the two Los Angeles schools on board. Beyond that, ESPN does not have much incentive — if any — to even consider coughing up more dough with the ACC’s rights agreement in place through 2036.

File this one under the “it never hurts to ask” category, but don’t expect ESPN to actually consider it. If you’re the ACC and you can show the network a move that brings significant added value, then maybe. But even then they wouldn’t have to do it.

Beyond any of that, the biggest reason I don’t see the possible alliance as a viable move is because of the state of the college athletics landscape.

This much we know: If Notre Dame will go, the Big Ten will have them. And if that happens, it likely would trigger another set of falling dominoes that could include schools from the Pac-12 and almost certainly would include North Carolina joining the Irish in the Big Ten.

That, of course, would inspire the SEC to respond — if they had not done so already — and three of the more likely candidates for SEC expansion, should it happen, also currently call the ACC home, in Clemson, Florida State and Miami.

Why would any network be interested in ponying up more money if (a) the conference it’s paying remains on unstable ground and (b) the conference that’s asking for more, should further defections occur, would not even be worth its current rights deal down the road?

It wouldn’t. It won’t.

It was suggested to me on Twitter that the three power conferences on the outside looking in blow it all up and take the best of the bunch to form a new 20-team super conference while leaving the dead weight behind.

And while that draft would be super fun and could collect millions as part of a made-for-television, blowout event, that wouldn’t solve anything either because that new conference, whatever it's called and whichever schools it included, still would have anywhere from 5-10 schools that had the potential to jump to the Big Ten or SEC if they were asked.

And let’s face it; we’ve reached the point where just about anyone who is asked would join the Big Ten or SEC in a second and never look back.

All of this underscores the one point that is most important here as it relates to the Big 12 Conference.

The longer they wait to strike — whether their moves work or not — the more time others have to find alternate solutions.

People from coast to coast are working on this around the clock, and while this Pac-12-ACC alliance might not be the answer that saves any of them, the one that does could be just around the corner.

It’s the Big 12’s job to make sure the Pac-12 and ACC never find it.

Comments

Dirk Medema 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The Pac-12 and ACC realize they are very poachable. At this point it seems they’re more about talking than substance. As you mentioned, not terribly different than their ménage a trios from a year ago that ended in rape and abduction.

The Big12 is probably on more solid footing now because there isn’t much left to take. KU? Anyone else? It will be interesting to see what value the conference has during the next contract. Lots more could happen before then.

The Pac-12 and ACC really haven’t been raided yet, so all/most of their tasty morsels are still available for poaching. It would be interesting to see what their contracts say about face value if they lose members.

Also interesting to see unc to the B1G. Wouldn’t have suspected that.

Joey Meyer 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Now, saw this mentioned elsewhere and has some intrigue -

So we know big brands of the Big Ten and SEC would never consider promotion/relegation. No reason for an institution to lose gobs of money.

However, what if the Big 12 kept adding leftovers and within its own conference had a promotion/relegation tier. Think about it - 20+ schools that get promoted/relegated voluntarily within the conference to create two competitive tiers. It would (1) offer the upper half a significantly stronger strength of schedule to get into an expanded playoff, (2) would aid in competitive balance for upper-tier and lower-tier schools, (3) be absolutely wild and unique from the Big Ten and SEC, and (4) drivein massive TV ratings at the top of the lower tier and at the bottom of the upper tier.

The only way to make it work is that the money is the same or only slightly better in the upper-tier. No major financial strain on a school because it falls out of the top-tier for a year or two. Everyone stays in the same conference, just the schedule for next year changes.

Listen - we're already a second-tier conference on the outside of the Big Ten and SEC. No one is debating that anymore. Why not create a made-for-TV bonanza and celebrate being the outsider? Drive-up that TV money baby so we can still cash checks near the big fellas!

Gavin Fritton 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt, I generally agree with your analysis. I cannot understand why the Pac-12 thinks that voting to begin negotiations on their next contract would have any effect on the networks and cable operators to offer more money.

My question is this: what do you think a realistic time frame is for the next domino to fall, whatever the "next domino" is? I agree that the Big XII needs to act quickly, but how quickly is reasonable? And what is the next domino? I would argue that it is the Big XII inviting Arizona, ASU, Colorado and Utah to join. Do they invite Washington and Oregon at the same time or do they just start with those four and wait for the Pac-12 to be completely destabilized and then see if the B1G will invite anyone else? That could have the effect of forcing Notre Dame's decision, which is definitely something that we would all like to see but I don't think will be first to happen.

Thoughts?

Matt Tait 2 months, 2 weeks ago

I'd say early August is a fair timeline. From the sound of it, the Pac-12 is in a 30-day negotiation window with its rights partners. I haven't confirmed that but I've read it elsewhere.

So you can expect the negotiations to take the full amount of time provided because they generally do with most things.

After that, we may — MAY — have a better idea of how stable or unstable the Pac-12 actually is and whether or not teams in the Pac-12 will want to look elsewhere. If they do, it seems like the Big 12 would be ready to pounce.

In that context, the Big 12 having extra time to get its ducks in a row isn't the worst thing in the world for KU's current conference either.

In the meantime, you're going to see and read and hear about all kinds of rumors and speculation and discussions and some of it may have merit and some of it may not. I'll do the best I can to stay on top of it but most of what's being talked about on Twitter and places like that has to immediately be taken with some skepticism.

Remember, no one — or at least very few people — ever caught wind of the USC and UCLA move and then, BOOM!, it just dropped.

These things are kept close to the vest and, beyond that, very few people at any of these schools are even remotely in the loop for updates on what's going on.

Might write this out into a separate blog so forgive me if you read a version of it again elsewhere. But thanks for sparking the idea! ;-)

Dirk Medema 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Got to thinking this is all $ driven so should look at budgets. I think the site I found that listed more than top 25 was College Raptor. Matt and Zac probably have better sources.

Of the non-SEC/B1G uni’s, Washington 12, Oregon 17, FSU18 are the top 20.

Clemson 23, Miami 28, Baylor 29.

OSU 31, ISU 34, CU 36, VTech 37, ASU 38, Louisville 39, UNC 40.

TTU 41, ncsu 42, ksu 43, wsu 46, uva 47, Syracuse 48, Stanford 50, KU 51.

22nd overall and 6th in remaining Big12.

While the conference could definitely grow, it’s not clear that the growth would strengthen the conference.

Rodney Crain 2 months, 2 weeks ago

That alliance with the B10 worked out so well for the P12. Would be silly to try it again.

I am not sure if it is what teams we lose/gain, it might be about looking at this a different way. Going head-to-head with the SEC/B10 is a no-win situation.

The lost 3 conferences (P12, B12, ACC =3L) need a new business model to entice the media contracts. It would be interesting to create with the media contracts shared between the 3L a schedule/interface. A play-in model, in-season tournament like the Men’s blueblood early games only make it a Top 8 team to a champ set of games to crown a in season champ. Maybe a before the season fan vote in for a Game of the Week with unique one time uniforms. D2, D3 game of the week vs the 3L. Maybe late-night games, during the week games, like Basketball, Tues. Night, Wed. night games during the season. Fan vote ALL conference game, all star like game.

Gimmick's yes. But they need something to sell. It is AFL-NFL before they merged time.

Tim Orel 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Rodney, some interesting ideas, but I don't think the early weeknight games would be do-able for the reason that football is much harder on the body than basketball or other sports. The players need the days in between games to heal up (either for before or after the games) and I expect the coaches also need the six or seven days in between to draw up their strategies and then practice for them. I think Thursday night games, which have been played more than they used to, are the only chance there.

Rodney Crain 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Just spitballing. When networks were feeling squeezed out for NFL games, Sunday night, Monday night, Thur. night games popped up. International - Mexico, and London (UK telcasts are early in the morning here).

You could play Tues. Wed. games with clever scheduling. You schedule a game within a 2 week window.

A creative approach might be worth trying. Not talking about a Charlie O' Finley level but try some new ideas.

Dirk Medema 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Tues. Wed. games could provide a week and a half of prep for 2 games if scheduled in conjunction with the off week. You lose an off week but gain 2 off weekends.

Rodney, In this instance I appreciate your creativity.

In this case, it seems like the 3 conferences are all heading to the B-league. Does that then make the next group - where we poach our new programs, the C-league? While there’s a competitive side that wants to resist, maybe it’s not necessarily bad.

Maybe football becomes more competitive. March shows that Basketball would not need to suffer. Where it would hurt is the non-revenue sports that would get less funding. Even that wouldn’t necessarily be true if football can become competitive again and generate enough enthusiasm to fill the stadium again.

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