We all should have known that once word of a new college football playoff structure leaked out back in June that there was something stronger at play. Those forces became clear when the Houston Chronicle broke news about a month later about plans for Texas and Oklahoma to bolt the Big XII and join the SEC. Those moves have since become official, and dominoes that we all had hoped were settled were set in motion again.
With the Big XII hanging in the wind, the question has been what the other power conferences will do to try and combat the fact that the SEC is building a 16-team behemoth that, at the very least, could dominate college football in terms of attention for the foreseeable future. None of the eight remaining schools in the Big XII really appeared to have a brand big enough to warrant moving into the ACC, Pac-12, or Big Ten, but the other conferences knew that standing pat wasn’t quite an option.
The answer appears to be, at least in the short term, an alliance. On Friday, The Athletic reported that the remaining power conferences are planning to band together and form an alliance. You know, like “Survivor” and how those alliances totally hold up the entire time.
The details of this new alliance will likely be announced next week, and specifically what this means in terms of voting, scheduling, and future plans. What’s interesting in all this is the reporting from Nicole Auerbach indicates that while this is mostly about football, it isn’t all about football. These three conferences average between 23-25 sports per campus, which is significantly more than the SEC, meaning one voting block to try and look out for the interest of all those sports could be important in shaping the future of college sports as a whole.
Of course, football is king here and this grouping is clearly in response to the consolidation of power by the SEC and the near-monopoly they are going to have on ESPN thanks to the network taking over all of the rights for their sports in a couple of seasons. Once Texas and Oklahoma bolted, it became clear to others that this enhanced college football playoff was about getting even more money to the SEC, as a 16-team conference with these brands would likely get several teams into a playoff that was shown by...ESPN. As Auerbach indicates, the PAC-12 and Big Ten isn’t necessarily concerned about the expansion but the idea that it’s so ESPN-centric and their TV partner in FOX is going to get shut out. Keep in mind, they don’t care so much about taking care of a partner as they realize getting FOX into the bidding would make the playoff even more valuable.
The interesting wrinkle here is the ACC. As has been widely reported, they have a contract with ESPN until 2036, both an albatross because they are likely way under valued now, and a safety net because it prevents their teams from easily fleeing for another conference the way Texas and Oklahoma did. One would think with the deep tie that the ACC has to ESPN, they wouldn’t want to work with two conferences that take money from another network, so it’ll be interesting to see how this affects their current situation. Both the Pac-12 and Big Ten are due to renegotiate their rights coming up soon, and the promise of an alliance with each other plus the ACC could make them more valuable, and thus might bring in more revenue to the ACC via a direct negotiation, or an agreement that they would receive some portion of this new value.
Does this mean all three pool their contracts together and split them evenly amongst all 31 teams (well, 30.5 since Notre Dame football is still independent)? Or is this solely about pumping the brakes on the expansion of the playoffs and forcing the SEC and ESPN to contend with more people and curbing just how much the SEC stands to gain out of it?
We’ll have our answers next week, at least some of them. The language will be flowery and talk of cooperation, but any good fan of “Survivor” knows is that all it takes is one person in an alliance to talk to someone else and the whole thing falls apart. With the Big XII, the AAC, and NCAA reorganization all out there, who knows if this will last. The possibilities in the short term, though, are interesting.