On Aug. 24, the Atlantic Coastal Conference, Big Ten and Pac-12 announced an athletic alliance that brings the three conferences with 41 institutions between them.
The alliance announced it would focus on a “collaborative approach surrounding the future evolution of college athletics and scheduling.” It was crafted by first-year Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, first-year ACC commissioner Jim Phillips and second year Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren.
But do not be fooled, the alliance means next to nothing.
The conferences will not be merging, nor was there even a legal, binding agreement between the three major conferences. This alliance was instead simply a promise to collaborate.
So what does that collaboration look like? The three conferences have pledged to schedule premier matchups between them, modeling existing structures such as the ACC-Big Ten challenge in college basketball. Yet, no scheduling plan or structure was put into place, just a verbal agreement to collaborate on future scheduling events.
Also, it is worth noting that merely hours after the alliance was announced, Pac-12 powerhouse University of Southern California scheduled Louisiana State University of the SEC, which is not in the alliance. The game will kickoff their 2024 football season, a coveted matchup that will generate millions for both schools.
Which brings us to the next point: the SEC. After the alliance was announced, fans questioned its timing. On July 30, the University of Oklahoma and University of Texas, two of the largest college brands, said they plan to join the SEC beginning in 2025.
The move places the SEC on track to have 16 teams — the most of any conference. It is projected to net each member school an annual payout of $60 million and a new media rights deal that will pay each member school $300 million annually. This move led to whispers of potential super-conferences being formed.
Following the announcement, UNC football head coach Mack Brown said, “I think we’re gonna finally see the mega conferences that people have talked about for years.”
The talk of "mega conferences" led to speculation that conferences would be in a race to expand. However, the alliance has been seen as an alternative to expansion, with the three conferences working together rather than poaching members' schools.
As with the entire structure of the alliance, the promise to not poach other members is purely a gentlemen’s agreement.
UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham attempted to frame the alliance as less about responding to the money thrown around by the SEC, and more about refocusing athletics back to the classroom. After the announcement of the alliance, Cunningham stated, “We talked about the money involved with sport and this really gives us a chance to refocus ourselves and say, what about the educational value of what we do and how do these like-minded schools want to move forward?”
Framing this as an academic issue is meaningless, especially with no action plan in place. The alliance is an elementary attempt by the three conference to shift the narrative from the SEC and their "mega conference."
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