Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 alliance counters SEC’s mounting influence
More than anything else, this is about football and where things are headed in a new era when the so-called “Autonomy 5” conferences have taken so much power away from the NCAA.
The Southeastern Conference remains the kingpin of college football.
That only will become more true as its footprint grows — enormously — with athletic powerhouses Texas and Oklahoma expected to relocate from the Big 12 in 2025 or sooner.
But the alliance among the Big Ten, Atlantic Coast and Pac-12 conferences that became official Tuesday could — and should — prevent the SEC from using its outsized heft to dictate the direction of college athletics’ bell-cow sport.
It’s also — one hopes — a shot in the arm for many other college sports, including Olympic sports at the low end of the revenue spectrum.
Commissioners Kevin Warren of the Big Ten, Jim Phillips of the ACC and George Kliavkoff of the Pac-12 — three newbies, essentially, in those positions — promised a ‘‘collaborative approach surrounding the future evolution of college athletics and scheduling.’’
That eventually will mean more — and, in some cases, highly attractive — head-to-head regular-season football games between teams from the three conferences, as well as more early and midseason games and events in basketball and other sports.
‘‘The three conferences are grounded in their support of broad-based athletic programs, the collegiate model and opportunities for student-athletes as part of the educational missions of the institutions,’’ a joint statement read.
And that means maintaining support for an array of more-vulnerable sports, which are present in greater numbers throughout the Big Ten, for example, than in the SEC. Ohio State has nearly twice as many men’s and women’s sports programs as Alabama. Illinois and Northwestern likewise have more than Alabama. Football is life in SEC country.
The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 also pledged to protect student-athletes’ mental and physical health, safety and wellness; to prioritize diversity, inclusion and gender equity; and to support social justice.
More than anything else, however, this is about football and where things are headed in a new era when the so-called ‘‘Autonomy 5’’ conferences — the Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12, SEC and Big 12 — have taken so much power away from the NCAA.
With three of those conferences in alignment, the SEC ought not be able to bully its way to whatever it wants in vital areas, including playoff expansion, playoff television partners and revenue. Also, a key part of the spirit of this alliance is conference stability. Assuming the SEC is taking all it wants from the Big 12 in Texas and Oklahoma, let the football kingpin’s growth stop there. The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 will work together, as needed, to remain whole themselves.
In June, a four-member committee led by extraordinarily effective SEC commissioner Greg Sankey compelled the board of the College Football Playoff to recommend an expansion from four to 12 teams. The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 were unrepresented on the committee. That undoubtedly got the attention of Warren, Kliavkoff and Phillips, the former Northwestern athletic director.
The alliance makes it difficult for the SEC to bend playoff expansion to its wishes — wishes that undoubtedly start with there being as few automatic bids as possible. The more at-large slots, the better for the only conference that has had at least four teams among the top 12 of the final CFP rankings in each of the last three seasons.
The common belief in the industry is that the earliest we might see an expanded playoff field is the 2023 season. With ESPN owning exclusive rights to the playoff through 2025 — and with the SEC its biggest college football business partner — those two entities would love to see things move fast. The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 likely would prefer to slow things down, let the ESPN contract expire and see the CFP taken to the open market.
‘‘I’m a big believer in expanding the College Football Playoff,’’ Warren said, ‘‘but I’m also a big believer in being methodical and doing our homework.’’
Along with his allies, of course.