If the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 could have generated revenue by buzzwords in the announcement of their new alliance, they would have been swimming laps in their new revenue streams.
The best way to greet the announcement of the new alliance between the three leagues and 41 schools is with an understanding of their intent but skepticism until there are more tangible results.
There’s a path to revenue generation, but it’s not paved yet. There’s a way that it can impact the College Football Playoff, but those details are still fuzzy. There’s some wise protection against the inevitable fall of the NCAA’s governance power, but that’s all depending on when the NCAA officially collapses.
So what do we make of the announcement of the alliance? Will it be remembered as a Seinfeld alliance (which would be an alliance about nothing)? Or will it be something that charts the future course of college athletics, living up to the manufactured “groundbreaking” hyperbole? The safe bet is somewhere in between, with a ways to go to pass the rhetorical phase.
Here were the six biggest takeaways, some of which are best gleaned from what wasn’t said.
Problems with the playoff?
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff is a businessman by trade. You can tell by the clear, blunt and direct way he addressed issues in the meeting. No schmaltz or romance. Just the bottom line. Kliavkoff said during the news conference that the Pac-12 fully supports the 12-team playoff, but has issues at “the margins.”
When asked later by Yahoo Sports about those margins, Kliavkoff mentioned winterized stadiums, the quarter system, too many games for players, games being played during finals and protecting the bowl structure as potential issues. “There’s a lot we like about the 12-game playoff structure,” he said. “But because everyone was not in the room, not everyone’s voice was heard.”
SEC's and ESPN's role
The two elephants in the room during the news conference were ESPN and the SEC. Kliavkoff made it clear to Yahoo Sports that the Pac-12 wants multiple television partners for the expanded College Football Playoff, as ESPN is the sole current partner and has an upcoming exclusive negotiating window.
“The more folks who are invested in telling the stories and carrying the games during the season as well as the postseason, the better it is for the industry,” Kliavkoff said.
How alliance could impact scheduling
What tangible could come out of this alliance outside of a voting bloc? The easiest reverberation to predict is that the Pac-12 and Big Ten cut back by one league game — from nine to eight — and start a scheduling alliance that times with and juices up their next television deal. Both have television rights up in the next three years, which makes the potential of games between programs like USC, UCLA, Washington and Oregon going up against Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin attractive.
Don’t expect this to play out based on fairness, as Oregon State isn’t going to get the same exposure opportunities as Ohio State. What we have learned from Oklahoma's and Texas’ departure is that the next era of rights is going to favor the biggest individual brands as much as the strongest leagues, so expect the best value/matchups possible.
How does ACC benefit?
There’s still ambiguity about how the ACC can profit off this, as it could add the games but there’s no direct path to adding TV revenue. The league is stuck in a lopsided television deal with ESPN through 2036 and the departure of Texas from the conference dance floor virtually eliminated any chance the ACC had in breaking away from that TV deal.
Still, this bodes well for the league. Behind the scenes, ACC commissioner Jim Phillips pushed hard for this. With the ACC aiming for a Comcast deal for the ACC Network, that’s the best chance for an immediate revenue boost early in Phillips’ tenure.
How the scheduling piece could create more revenue for the ACC remains ambiguous with the rights already locked in. “It’s a long-term play between us,” Phillips said. “We are hopeful we are able to monetize it, but it’s not the driver of this thing.”
Big 12 dealt the biggest blow
The biggest tangible takeaway from Tuesday may be what bad news this is for the Big 12. (While Kliavkoff told Yahoo Sports that the Pac-12 would announce this week whether or not they were expanding, multiple sources indicated there’s virtually no chance of the Pac-12 taking action.)
That leaves the eight remaining Big 12 schools on the outside looking in. While there was speculation for years that there’d be 64 teams remaining in the four super leagues, the reality is that we’re headed toward an era with four power conferences and 57 teams. That doesn’t roll off the tongue or fit in a bracket, but the alliance widens the moat between the haves and the have-nots. And the remaining Big 12 schools are have-nots. There could be additions to the 57, but the leagues will be judicious about adding outsiders and dividing up their revenue pie to do so.
One industry source summed it up this way: “There’s your Super League. I don’t see that number going up [from 57] anytime soon. I could see [AAC commissioner Mike Aresco] and others fighting it. And maybe the best one or two schools could break in with significant and repeated success. There was never magic to 64. It looks good and it’s an even number. But you’re not going to sacrifice tens of millions of dollars to get to some number that doesn’t really matter. You don’t need 64 for scheduling or the College Football Playoff. It’s a big round number people like, but it’s just not needed.”
Big Ten unlikely to expand
Perhaps the most notable big-picture takeaway was that the Big Ten appears committed to not expanding. Obviously, nothing was signed. But it’s hard to believe that the presidents and chancellors would agree to this extended Kumbaya chorus if the Big Ten planned on poaching a few Pac-12 schools or breaking the ACC’s grant of rights in the next year or two.
That could all change if the league’s alphas – Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin – change course. But for now, the hymn of solidarity is being sung loudly. When asked specifically if this meant the Big Ten had no interest in expansion, commissioner Kevin Warren told Yahoo Sports: “We feel very comfortable in the Big Ten that we’re in good position where we are.”
He added: “We feel like we have an incredibly powerful group of 14 institutions. We like the number where are right now in the Big Ten.”