The Alliance explained – ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 on CFP vote, scheduling and what comes next

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    • on august 8th on february 24th, the commissioners of the acc, big ten and pac-12 held a joint video conference to announce the alliance, a new partnership between three of the five most powerful conferences in collegiate athletics.


      The launch generated an immediate reaction, and “the office” memes, and set expectations for significant action, but its ambiguity also raised many questions. most notably: what exactly is it?

      the alliance was formed weeks after the surprising addition of oklahoma and texas by the sec, and in the midst of a turbulent and transformational summer for collegiate athletics. was formed, in part, as a response to the realignment and power play of the sec. the main goal was to put the brakes on poaching teams and not cause further disruption, but it also drew clear tribal lines, distancing alliance members from the ever-growing sec and weakened big 12.

      Last week marked six months since the alliance was announced, and while the three leagues are working behind the scenes, the same existential question many have asked about the deal remains.

      the alliance resurfaced on fans’ radar last month when college football playoff expansion negotiations collapsed after an 8-3 vote, with acc, big ten and pac-12 revealed later as the only dissenters against a proposed 12-team model. . the leagues were described as stubborn towards the more inclusive system that many had been clamoring for, and while each maintains they voted independently due to their differing concerns, their bond through the alliance made them easy targets.

      Six months later, the alliance has achieved some of its stated goals, namely stability within its ranks. Although the conference realignment continued after the initial announcement, the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 have remained intact. All three leagues have aimed to increase games between them in the highest-profile sports, while pooling resources to address areas that affect student-athletes, such as physical and mental well-being, academics, social justice and diversity, equity and inclusion.

      but the main elements of the alliance, namely football programming, have not gained significant traction. Those in the alliance say they are making progress and even exceeding initial expectations, but some on the outside say the impact has been negligible, at best.

      Several alliance soccer matchups have been set and more are coming, but there hasn’t been a major increase in scheduling.

      the fallout from cfp, meanwhile, underscores the confusion and mystery that still surrounds the alliance. commissioners jim phillips (acc), kevin warren (big ten) and george kliavkoff (pac-12) spoke last week with espn’s andrea adelson, heather dinich and adam rittenberg to help clarify what the alliance is and where it’s headed . espn also reached out to college athletics leaders who work outside of the alliance to help determine how it is perceived.

      jump to: cfp expansion | football schedule | realignment of athlete experience and other goals

      ‘alliance’ bosses rebuff cfp critics

      why cfp isn’t expanding, what people are saying and what’s next

      ncaa will review null impact on athletes, violations

      kliavkoff said the pac-12 would have voted in favor of the 12-team proposal if the vote was specific to the last two seasons of the current contract. the motion filed did not split the playoff expansion into two votes: one for the current 12-year contract and one for year 13 and beyond. instead, it was a vote to expand the CFP under the originally proposed 12-team model with the top six ranked conference champions and the next top six ranked teams. that was also a consideration for the big ten.

      “We have to take a holistic view, especially if we plan to sign a long-term agreement,” Warren said of accepting a format that would extend beyond the current 12 years. “Now if we’re getting to the point where there’s a year left, then that’s different, but when there’s four years left on a deal, and we’re talking about doing it early, it has to make sense not just for the big ten, it has to make sense. for everyone. I just think it’s a good rational business.”

      kliavkoff said any notion that the three commissioners worked together to slow or stop the expansion is “a narrative that certain people benefit from having, even if it’s not true.”

      “I can only respond with what they told me,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, “and what they stated as their concerns and questions were not the same. In fact, they were all unique to them, so that it didn’t make any sense for them to be a voting bloc.”

      added mid-american conference commissioner jon steinbrecher: “i take my colleagues at face value. it’s an easy thing to point out, that doesn’t make it this big conspiracy.”

      phillips is the only power 5 commissioner to have served on both the ncaa’s constitution committee and transformation committee, both charged with restructuring the organization’s governance. He pointed to three reasons for the ACC’s reticence: too many unanswered questions about athlete health and safety; the “general disruption in college athletics,” including the new ncaa constitution and a desperate plea that federal legislation handle nothing; and a 365-day “holistic review” of sports-related policy.

      the big ten and the pac-12 felt there were lingering unanswered issues, and the pac-12 made specific requests related to the rose bowl, which traditionally pits the big ten champion against the pac-12 champion. in an expanded tiebreaker, a normal rose bowl would probably get the third best team in the pac-12 and maybe the fourth best in the big ten, on average, since the best teams would almost certainly be ranked in the top 12 the pac-12 and The Rose Bowl doesn’t want a semi-final competing against the bowling game in the same traditional New Year’s Day television window. The request would also protect the other bowls that have contracts with power 5 conferences, the sugar bowl and the orange bowl.

      “what we’re asking for… is a small request,” kliavkoff jan said. 21 on the paul finebaum show. “We have asked for three hours every three years to be protected against having to compete against the cfp quarterfinals…it’s not a big request. it’s hard to expand the college football playoffs and also hold on to the great traditions that we have in bowling games.”

      pac-12 and big ten also shared a concern about unknown revenue sharing in year 13. unaware of the television contract, cfp was unable to answer how revenue would be shared beyond the current term. it was also not determined if the current revenue split would remain the same.

      “There can’t be, ‘Well, we’ll answer that after we agree that we’re going to expand now, we’ll answer that in the future,'” Warren said. “And I know where I sit from, where the Big 10 sit, I said it very clearly: We 100 percent support expansion. We think it’s the right thing to do, but it has to be at the right time, in the right format, because of the right reasons.”

      what’s next

      In theory, expansion approval should be easier in 2026 because it doesn’t have to be unanimous. there is no contract to undo. Instead, a majority of the 11 would have to vote in favor of the proposal, including most of the Power 5 conferences. Once a format is agreed upon, each stakeholder can decide whether to participate.

      Under those circumstances, the acc may not change its stance, but it might not matter if the league is outnumbered. If everyone else advances with a 12-team playoff, the ACC will likely have to go ahead if the league wants a shot at the domestic title. It’s certainly possible that the Big 10 will concede in the automatic qualifiers, though that conversation will be determined in part by how the league’s TV negotiations play out.

      if there is a plan that appeases the rose bowl, the pac-12 is much more likely to accept it, as long as the revenue distribution is equal to or better than it is today.

      All three commissioners have said publicly that they are in favor of the expansion at some point, so it is not unreasonable to think that they can reach an agreement.

      “We’re 100 percent behind the expansion,” Warren said last Friday. “Do I think we’ll get there one day? Absolutely, and I’m truly sorry about that, but this is not something that should be rushed.”

      The question now is how stalled talks impact negotiations and change relationships and leverage to move forward. Security Commissioner Greg Sankey said “we will have to rethink our approach” when talks resume. Sankey was a member of the four-person task force that developed the initial proposal, along with Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson, Bowlsby and Swarbrick.

      If the group can’t come up with a plan that appeases the sec, it’s hard to see it happen, even if the sec is a minority. Sankey has said repeatedly that his league has no problem with the current four-team field. SEC playoff stance could ultimately be more powerful than alliance stance, even if united.

      “We will step back and discover our own direction, just as others have discovered theirs,” said sankey.

      soccer programming

      what happened

      the biggest headline when the alliance was formed focused on future non-conference programming. fans immediately began dreaming of standout regular season matchups.

      usc-ohio state! clemson-michigan! penn state-oregon!

      but as the ohio state ad gene smith told espn, it’s not that easy.

      “The reality is, when you look at our model of playing nine conference games, it’s going to be difficult for us to have a formal programming alliance as first envisioned,” he said. “We have a plan when it comes to soccer scheduling that we have worked diligently on over the years and we will not change that plan. We will not put a burden on our team to have to play an acc or a pac-12 opponent annually.”

      Given the nature of college football schedules, for which games are often planned eight to 10 years in advance, such instant gratification was never realistic, but Phillips insists progress is being made.

      “I think we’ve had some success, maybe not to the level that the general public wants,” Phillips said. “but if you look just at the complexities of general programming, we’ve made pretty good progress.”

      the alliance has a task force assigned to coordinate with the three leagues’ athletic directors on future scheduling, and kliavkoff says the pac-12 has 32 open dates over the next decade, in which alliance games will have priority. Since July, ACC schools have verbally agreed or signed agreements for eight future non-conference series totaling 17 games against alliance opponents.

      One challenge is that the three alliance leagues are in different places with their media rights deals. The Big Ten are already in the early stages of negotiations for a new deal, which is set to start in 2023 and reportedly could top $1 billion. The Pac-12 rights deal runs through 2024 and will be a critical area for Kliavkoff to grow the league. The account, meanwhile, has a contract with ESPN through 2036 that will likely put the league behind others in annual revenue.

      Differences in both time and dollars with each rights deal will affect the alliance’s ability to work together on soccer programming and other elements. The alliance will likely face fewer obstacles after the Big 10 and Pac-12 agreements are finalized.

      “As we work on these deals, these elements are going to have to be on the table … the conference structure, the divisions, the number of games, eight on nine, their football championship game,” warren said. “From a football point of view, all these things are vitally important. The world we live in from a media rights point of view, not just linear television but from an exaggerated point of view, They are great opportunities, but it is also a complex”. opportunity.”

      Those on the outside remain skeptical about an increase in alliance clashes.

      “You don’t need an alliance for that,” said a power 5 athletic director. “I promise you some of them aren’t interested in scheduling like that, otherwise they might have been doing it all along.”

      but conferences say they are committed to making it work, even as they navigate disparities in media rights deals, conference play (eight for acc, nine for pac-12 and big ten) and non-conference rivalries (acc-sec games involving florida state, clemson, louisville, and georgia tech).

      “Some of that is outside the control of a single conference,” Kliavkoff said. “but we have every intention of continuing to fill our open dates with alliance games.”

      what’s next

      this seems to be the most important question, and at least within the alliance, it all starts with the big ten because their media rights deal expires first. Although Smith indicated that the Big 10 want to stay through nine league games, he and Warren said no decisions have been made yet.

      more conference games would mean fewer places for alliance matchups.

      “We’re working on elements related to what is the right number of games, how should our conference be structured from a division or non-division standpoint,” warren said. “hopefully we can come to some decision in the next couple of months regarding [the] number of conference games.”

      kliavkoff said in December that his league would immediately cut its conference schedule from nine games to eight, provided the Big 10 did the same. But with the Big 10 undecided, the Pac-12 is not necessarily in a position of strength. kliavkoff said that decisions cannot be made in a vacuum.

      “You can’t do it at the last minute, because there aren’t games of the same quality to fill,” Kliavkoff said. “That’s more of a longer-term decision for us, unless we’re in a position where we can match that decision with others and guarantee we have 12 games to go if we go from nine to eight.”

      kliavkoff said lingering questions about conference scheduling and division structure also affect who ends up in the league’s championship games. he was blunt in assessing him: the pac-12 must make decisions “to optimize cfp invitations.”

      that makes sense for a conference like the pac-12, which hasn’t been as successful in getting teams into cfp as the big ten and acc. But this is also important for the AC as it looks to improve its overall football product beyond Clemson’s six playoff appearances. At the same time, schools like Florida State and Clemson have SEC rivalry games they must play, and Notre Dame is also in the ACC programming rotation. usc and stanford want to protect the annual games rivalry against notre dame.

      so even if more alliance games are added, it’s likely that the biggest names in some of the conferences won’t have as many slots available to schedule contests outside of conference. If the SEC moves to nine conference games after adding Texas and Oklahoma, its members could change how they view the importance of annual rivalry games with Acc teams.


      what has happened

      when the alliance was launched last summer, phillips noted that he, kliavkoff and warren felt a “responsibility to stabilize a volatile environment” after texas and oklahoma left the big 12. At the time, there was speculation that the big ten, pac-12, and acc would have to respond, perhaps forcing them to steal from each other, or, in the latest nightmare, face the possibility of losing teams to the sec.

      stabilizing the environment served to protect the big ten, pac-12 and acc, and stopped any speculation that insider calls and deals were taking place that would further alter the landscape. While ripples from the SEC movement hit the 5 conference group, the big ten, pac-12, and acc banded together to essentially hold the line.

      A main reason is the granting of rights tied to each conference, which did not exist during the last wave of realignment a decade ago. essentially, if a school leaves, its media rights would stay with its old conference, making it financially unsustainable to leave conferences, especially those with longer television contracts. For Oklahoma and Texas, the Big 12 media rights deal expired in 2025, so they didn’t have much to lose by joining the much more powerful SEC.

      in the acc, the granting of rights extends until 2036.

      “I’m not sure there are a lot of schools that want to move right now,” said miami athletic director dan radakovich. “Maybe there will be continued movement among the group of 5, but I don’t see that much on the horizon with the power 5 schools.”

      what’s next

      The timing of the alliance’s formation, during aftershocks from Texas and Oklahoma to the latter, was not lost on those around the sport.

      “It seemed to be an answer to us and to Texas,” Stricklin said. “I’m not sure if it was an effort to stabilize or it was a defensive gesture.”

      If there’s one certainty in college athletics, it’s that change is always happening, including conference realignment. all three conferences understand that, as each has added teams over the past decade. at least in the short term, the alliance agreement deters them from poaching each other. but the leagues did not sign a contract.

      “If that’s what it takes to do anything sizable, then we’ve missed it,” Phillips said in August.

      In the long term, will the “gentleman’s agreement” touted when the alliance was formed hold once another wave of realignment begins?

      Among the three conferences, the Big Ten operates from an area of ​​strength and is poised to cash in on its next media rights deal. Although the ACC lags behind the SEC and the Big Ten financially, it has a rights grant until 2036 that makes it unlikely that any school would leave due to the financial penalties it would incur. kliavkoff has made it clear that the pac-12 must enhance their football. what does that mean for the league’s long-term strategy?

      athlete experience and other goals

      what has happened

      Most of the work during the alliance’s first six months has focused on athletes and the themes that resonate with them. task forces have been formed to support their mental and physical health, academics, and leadership development. the leagues are working together to address advocacy for social justice, voting and civic engagement, environmental sustainability, and gender equality and diversity.

      In November, the alliance launched “Teammates for Mental Health,” an initiative that highlights the importance of mental health and wellness for athletes. the campaign included public service announcements on all three conference networks and signage and promotions during the big ten/acc women’s basketball challenge. In 2013, the PAC-12 formed its Student and Athlete Health and Wellness Initiative, and in 2020 held its first Athlete Mental Health Summit at UCLA. Since then, the ACC and Big Ten have formed their own groups focused on athlete mental health, and all three leagues are pooling resources.

      “coming out of covid, i honestly can’t think of anything more important for us to focus on than the mental health of our student-athletes,” kliavkoff said. “Combining our efforts to share best practices and raise awareness of mental health for student-athletes, and get results for them in that space, is a huge accomplishment and the start of more work we need to do.”

      Some, however, have questioned why such work cannot be done more collegially across alliance boundaries. Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told ESPN that the formation of the alliance “speaks to the level of mistrust and lack of collective national leadership that college athletics has today.”

      “I could talk about all the other different opportunities that they said they were going to collaborate on (dei and social justice and health and safety), but those are things where, heck, we better all collaborate and be prepared to work on Together,” Hocutt said, “because if we don’t do better than we’ve done in the past, it will continue to lead down a path none of us will be proud of.”

      Last month, the alliance celebrated the 50th anniversary of Title IX and will continue its campaign to highlight the achievements of women in sports during March, which is Women’s History Month. Athletes from all three leagues have had meetings and seminars, such as one with the three alliance commissioners and Los Angeles Sparks star Nneka Ogwumike, president of the WNBA Players Association and a former Stanford player and No. 1 overall wnba draft pick.

      “We want to ensure that we develop a collegiate athletics model and environment in which the important needs of our student-athletes continue to be prioritized,” Warren said.

      what’s next

      While fans are likely to focus on the schedule, the alliance commissioners are continuing their broader focus moving forward. His focus, Phillips said, remains on supporting athlete wellness and working collaboratively with other conferences and commissioners on the future of collegiate athletics. Warren added that he wants to create financial stability to ensure all sports “can preserve our historic traditions.”

      and, yes, programming. the alliance has established programming working groups for soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, and Olympic sports.

      “There’s the entertainment piece of college athletics that we all know and love,” said phillips. “For me and for the ACC, it’s moving forward in those three areas in particular. Speaking just for the ACC, we’re incredibly excited about what we’ve seen, the possibilities, and some of the work that’s been done in the last six months, but even more optimistic about where this can go in the future and how the alliance can be part of the larger picture of the future of college sports.”

      “What’s been really cool is letting the alliance be what the athletes want it to be, giving us full control of the schedule, instead of just throwing stuff at us,” said isaiah holmes, high jumper for Miami’s team athletics “we have some networking events coming up. and there are tons of opportunities for student-athletes to discuss what’s going on on their campus and share some best practices, which is one of the most useful things and most immediate changes since being formed the alliance. .”

      holmes, a member of the miami student-athlete advisory committee, initially didn’t know what to make of the alliance when it was formed.

      “I thought it was going to be like the rest of the power 5 against the sec,” he said. “But I’ve learned that this is much more a matter of student-athlete well-being and being able to empower your conferences with the power of each other.”

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