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Teel: Impending alliance among ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 about stability, clout, football
COMMENTARY

Teel: Impending alliance among ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 about stability, clout, football

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The Richmond Times-Dispatch ACC commissioner Jim Phillips and his colleagues at the Big Ten and Pac-12 are exploring a potential alliance among the three conferences.

Combined, the footprints of the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 encompass all but three of the nation’s top-30 media markets. The exceptions are in Texas and Tennessee.

Teeming with academic heavyweights, the three conferences boast 27 schools that belong to the prestigious American Association of Universities. The remaining Power Five leagues, the Big 12 and SEC, have a combined six AAU members.

Moreover, of the nine college football programs to win multiple national championships in the last three decades, six hail from the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12: Miami, Florida State, Clemson, Ohio State, Nebraska and Southern California, though several of them clearly have misplaced their mojo.

So the impending alliance among the three conferences — The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach reports it could be formalized next week — resonates on multiple levels. More specifically, and as outlined by sources, the rationale for the alliance revolves around membership stability, legislative clout and marquee football games.

Many questions remain, and ACC commissioner Jim Phillips has not commented on the potential partnership, but given his experience and collaborative nature, don’t be surprised if he was the architect.

Phillips succeeded John Swofford at the ACC in February after 13 years as athletic director at the Big Ten’s Northwestern. He began his administrative career at the Pac-12’s Arizona State.

An alliance such as this will require chops and connections, and Phillips has them in long supply.

Phillips’ colleagues at the Big Ten and Pac-12, Kevin Warren and George Kliavkoff, also are relatively new to their commissioner positions, Warren less than two years, Kliavkoff less than two months, giving the alliance a new-kids-in-class vibe.

But neither Kliavkoff nor Warren had served previously in college athletics administration. Phillips has more than three decades of industry experience, an invaluable asset as the three commissioners strive to ease members’ qualms during this volatile time.

As you would expect from three of the Power Five, the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 could wield considerable power if united on major fronts.

Today’s pressing issues are College Football Playoff expansion and the NCAA Constitution Committee, but is the trio of collective mind on the best CFP model and NCAA governance structure? If so, do those views contrast with other conferences, most prominently the SEC?

For example, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick and Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson crafted the proposal that would triple the playoff field from four to 12 teams. The three leagues poised to align had no voice in the process.

The 11 presidents and chancellors who manage the CFP, one from each of the 10 Bowl Subdivision conferences, plus Notre Dame’s John Jenkins, will gather Sept. 28 in Chicago to consider the 12-team model. Do the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 presidents among that group — Clemson’s Jim Clements, Penn State’s Eric Barron and Washington State’s Kirk Schulz — oppose the 12-team model?

Would their objection be to the prolonged season, with the added bonus, in their minds, of spiting the SEC? More to the point, how prevalent might that view be?

And what on the off chance the 12-team format, which includes the six highest-ranked conference champions, plus six at-large selections, was curbed to eight teams, with five, or even six, automatic bids? Might that change Notre Dame’s calculation on remaining independent instead of joining the ACC?

Then there’s the 28-member NCAA Constitution Committee, a group that includes Phillips, Penn State AD Sandy Barbour and Washington State AD Pat Chun. How do the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 envision the inevitable governance reform the committee will steer?

Does major college football need to be administered separately? What of men’s and women’s basketball? Would the most successful basketball conferences dare break away and stage their own postseason tournaments, exclusive of smaller leagues such as the Colonial Athletic Association and Big South?

Regarding name, image and likeness (NIL) compensation for athletes: Do the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 prefer a more regulated space than other conferences?

Naturally, the piece of the alliance that’s drawn the most attention is a possible football scheduling collaboration.

Regular-season games matching the ACC against Big Ten, and the Pac-12 versus the Big Ten are not unusual, witness these 2021 contests: Illinois at Virginia, Michigan State at Miami, Washington at Michigan, and Oregon at Ohio State.

What would be innovative are additional ACC vs. Pac-12 games. The leagues do not meet in the upcoming regular season, and from 2011-20, only 10 of the ACC’s 503 non-conference dates, about 2%, were against the Pac-12.

Virginia Tech and Clemson have played only one Pac-12 opponent, Southern California, in their respective regular-season histories, the Hokies in 2004, the Tigers in 1966.

But how frequently would the three aligned conferences schedule one another, and how much additional television revenue might games such as Clemson-Oregon, Virginia Tech-Penn State, Florida State-USC and Miami-Ohio State generate?

Would most ACC programs play an annual game against the Big Ten and Pac-12? Either/or?

What of future ACC-SEC series such as Virginia Tech-Alabama, Clemson-LSU, Florida State-Georgia and Miami-Auburn? Will Power Five schools play solely one another, forgoing dates with Group of Five and Championship Subdivision programs that rely on the windfall those contests produce?

“The thing I would caution,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “There’s a financial model here that’s worked for a long time with the lower divisions. I don’t know if you want to call it trickle-down economics, but the Power Five has paid lower-level teams to play, and it helps them with their bottom line. …

“I know when I played at Murray State, we opened at Wisconsin, and the rowing team got new boats. It was just what we had to do in order to help fund our athletic department. ... I don’t know where we’re headed is my answer to you ... and I don’t know if anybody else does either.”

The alliance’s task is to bring calm amid the rampant angst.

David Teel reports for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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