Explaining the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 alliance and what it means for Pitt, Penn State

JOHNNY McGONIGAL
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Kevin Warren

A partnership that is meant to help "stabilize" the state of college athletics is now solidified.

The ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 announced on Tuesday an alliance that will focus on "the future evolution of college athletics." The conferences will work together to not only provide non-conference matchups in football and basketball, but also decision-making in regards to the College Football Playoff, NCAA governance changes and more.

"Our discussions centered on the unprecedented environment in college athletics today and how best we, together, could address the challenges ahead," ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said on a teleconference. "... What became clear from our conversations is that our institutions share values, interests and a genuine and dedicated commitment to the overall educational missions of our world-class institutions."

The three conferences didn't sign a legally binding contract. But the joint news release states that the alliance is "unanimously supported" by the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 presidents, chancellors and athletic directors.

"We're aligned in how we want to approach this," Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff added. "There's no signed document, and there doesn't need to be."

There's also no official start date for the non-conference meetings. The Big 12 is not involved despite Phillips saying the conference "matters in college athletics." And according to the commissioners, this alliance wasn't formed for financial reasons.

Then why, ultimately, does it exist? And what ramifications will it have on Pitt, Penn State and the future of college football? Let's take a look.

Realignment repercussions: Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said the alliance is not a "reaction" to Texas and Oklahoma's pending move from the Big 12 to the SEC. However, the chaos that typically follows one dose of realignment was on their minds.

Phillips called today's college sports landscape "volatile." He hopes that instead of ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 programs getting wandering eyes like Texas and Oklahoma, this alliance will calm things down a bit.

"In the history of college athletics, one expansion of a conference usually leads to another and to another and to another," Phillips added. "For the three of us, we felt as though the stabilization of the current environment across Division-I and FBS and Power Five, in particular, was a chance for a new direction, a new initiative that I don't think has been done before. ... We're better together than we are separate."

"[Texas and Oklahoma moving] allowed all of us in college athletics to take a step back and take a step forward to start evaluating what the next one, three, five, seven, 10, 15 years look like," Warren said. "... To be totally candid, you have to evaluate what's going on in the landscape of college athletics. ... This is a year for seismic shifts."

Non-conference scheduling: The juiciest part of this alliance might be the non-conference possibilities. Ohio State-Clemson? Michigan- USC? Dare we say, Pitt-Penn State?

Unfortunately, Tuesday didn't come with a slate of mouth-watering matchups to circle. Mapping those out right now is considered too complicated. But interesting non-conference matchups are going to be a big part of this.

Kliavkoff did say this agreement won't prevent ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 schools from scheduling games against teams outside of the alliance. Warren added that the alliance won't interfere with any existing contracts.

"This isn't about getting out of contracts and blowing anything up," Warren said. "This is about honoring those existing contracts, but also building relationships between these three like-minded conferences as we look forward from a scheduling standpoint not only in football, but also in women's and men's basketball."

When considering the lack of a firm start date for these non-conference matchups, future contracts have to be taken into account. Pitt has at least two non-conference games scheduled through 2024. Penn State has at least two scheduled through 2026. Breaking those contracts in the name of the alliance would cost quite a bit of money.

Then there's the issue of the number of conference games. Pitt and the ACC play eight conference games per year in football, but the Big Ten and Pac-12 play nine. Should the Big Ten and Pac-12 go from nine to eight, that would free things up and potentially allow the three conferences to play each other every year.

Neither Warren nor Kliavkoff committed to a move from nine to eight.

"We're really at the beginning stages of this," Warren said. "... To be able to get in the room now over the next couple weeks and months and start rolling up our sleeves and going to work to figure out how this will come together is exciting."

Playoff expansion: Back in June, a 12-team College Football Playoff proposal took the college football world by storm. As proposed, the six highest-ranked conference champions, along with six at-large teams — triple the size of today's playoff — would battle for a national title.

But the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 didn't have a seat at the table for that discussion. Three conference commissioners — the SEC's Greg Sankey, Big 12's Bob Bowlsby and Mountain West's Craig Thompson — as well as Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick worked on the CFP subcommittee exploring expansion.

Kliavkoff said those four officials did "exemplary work" in presenting what a 12-team playoff would look like. Warren added that Sankey and company did an "incredible job."

However, this alliance could pour cold water on CFP expansion, at least in the short term. Some administrators in the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 believe expansion shouldn't happen before the CFP's television contract with ESPN is up in 2026, according to The Athletic. Negotiating prior to the contract's expiration would provide ESPN with an exclusive track at retaining the rights, effectively keeping the new format from hitting the open market — which could result in a loss of revenue.

In addition, Phillips isn't even sure if the ACC wants a 12-team playoff. He said the conference hasn't made "a final decision" on where it'll land yet. Kliavkoff said the Pac-12 is "100% in favor" of expansion. Warren added that he's a "big believer" in both expansion and continuing to do homework on the issue.

From Pitt and Penn State's on-field perspectives, the faster a 12-team playoff is instituted the better. In the proposed 12-team system, Penn State would have reached the playoffs in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. And Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said that, despite the increase in games, he's in favor of an expanded playoff.

"It isn't all about the money. But I went on the ACC call saying I was for it," Narduzzi told the Post-Gazette in July, before Oklahoma and Texas announced their move to the SEC. "I think it's a great opportunity. It's been the same four teams every year, and if Pitt can pop in once every three or four years, now you start to make some strides in recruiting and elsewhere. You start to move up the ladder."

"We're still unpacking this information. But I do think whenever a decision is made, we need to make sure we have an inclusive voice," Warren said. "... The future will be interesting as we work through what is the right thing to do for our student-athletes and the game of college football."