The Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC Alliance of Power Continues to Lead College Football Toward Superconferences and an Expanded Playoff

It’s been rumored that an alliance between the Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC conferences would be on the way at some point, and now it’s official. The biggest conference in college football — the SEC — is adding powerhouse programs Oklahoma and Texas to a roster that already holds a large chunk of the most valuable programs in the sport. Three of the other Power Five conferences needed a reaction, and this is it. (The Big 12 is another story as that conference will be left in total limbo after the departure of its two biggest moneymakers.) The official alliance of these conferences continues to lead college football down a path toward superconferences and expanded playoffs.

The alliance is — believe it or not — more about politics and power than it is about money. It’s somewhat about the money (obviously), but the ultimate goal is a share of that power to match the SEC’s.

The Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC alliance would allow those conferences to survive in the wake of the SEC’s growing power

Hard Rock Stadium in Miami hosted the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship Game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Ohio State Buckeyes. An alliance between the Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC is official as the three conferences try to keep up with the SEC's growing power.
Hard Rock Stadium in Miami hosted the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship Game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Ohio State Buckeyes. | Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

The SEC is growing in capability and influence while the NCAA is on its way to dissolving. If this current path stays steady, then when the NCAA eventually loses power as a governing body, most of that power will shift to the SEC. The conference would house the biggest and most valuable programs in college sports, so the transfer of power in that direction would make sense.

An alliance between the Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC would allow those three the opportunity to share part of the remaining influence in college athletics. Or, the three could hold onto their power individually while maintaining value compared to what will be a 16-team SEC.

Power is stronger in numbers, as Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff explained in a statement (h/t ESPN):

“The historic alliance announced today between the Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten is grounded in a commitment to our student-athletes.

“We believe that collaborating together we are stronger in our commitment to addressing the broad issues and opportunities facing college athletics.”

Pac-12 Conference Comissioner George Kliavkoff on the alliance formed between his conference, the ACC, and the Big Ten

A three-conference alliance vs. the SEC is a battle that will eventually end with two superconferences and an expanded playoff

It will take years, but as this process plays out, college sports are headed in only one direction: superconferences.

That could take place in different forms as conferences continue to realign in the meantime, but it will essentially be a power struggle between the SEC and the rest. The rich get richer as the league is already set for a $3 billion TV deal with ESPN/ABC, according to USA Today. Theoretically, the alliance between the other three conferences would allow for more crossover matchups like Clemson vs. USC or Ohio State vs. Oregon, which would draw more viewers and therefore more money.

The statement released by the commissioners touched on a scheduling component for football and men’s and women’s basketball, in part “designed to create new inter-conference games.”

But a 16-team SEC, which already often receives multiple bids in a four-team College Football Playoff, will be able to grab most of the sport’s revenue. Extrapolate that to a recently proposed 12-team playoff, and the SEC could see four or more teams on the biggest stage, aka where the most money can be made.

The endgame is pointing toward at least two superconferences and an expanded playoff due to the fact that the other conferences will need to keep up with the SEC conglomeration.

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Nothing in the short term has changed now that this alliance is official. The long-term goals have to change, however, as ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said in a statement (h/t ESPN):

“The ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 recognize the unique environment and challenges currently facing intercollegiate athletics, and we are proud and confident in this timely and necessary alliance that brings together like-minded institutions and conferences focused on the overall educational missions of our preeminent institutions. The alliance will ensure that the educational outcomes and experiences for student-athletes participating at the highest level of collegiate athletics will remain the driving factor in all decisions moving forward.”

ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips on the Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC alliance and the future of collegiate athletics

The alliance’s goal is, yes, to prioritize student-athlete wellbeing both on and off the playing field. To accomplish that, other conferences need to be able to offer something similar to what the SEC continues to build. But it would be foolish to ignore the fact that this alliance is also being created in order for the rest of collegiate athletics to keep up with what can already be considered a superconference.

The only way to do that is to create another. As this moves forward, that’s the direction college sports are headed, and in football, that’s the direction the College Football Playoff is headed, as well.