You remember that episode of The Office where Jim and Dwight create an “alliance” to combat other alliances around the office? That’s what this feels like. Less than a month after Texas and Oklahoma announced they’d be moving to the SEC, three of the four remaining Power 5 conferences announced they’ll be forming an alliance — not to come together as one mega-conference, but rather just to “protect the collegiate model”… whatever the hell that means.
This is obviously an unprecedented happening in college football, but what does it mean, exactly? What is an “alliance,” and did these conferences elect to join forces to compete against the SEC, or is there something more at play? These are the questions that we need answered!
According to the conferences’ commissioners — Kevin Warren (Big Ten), Jim Philips (ACC), and George Kliavkoff (Pac-12) — they’ve been considering this idea for several weeks as an opportunity to “evaluate what’s going on in the landscape of college athletics.” That’s some pretty vague wording, and it opens the door for a lot of speculation as to the real reasons why these three conferences grouped together. We do know that it means none of the conferences involved will target any of the other conferences’ schools when looking to expand. But the rest of the conditions for the alliance are still unknown.
The most obvious reason for such an alliance would be to combat the SEC. Period. Texas and Oklahoma are two of the biggest brand names in college athletics, and their move to the SEC only gives that conference that much more sway in NCAA talks. By joining forces, these three conferences could theoretically pull as much weight, or perhaps more, in discussing terms and tactics with the NCAA as the SEC currently does. I’m not saying that the three conferences plan on joining together to create one superconference. That’s not what they’re trying to do. Rather, they are trying to come together as one unit working together to promote their ideals for what is best regarding the future of college athletics.
However, due to recent Supreme Court rulings, such as NCAA v. Alston, the pathway toward antitrust litigation lawsuits against the NCAA has been carved, meaning that the Big Ten, ACC, and Pac-12 would need to either prove they have a plan, or at least similar goals moving forward. If they cannot do so, significant political power would go to the SEC as major decisions that will determine the future of college athletics, such as the college football playoff expansion and athlete compensation, get closer.
Another reason for this alliance might be the new NIL laws. While the NIL laws still do not force universities to compensate their athletes — they only stipulate that college athletes can now make money off sponsorships, social media, fundraisers, etc. — it’s becoming more and more likely that universities will soon have to start paying their athletes through more than just educational means.
In turn, these schools will need to find new sources of revenue in order to compensate for all the money they will have to dish out to their athletes. Many believe Texas and Oklahoma’s move to the SEC was fueled by this idea. Having two of the most recognizable brands in college sports join the most successful conference in the NCAA, which already demands huge television contracts to air their games, would only make those contracts that much more lucrative.
I talked about this in a piece I wrote right before UT’s and OU’s move was officially announced. In the piece, I compare the annual revenues of schools in the SEC to before and after they made the move. Most recently, when Texas A&M moved to the SEC, they saw a 122-percent increase in revenue in just three years. However, the move didn’t just benefit Texas A&M and Missouri. It also benefited the SEC as a whole. With Texas A&M and Mizzou on board, the SEC saw over a 200-percent increase in distributable wealth among the universities. If the SEC were to make a similar jump in revenue with the additions of Texas and Oklahoma (they’d actually likely see a bigger jump considering how big those college brands are), they’d be able to ask for even more money in their television contracts. Thus giving the conference more distributable wealth, and allowing those schools to pay their athletes all they deserve whenever the ruling is passed.
This could be the same reason that the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 are forming an “alliance.” With all three conferences working out a common goal, the three conferences could work mutually as a group to ensure higher television contracts. The more money comes pouring in from those contracts, the more that each school will be able to pay its athletes, which is a big deal, because if one school can offer more payment than another, why would any high-level athlete opt to go there? Obviously, state laws would come into effect for public universities and would likely be a bigger factor in determining how much each school could pay its athletes, but if you think for a second that recruiting wouldn’t be changed drastically as soon as universities became forced to pay their players, you’re wrong. While athletes are still not allowed to accept payment during the recruitment process, there’s nothing that would stop recruiters from promising certain amounts of payment should an athlete choose to play for their school.
Obviously, this is all just speculation though. Like I said, while it’s likely that universities will soon be forced to pay their student-athletes, they don’t do so currently, and we don’t know when that ruling would actually come to fruition. Are there other reasons why the Big Ten, Pac-12, and ACC might have formed this alliance? Absolutely, but until we understand what those “common goals” their commissioners referred to are, all we can do is speculate. But concrete answers probably aren’t that far off. There’s money to be made, after all.