Sean Pendergast

Big XII Left Stranded After College Football Alliance Announcement

Alabama and the SEC are in a political standoff with the Big Ten, Pac 12, and ACC.
Alabama and the SEC are in a political standoff with the Big Ten, Pac 12, and ACC. Screen grab from YouTube
College conference realignment has been front burner college sports news for the last decade, but it's been going on forever. The Southwest Conference was splintered into a million pieces back in the mid-'90s with the (now, quite ironic) formation of the Big XII. In 2003, the ACC raided the Big East for Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech. Of course, early in the 2010s, the earth shifted under practically every conference over about a four year period.

However, nothing has shaken college athletics, mostly football, to its core quite like the move of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC. For the first time amid realignment, it feels like the potential line between "have" and "have not" has surfaced within the Power Five conferences, with the SEC being the whale, the Big Ten, ACC, and Pac-12 wanting to steady the ship, and the Big XII lost at sea.

In the wake of the SEC's big power move for the Longhorns and Sooners, earlier this week the Big Ten, ACC, and Pac-12 announced a new "alliance," with a stated purpose of "[focusing] on NCAA governance, student-athlete welfare, and ensuring the collegiate model continues."
The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 on Tuesday formally announced an alliance that has been the topic of much conversation over the last two weeks. The agreement between the three conferences is being described as a "collaborative approach surrounding the future evolution of college athletics and scheduling."

The alliance asserts its purpose is to focus on NCAA governance, student-athlete welfare and ensuring the collegiate model continues. It will also include a "scheduling component for football and women's and men's basketball designed to create new inter-conference games, enhance opportunities for student-athletes and optimize the college athletics experience for both student-athletes and fans across the country."

The three conferences also plan to get on the same page regarding future College Football Playoff expansion and other major topics including the reshaping of college athletes as a whole, sources tell CBS Sports.
Other than the general mission being stated, there was not a lot of specificity as to how the power structure of this three-headed monster will look, when any scheduling component will begin, and how they plan to combat the rising power of the SEC and ESPN, which is really what this is all about. So, until we hear more from the powers that be within these three leagues, let's address some of the fallout. Here are four thoughts I have:

Is this for real?
Oh, it is real, I think the bigger question is "Exactly how sturdy is this partnership between these three leagues?" There isn't really anything formally in writing, and it seems to be an alliance built on the shakiest possible foundation: fear. While none of these three leagues is worried about extinction, they are concerned about falling behind the SEC, on the field, in recruiting, and at the pay window. I guess I'm skeptical about any college football entity comprised of 41 schools, and 41 decision making bodies. Would it shock anyone if the SEC came calling for Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State, and Michigan, and if so, that those four schools would gladly listen to overtures? Do we think that this "alliance" couldn't possibly end with one conference among these raiding another? It's college athletics, which means it's all fluid and the rules are "there are no rules."

The Big XII may very well be screwed
Not all that conspicuous by their absence are the eight schools still left behind from the Big XII — Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State. Those are some pretty prominent athletics departments. Hell, the champion of the March Madness tournament is on that list, which just goes to show you how much football drives this thing. As Texas and Oklahoma figure out the logistics of their exit plan, which will no doubt cost each school tens of millions of dollars, know that the remaining eight schools will all declare solidarity, while also seeking the best possible scenario for themselves. Nothing more, nothing less. The problem for all of these schools is that none of them individually move the needle enough to grow an existing power conferences financial pie to where it makes sense to add another mouth to feed. These eight schools are in a tough, tough spot.

Are we one step closer to four 16-team super-conferences?
Some will give the counterpoint to my previous paragraph, "But Sean, if you add up all the Power Five conferences, it adds up to 64 schools. 64 is a nice clean number for us to turn it all into four 16-team super conferences! MATH, SEAN! MATH!" That's all well and good, and it's a fun thing to fantasize about, but again, the four power conferences not named the Big XII have no obligation to grow their constituency with schools that offer diminished financial value to the league. The fact is that the only Big XII brands that grow a conference's coffers are Texas and Oklahoma. That's it. Yeah, 64 schools comprise a convenient, even number, but these conferences are beholden to their checkbooks, not easy bracket-style math. Sorry, remaining eight Big XII schools.

What does Notre Dame do?
There IS actually a 65th member in this power layer of collegiate athletics, a small parochial school in South Bend, IN called the University of Notre Dame. Currently, they are independent in the sport of football and in the ACC for virtually all of their other sports. The question is logically asked all the time about Notre Dame going ahead and marrying the ACC full bore by adding football to the conference. (NOTE: In 2020, Notre Dame actually DID play as an ACC member so they could play a full schedule amid COVID.) I can tell you as a proud alumnus of the school, there may be a day someday when Notre Dame attaches its football program full time to a conference as a 100 percent member — right now, Notre Dame plays five ACC schools each season, as part of its agreement to house their other sports as full time members — but that day won't come while I'm on this earth. For those who don't know, I plan on living at least another 30 or 40 years. Notre Dame will remain independent and, despite the issue many have with it, they will remain quite powerful.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast