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RIP The Alliance (2021-2022)

Trumpeted to the public with great fanfare last summer, the long-term strategy play by the Big Ten, the ACC and the Pac-12 is highly unlikely to amount to anything.

In those frenzied late summer days after Texas and Oklahoma joined the SEC, everyone in college sports felt like they had to make a move. What move? They didn't know. Were they going or staying? Is it better to add someone to your current situation or join with someone else? No one knew. If you were going to move, where would you go? It didn't matter. The ground was shifting beneath them, and so the worst place to be was exactly where you were already standing.

The biggest rupture occurred in Conference USA, which was basically forced to reboot after it was picked apart by the American and the Sun Belt. The ground is still very much rumbling there

But without a doubt the funniest and most aggravating reaction came from the Big Ten, the ACC, and the Pac-12, who formed THE ALLIANCE. 

What was THE ALLIANCE? They didn't know. They just knew they were allies, and as allies they were forming THE ALLIANCE. (The all-caps, italics stylizing wasn't explicitly included in the announcement, but an after-the-fact addition deemed appropriate by me given how seriously they all took the thing.)

Eventually, THE ALLIANCE put out this mission statement of sorts on Aug. 24.

The ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 today announced an historic alliance that will bring 41 world-class institutions together on a collaborative approach surrounding the future evolution of college athletics and scheduling.

The alliance – which was unanimously supported by the presidents, chancellors and athletics directors at all 41 institutions – will be guided in all cases by a commitment to, and prioritization of, supporting student-athlete well-being, academic and athletic opportunities, experiences and diverse educational programming. The three conferences are grounded in their support of broad-based athletic programs, the collegiate model and opportunities for student-athletes as part of the educational missions of the institutions.

The three conferences remain competitors in every sense but are committed to collaborating and providing thought leadership on various opportunities and challenges facing college athletics, including:

  • Student-athlete mental and physical health, safety, wellness and support
  • Strong academic experience and support
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Social justice
  • Gender equity
  • Future structure of the NCAA
  • Federal legislative efforts
  • Postseason championships and future formats

What, precisely, united the Big Ten, the ACC and the Pac-12 in ways that separated those three leagues from their peer institutions? Does the SEC not stand for social justice and gender equity? Is the Mountain West not support its athletes' mental and physical health? Is the Big 12 not in favor of diversity, equity and inclusion?

No one involved had any good answer.

Basically, what THE ALLIANCE amounted to was "The SEC upended the status quo by annexing Texas and Oklahoma and we don't like it," except the three conferences involved had to crank the sanctimony to 11 by forming THE ALLIANCE

As for any actionable plans the average fan would see, we got this, from the Aug. 24 announcement: 

The alliance includes 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.

Ah, now that's interesting. And then here's the next sentence:

The scheduling alliance will begin as soon as practical while honoring current contractual obligations.

"As soon as practical." So, Clemson's Sept. 13, 2036 trip to Oklahoma -- yes, that's happening -- is still on, as are Ohio State's 2027-28 home-and-home with Alabama and its 2030-31 home-and-home with Georgia.

In fact, on Aug. 26, two days after THE ALLIANCE's official formation, USC agreed to open its 2024 season against LSU in Las Vegas. So much for "as soon as practical." 

College football plays a 12-game regular season; the Big Ten and Pac-12 each play 9-game conference schedules. If THE ALLIANCE was ever going to amount to anything within college football, some games with non-ALLIANCE allies may have to be canceled at some point.

But, wait! The ACC plays an 8-game schedule, and so perhaps the Big Ten and Pac-12 could reduce their own schedules to eight, thereby creating inventory for an ALLIANCE game every season. Maybe each ALLIANCE game could include a pre-game lecture to everyone in the SEC, the Big 12, the Group of 5 and the lower divisions about how to value academics and sportsmanship like an ALLY!

“Over time, the goal, the north star of the alliance, is to get to a place where every single school in each of the conferences is playing eight conference games, one home game and one away game against the two other conferences (in the Alliance),” Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff said in his first public appearance after the August announcement.

That goal was based on a faulty assumption, one that undercuts to the uncomfortable truth THE ALLIANCE is built upon. The ACC and the Pac-12 need THE ALLIANCE much, much more than the Big Ten. In fact, the Big Ten doesn't need it at all. 

Sure, Ohio State-Clemson and Michigan-USC are sexy matchups with mutual benefit, but why would Purdue agree to more games with Oregon State and Wake Forest if it means fewer games with Ohio State and Michigan? And why would Ohio State agree to two ALLIANCE games a year if it meant they couldn't play Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Oklahoma as often as they'd like? 

On Wednesday, Ohio State AD Gene Smith -- the most powerful person within the most powerful athletics department in THE ALLIANCE -- laid it all out there.

And good luck getting the Big Ten to agree to contract a conference game without Ohio State's endorsement.

Let's call THE ALLIANCE what it is. It's a poorly-rationalized, haughtily-decorated attempt by two rookie commissioners (The ACC's Jim Phillips started on Feb. 1, 2021; the Pac-12's Kliavkoff on July 1, 2021) to form common cause with the Big Ten in order to prevent the B1G from doing to their leagues what the SEC did to the Big 12. Dress it up however you want, but that's all this is. And no amount of Ivy League-knockoff branding will stop the Big Ten from taking North Carolina, USC, or any other ALLIES it pleases when that day comes.