The Big Ten and SEC announced on Friday the formation of a joint advisory group designed “to address the significant challenges facing college athletics and the opportunities for betterment of the student-athlete experience.”
Comprised of university presidents and athletic directors, the group will have no authority to act. Its members, charter and timetable “have yet to be determined.” The specific issues it plans to address? Also unknown at this point.
But make no mistake, folks. This alliance will carry a wallop, and the timing of the announcement, although coincidental, was steeped in symbolism.
It came six months to the day (not the date) of the Pac-12’s collapse.
At dawn on Friday, Aug. 4, Washington and Oregon informed the conference of their plans to join the Big Ten — the final blow that forced Arizona, ASU and Utah to seek refuge in the Big 12 later that day and eventually propelled Stanford and Cal into the ACC.
Contrary to the portrayal of Oregon as the lynchpin, Washington was the key block in the Jenga Tower. Once the Huskies laid eyes on commissioner George Kliavkoff’s final proposal — an all-in deal with Apple that would spin off $25 million to each school — their gaze turned to the Big Ten.
According to multiple sources, UW president Ana Mari Cauce told colleagues on the Pac-12 board that she worried the Apple deal would lead to the loss of her coach, Kalen DeBoer, who viewed the lack of linear TV visibility as severely problematic for recruiting. Five months later, DeBoer left anyhow.
To be clear: Washington was not the sole destroyer of the Pac-12’s world. The collapse of a 108-year-old college sports institution requires a series of blunders over many years. As we have chronicled, every school except Washington State and Oregon State — the two left behind in the ruthless realignment game — has fingerprints on the weapon, starting, of course, with USC.
So, too, do Larry Scott and Kliavkoff, the commissioners whose missteps combined with poor leadership by the university presidents to create a death spiral.
Starting in the early 2010s, the Pac-12 flipped its strategic coin at least a dozen times. It needed heads just once to secure salvation. Instead, the coin landed tails each time, and collapse ensued.
Six months later, the world created by its demise materializes before our eyes. The ACC is roiling and the Big 12 stable, but both are effectively bystanders as the SEC and Big Ten consolidate their power.
The partnership announced Friday will undoubtedly consider the structure of college football — everything from revenue-sharing deals with players to the playoff format to NIL and transfer rules and whether the sport must be separated from the rest of college athletics.
At the core, it’s merely the public manifestation of developments that have been unfolding for months behind the scenes. With the NCAA facing a new lawsuit each week (or so it seems), the two commissioners have stepped into the leadership void: The Big Ten’s Tony Petitti, on the job since May, and longtime SEC boss Greg Sankey.
They oversee the conferences that possess Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, LSU, Ohio State, Michigan, USC and Penn State — many of the biggest brands in college sports.
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The brands that ESPN and Fox covet for their premium Saturday windows.
The brands with the largest followings and the deepest pockets.
The brands with the most at stake as the NCAA’s economic model begins to liquefy.
Scientists sometimes use what’s called the Cosmic Calendar to help explain time immemorial. It marks the Big Bang as occurring at midnight on Jan. 1, with the Solar System forming in August and the entirety of human history unfolding in the final minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve.
College football is 154 years old. Condense that timeframe to a Cosmic Calendar, and we have reached Dec. 31. The changes revealing themselves across the landscape — an antitrust lawsuit here, a change in the transfer rules — dwarf all previous developments. The sport is evolving in real time.
Is college football better off without a strong, stable power conference on the West Coast? Of course not, and nobody who knows anything would argue otherwise.
But the Pac-12’s collapse has expedited this era of unprecedented change. When combined with the momentous development Friday, the endgame comes quickly into focus. What was recently the Power Five has morphed into the Big Two. The SEC and Big Ten are in control.
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