Opinion: The SEC must be laughing at this ACC, Pac-12, Big Ten alliance of platitudes

·4 min read

Two pieces of college football news were announced on Tuesday.

The ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 unveiled their formation of a three-conference alliance. And the SEC announced its preseason coaches All-SEC team.

It’s debatable which one was more noteworthy.

You might think an alliance featuring three Power 5 conferences sounds impressive on paper. The trouble is, the alliance isn’t actually on paper. There is no contract binding this alliance.

It’s a gentleman’s agreement. An exchange of friendship bracelets. A vow to support each other.

How, exactly? Well, that remains unclear.

I’m imagining SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey leaning back in his recliner, grinning and perhaps enjoying a victory cigar as he watched Tuesday’s joint news conference featuring the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 commissioners describing a pact that is long on platitudes and short on substance.

Greg Sankey
Greg Sankey

This was the much-anticipated rebuttal in response to the SEC’s July plundering of Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12?

I doubt Sankey or any SEC athletics director is quivering at the thought of Oregon State, Purdue and Wake Forest locking arms in unity.

If Sankey was feeling mischievous, he’d pluck off a few more members from other conferences just to show that he could — and to prove that this alliance is worth the invisible paper it’s printed on.

And the poor Big 12. After the SEC pilfered its most valuable members, the Big 12 didn’t even get invited to join alliance’s friendship pact.

One goal of this three-conference brotherhood is to produce more compelling nonconference matchups, although pardon college football fans and television executives if they think Virginia traveling 2,600 miles to play Washington State doesn’t trump LSU vs. Alabama as appointment viewing.

A scheduling alliance between these conferences in football and men’s and women’s basketball will begin “as soon as practical,” according to the alliance’s news release.

We’ll wait with bated breath.

And do you really need an alliance to schedule more compelling nonconference games? Just do it.

Anyway, the commissioners said this alliance won’t disrupt existing game contracts, and nonconference football schedules are plotted so far in advance that it could be years before this alliance has much effect on football scheduling.

More likely, this verbal bond was intended to show the SEC that the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 plan to have a voice in the future direction of college sports, including the College Football Playoff.

Sankey was part of a working group that, earlier this summer, appeared to have the CFP pointed toward fast-track expansion to 12 teams.

It’s unclear what, exactly, the leaders of the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 envision for the playoff’s future — only that they don’t plan to be ignored. None of the commissioners spoke against playoff expansion, although Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said it should be done methodically.

Who’s to say these three conferences will share the same vision for the playoff’s future? This alliance would carry some clout if the three conferences had agreed to vote in unison on issues facing college sports, including playoff expansion. But this alliance calls for no such voting bloc.

"We've not committed to voting together on anything,” Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff told the AP.

Playoff expansion to 12 teams would seem to help multiple conferences – notably, the Pac-12, which hasn’t produced a playoff qualifier since the 2016 season – and result in a financial windfall. Plus, Group of 5 schools finally would have a guaranteed spot under that format. And a 12-team format would preserve regular-season value by affording first-round byes to the top four teams.

Expanding the playoff to 12 teams seemed like an invigorating idea to combat the stale and repetitive nature of the postseason in the four-team playoff era.

It would be a shame if the alliance’s only tangible impact becomes pumping the brakes on the prospect of playoff expansion until the CFP’s television contract with ESPN ends after the 2025 season. Waiting until ESPN’s contract expires would create the possibility for a TV bidding war on an expanded playoff.

And there we arrive at the heart of any conference expansion, alliance or buddy program: Money.

The SEC will survive a few-years delay of collecting its share of the riches that an otherwise expanded playoff and renegotiated playoff contract with ESPN would yield.

SEC members are positioned for financial growth regardless, thanks to a $3 billion deal with ESPN, beginning in 2024, that grants the network exclusive rights to SEC football and men’s basketball.

And the SEC was hardly the biggest objector to a four-team playoff. After all, the conference has produced the national champion in four of the playoff's seven years.

The introduction of this alliance appears to be little more than an unpolished subplot to a movie that ends in predictable fashion: with the SEC standing at the top of the heap.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: SEC's Greg Sankey must be laughing at ACC, Pac 12, Big Ten alliance