SBD/December 29, 2011/Colleges

Big Ten, Pac-12 Conferences Form Scheduling Alliance To Broaden National Scope

The Big Ten and Pac-12 have announced a collaborative effort to enhance long-term scheduling commitments between the two conferences across all sports among the 24 institutions. The collaboration will feature more games between the two conferences. The objective for football is to create an annual 12-game inter-conference schedule between the two conferences by the '17 season. Many sports, including men's and women's basketball, could see an increased level of inter-conference competition in the near term, possibly as early as the '12-13 academic year (Big Ten/Pac-12). Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said, “This is not a five-year deal, a 10-year deal. It's an indefinite collaboration over time.” Univ. of Michigan AD Dave Brandon in an e-mail said, “The mechanics of this have not yet been worked out. Presumably, a lot of the coordination of scheduling will take place at the conference level.” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said that the new arrangement “could lead to common ties to one or more bowls.” Right now there are “none beyond” the Rose Bowl (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 12/29). Delany added, “This is going to be a lot of fun. The canvas is a blank canvas. Some areas are sacrosanct, like the Rose Bowl and the autonomy of each conference.” More Delany: “But this is two conferences liking what they have but being open to change. There is a lot of growth potential with very little downside.” Univ. of Nebraska AD Tom Osborne said, “With all the expansion talk, I don't think the Big Ten was looking to get real big real quick. So this is a way for the conference to expand its footprint without taking on a bunch of new schools” (OMAHA.com, 12/28).

REAPING BENEFITS: ESPN.com’s Gene Wojciechowski noted the alliance “gives each conference marketing and recruiting entry into large population and media centers of the country.” It also provides “added content and product for the Big Ten Network as well as the soon-to-be-launched Pac-12 Network, which begins programming in August 2012.” Delany said, “Rather than go down the road of just trying to add members, we thought this was a way to keep who we were and an increased value for everybody. It doesn't mean you can't expand one day. It seems to us this is an intelligent way to get stronger and do so with zero collateral damage.'' Scott added, “It's a flexible approach to achieving some of the benefits of expansion without dealing with some of the other structural issues” (ESPN.com, 12/28). In L.A., Chris Dufresne notes plans include a “preseason game at the Rose Bowl, possibly as soon as 2013 or 2014, involving schools from each conference.” Scott said, “The Rose Bowl is interested, both conferences are interested. There are no details yet, but it's fair to say you'll see it in some form or faction." Delany also said that he would be “interested in a neutral-site game in the Midwest.” Delany: “Who knows. You could have the Rose Bowl one year and Soldier Field the next" (L.A. TIMES, 12/29). In N.Y., Pete Thamel notes other sports “are beginning to evaluate how the agreement can be used to benefit them.” In Olympic sports, Delany said that universities like Michigan or USC “could host a showcase track meet that would feature aspiring Olympians from both conferences.” Delany also said that the partnership in basketball “could help the sport open its season more definitively, the way Major League Baseball does with its opening day.” He suggested that the scheduling collaboration “could give the leagues a chance to have a strong start to the season, be it through an exempted event or by playing a marquee game in an NBA arena” (N.Y. TIMES, 12/29). USA TODAY’s Steve Wieberg notes both Delany and Scott said that they “had talked with TV partners ABC/ESPN and Fox.” They would “carry football and basketball;” other sports “would be on the Big Ten Network” and the future Pac-12 Network (USA TODAY, 12/29).

WHAT ABOUT THE IRISH?
YAHOO SPORTS’ Pat Forde noted Notre Dame has a "huge part" of its schedule invested in the Big Ten and Pac-12. If the leagues are going to add an annual game between members, “would that potentially squeeze Notre Dame out of the mix?” Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick said that that is “not likely.” Swarbrick: “I don’t anticipate it having much of an impact. I was aware it was coming; they sort of kept us informed. I think it’s a great thing for the two conferences.” A more likely scenario than dropping Notre Dame “is a reduction in conference games from nine to eight.” Notre Dame “should be able to retain its rotation of marquee opponents, and it also should be able to keep most of its customary dates.” But Forde wrote, “Don’t look for the Irish to lose their annual Thanksgiving weekend game in California, against either USC or Stanford.” And the Big Ten opponents “probably will remain slotted in the earlier portion of the schedule.” Scheduling Notre Dame “continues to make sense for the leagues for two reasons: enhanced TV inventory and enhanced strength of schedule” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/28).
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