Yesterday's announcement by the Big Ten and Pac-12 on the heels of the Rose Bowl could go down as one of the biggest stories of 2011. After taking some time to really digest what the announcement laid out for us it's clear that there are a few things that came into play in making this agreement. First is that this will allow both conferences to expand it's imprint across the nation and thus increase the exposure for the non-revenue sports. Secondly, it's the end of the so called "SuperConferences." Lastly, this is a massive shot across the bow of the dominance of the SEC.
We'll take a look at the second point first. Over the past few seasons both conferences have been the driving force behind expansion and the constant shuffle amongst the major conferences. With that there were a lot of people of the belief that it was a matter of time before the conferences just started to merge and put together 24 team "SuperConferences."
This agreement puts that idea to bed in a big way. With this scheduling agreement, which will start in the 2012/13 season for all sports except football (2017), and the upcoming launch of the Pac-12 Network there is no need for a full merger at all. They've shown the major conference world that you can find ways to grow your value without growing the number of teams in your actual conference.
Make no doubt about it money from football contracts is the driving force behind major college sports these days. Starting in 2017, right around the time of contracts with the major networks expiring, these two conferences will start playing a series of 4 games over 3 straight weekends. Tell me a major network that wouldn't want to pay MEGA $$$ for matchups like USC vs. Ohio State, Oregon vs. Michigan, etc. that you know will be happening on a yearly basis? Still searching for answer? That's what I thought.
What it also does is create a platform for which interest in the conferences and therefore their respective networks spreads to areas thay may not have interest without it. Again expanding the viewers and thus the dollars they can get for their networks.
Having made this agreement on an indefinate basis it's clear that the two conferences have made a concious decision to put the interest of all sports finally at the forefront of the money decision for a change and that's refreshing to say the least.
Not only that, but the constant chatter of expansion should be put on hold for quite some time. The agreement has effectively taken the Big Ten and Pac-12 off the market so to speak. There really isn't anywhere to expand to, unless you want a watered down ACC or the SEC that really has no one left to grab after it's latest fleecing of the Big 12 for Texas A&M and Missouri.
Perhaps the biggest thing that will be a consequence of this agreement is the shot across the bow of the SEC, which is twofold. One is competitive balance and two is in terms of money for contracts.
It's no question that the Big Ten and Pac-12 are two of the best conferences in college football and with this agreement you've got massive non-conference matchups for 3 weeks while the SEC is left playing their usual terrible slate of patsy games in most of the weeks not occupied by their "vaunted SEC conference schedules."
Gone will be the days of the argument that one loss by an SEC team is less hurtful than one by a Big Ten or Pac-12 team. Take USC as an example. They'll be playing 9 conference games and 2 of the 3 non-conference games will now be occupied by a Big Ten upper echelon team and Notre Dame. Tell me that's not strong enough compared to what the SEC puts on the plates of their teams in the non-conference slate?
And same thing can be said about the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue in the Big Ten, having to play Notre Dame and another top level Pac-12 team gives them a firm grip on playing rough schedules every year.
Basically, the Big Ten and Pac-12 are saying "Your move now" to the SEC.
Sure it could backfire, but it will also move the argument against 1 loss teams in the conferences from where it is now, which takes them out of the equation automatically, to putting them in the mix as long as the other conference stays strong throughout the year.
The second shot across the bow is in terms of television contracts. The football and basketball contracts for both conferences will have to increase for the national exposure this agreement will naturally create. That means less dollars going to other conferences. It also pins the SEC in to trying to create something that keeps it on top of the money heap.
Making them play catchup is a great way to start putting yourselves on top in terms of fans and dollars from the likes of ESPN and Fox Sports.
That also goes to the third point. The increased money from the football and basketball contracts will trickle down to all sports in major ways. Additonally with two conference networks available you have a lot of potential time to highlight the series of events that will take place in the non-revenue sports. It will do a lot to help increase the exposure of Women's sports a lot as well.
I truly believe that this agreement is perhaps the best thing that could have happened to major college sports. It gives the conferences some stability and the constant will they/won't they chatter of expansion can take a back seat for the two biggest conferences not named the SEC. Dominoes no longer have to fall and conferences won't be left scrambling for members on the scale they have been in the recent round of conference expansions. It also allows the Big Ten and Pac-12 to put their products in front of millions of new eyeballs without having to put more teams on the roll and potentially increasing travel expenses for sports that can't really afford it to begin with. I say Amen to that!