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Chip Scoggins: Clumsy college ‘alliance’ mostly about money while chaos lurks in background

Chip Scoggins: Clumsy college ‘alliance’ mostly about money while chaos lurks in background

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Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren speaks about the cancellation of the Men's Big 10 Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on March 12, 2020.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren speaks about the cancellation of the Men's Big 10 Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on March 12, 2020. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

MINNEAPOLIS — Ding, ding, ding. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the main event.

In this corner, weighing in with 41 schools, a reach of coast-to-coast and a plan fuzzier than black-and-white television, let's hear it for the Alliance.

And in this corner, the self-absorbed bully who will steal your girlfriend and gloat because it just means more, give it up for the SEC.

This isn't a sanctioned bout because the NCAA is wandering around the Mojave Desert aimlessly mumbling incoherently about amateurism.

Whew. College sports, man. Crazier than a hound covered in fleas.

The SEC snatches Texas and Oklahoma and their megawatt brands from the Big 12, leaving that conference severely wounded. In response, the rest of the Power Five — Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC – forms an "alliance" ostensibly to prevent world domination through unity.

We get to focus on actual football being played in a matter of hours. Thankfully so, as logic is hard to find in this clumsy preseason power struggle.

The unveiling of this mysterious-sounding alliance suggests that further realignment isn't in the offing, meaning those Kansas-to-the-Big Ten rumors might not come true. Yet.

Expansion speculation cannot be dismissed entirely, though, regardless of what conferences say publicly. The alliance triumvirate didn't seal their agreement in a formal contract. Nope, they settled on an "agreement between three gentlemen," according to Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, in which they promised to trust each other's word. "We've looked each other in the eye," added ACC boss Jim Phillips.

Did they conclude their meeting with a wink and a pinky swear, too?

The alliance leaders spoke glowingly about their mutual interests and shared philosophy in how college sports should function — and that's probably all true — but their primary motivation feels like an attempt to prevent the SEC and ESPN from serving as dictators of college football.

So, basically, it's about money.

That helps explain why the alliance omitted the Big 12 from their club. The Big 12 suddenly is walking a tightrope of uncertainty and can't offer with any clarity how it will look once the Big Two bolt for the SEC in a few years.

The strength-in-numbers alliance will provide some obvious benefits. The three conferences can have partnerships in scheduling and TV/media deals. They also created a voting bloc to flex their unified muscle on big-ticket decisions, namely in discussions over expanding the College Football Playoff. The alliance will carry a loud voice in determining the structure, rules and timing of the 12-team playoff proposal, which should prevent the SEC/ESPN from running roughshod.

Once news of the Texas-Oklahoma two-step became public, my initial thought was that the Big Ten should look west and extend an invitation to Southern Cal and UCLA. Why not be bold and creative in trying to strengthen its own brand?

Tradition and regionalism have been rendered meaningless in modern day college athletics. That's still hard to accept sometimes, but conference leaders see gold in new TV markets and ever-expanding geographic footprint.

If the Big Ten found value in Rutgers and Maryland as new frontiers, imagine the attractiveness of the Los Angeles market with USC's and UCLA's brand appeal.

The Big Ten is not under any threat of having one of its members poached by another conference. The league's TV contracts dwarf all but the SEC in terms of revenue distribution. No Big Ten school is going to walk away from an annual payout of more than $50 million and other perks that come with membership in such a historical conference.

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren apparently has chosen stability over inciting more upheaval by joining the alliance. The Big Ten's long-standing relationship with the Pac-12 likely discouraged any idea of possibly courting their members, if there even was that thought.

How this whole alliance thing will function beyond scheduling agreements still needs to be explained in more detail. And without an official contract, one wonders if their partnership will survive long term. A gentleman's agreement might bring temporary calm, but college sports are changing rapidly and chaos never seems too far away.


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