Item: Where do Syracuse sports programs go from the 2020s into the 2030s? It’s going to take some time to sort the fallout of the latest round of major conference reconfiguration, but the dominoes are sure to fall in reaction to the Big Ten and SEC flexing its muscles over the ACC, Big 12 and Pac 12. As the decade proceeds, either Syracuse is going to be a player with a seat at the major college football table, or relegated to being just outside the room looking in.
Talk about a buzzkill.
It wasn’t 48 hours after the ACC was patting itself on the back last Tuesday (June 28) after releasing its new 3-5-5 schedule format, ensuring that every team would play each of the other 13 leagues members home and away over a four-year cycle to enhance the conference brand, that the ACC’s own NIL took a huge hit with the shocking announcement that UCLA and USC had jumped ship from the Pac 12 to the Big Ten.
Now the Big Ten and SEC are at 16 conference members and likely counting, further widening the annual revenue payouts to their programs by more than double the other Power Five leagues. Just like that, the widely-proclaimed announcement of not even 11 months ago that the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac 12 had reached an “historic alliance that will bring 41 world-class institutions together on a collaborative approach surrounding the future evolution of college athletics and scheduling,” went pfft, up in smoke.
Reading back on the media release quotes from the three conference commissioners that day (August 24, 2021), is now comical.
ACC’s Jim Phillips: “The alliance will ensure that the educational outcomes and experiences for student-athletes participating at the highest level of collegiate athletics will remain the driving factor in all decisions moving forward.”
Big Ten’s Kevin Warren: “Today, through this alliance, we furthered our commitment to our student-athletes by prioritizing our academics and athletics value systems.”
Pac 12’s George Kliavkoff: “The historic alliance announced today between the Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten is grounded in a commitment to our student-athletes.”
For the student-athletes benefit? Nothing could be further from the truth. Last week’s move by the administrations at UCLA and USC was to grab as much of an annual payout as possible for their schools, timing their move to coincide with the Big Ten ramping up its new linear and digital broadcast rights deals this summer which are now sure to top $1 billion dollars a year with the fortuitous addition of the No. 2 ranked Los Angeles market.
There’s no benefit to student-athletes having to constantly fly thousands of miles and some 11-12 hours roundtrip in some instances to play a conference road game.
Just as former commissioner Mike Tranghese once told the league’s patriarch Dave Gavitt in the early Big East conference days (1982) that the league “will rue the day” they decided to vote against Penn State joining the basketball-centric association to eventually build out an Eastern football model, relatively new commissioner Phillips may have just experienced his “will rue the day” moment.
This past January during the weekend preceding the CFP title game in Indianapolis, Phillips led the ACC pushback against expanding the College Football Playoff from four to 12 teams before the current TV contract with ESPN ends following the 2025 season. That proposal had been on the table since June 2021, and the move irked SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, a member of the four-person subcommittee of the CFP Board of Managers who thought the issues concerning athletes’ welfare, academics, and the length of the season had been addressed in the intervening eight months.
With the SEC adding Texas and Oklahoma in 2025 and already dominating the four team CFP format with five of the eight champions since its debut in 2015, there’s no incentive for Sankey or now Warren, for that matter, to worry about an expanded bracket. The two leagues could simply hold their own playoff for either TV partners FOX or ESPN.
In the meantime, with a media grant of rights provision in place through the 2035-36 academic year, ACC teams are locked into the current conference alignment. But as each year goes by and school attorney’s scourer contracts and financial administrators crunch the numbers, the ACC and Syracuse athletics will either evolve or face certain change in the new world order of major college football.