Over the course of the last 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a remarkable impact on college athletics. Yet, even without the pandemic being a part of the equation, the last year and a half has been remarkably busy in the college sports world.
“Yeah, just ask my wife,” Colorado athletic director Rick George said with a laugh during a conversation with BuffZone last month. “It’s been a challenging 18 months but it’s exciting. Change is good and we’ll adapt and we’ll be nimble and we’ll be thoughtful on what’s best for Colorado.”
Between social justice initiatives; new legislation to allow for student-athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness; possible expansion of the College Football Playoff; two of the nation’s marquee schools changing conferences; and other issues, college sports has gone through a lot recently.
The latest development is an alliance announced Tuesday between the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC, which George believes will greatly benefit those three conferences, and CU specifically.
“Through collaboration, we believe that we can positively influence the future evolution of college athletics,” George said during a press conference Tuesday at the UCHealth Champions Center.
“There’s a lot going on in our industry, I think everybody knows that. And I think this alliance allows us to collaborate on these issues and brings stability to college athletics and the collegiate model.”
The alliance comes on the heels of a significant power shift in college sports over the past month. Big 12 heavyweights Oklahoma and Texas have started the process of joining the SEC, which was already the most powerful conference in the country. Those two schools are scheduled to join the SEC in July of 2025, but many believe that move will happen sooner – perhaps even next year.
In response, the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC have decided to join forces – sort of. There is no contract or formal agreement between the three conferences. Instead, it is a handshake agreement to collaborate on a number of issues, including academics, diversity, social justice, gender equity, and the future structure of the NCAA and the College Football Playoff.
The alliance will also include some scheduling agreements among the 41 schools in football, women’s basketball and men’s basketball.
It is somewhat of a symbolic move at the moment in an effort to get the three most powerful conferences outside of the SEC to be on the same page, particularly when it comes to potential CFP expansion and other significant NCAA issues. Yet, despite some national skepticism about the non-binding alliance, George said it is a significant development.
“It’s important and I think the commissioners (of the three conferences) really laid that out really well on their thought process,” George said. “We don’t need a contract if you trust the people that you’re working with and we certainly do. When you have all 41 ADs, all 41 presidents, all three of the conference commissioners, that word is important.”
For CU specifically, the alliance provides an opportunity to enhance what has already been a major point of emphasis for George during his tenure: providing a better all-around experience for the student-athletes.
“I think it’s going to allow our student-athletes to compete on a bigger stage, having some marquee games around the country,” George said. “I think it’s going to bring visibility to our department and our university playing on the east coast to the west coast.
“I just think that there’s so many positives on this alignment, and what it will look like. … I think the 41 institutions in this alliance are really like-minded in that they are really focused on the same things, and the student-athlete perspective is going to be important.”
The alliance will likely lead to some marquee events between the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 in men’s and women’s basketball and other sports. It could also lead to some intriguing matchups in football.
For now, however, CU doesn’t have to alter its future football schedule. CU has 31 of 36 non-conference game spots filled for 2022-33, and there is at least one ACC or Big Ten opponent on the schedule every year from 2021-27.
In the near future, the Pac-12 will decide whether to continue with a nine-game conference schedule in football or move to eight. There will also be a discussion about whether or not to keep the conference split into two divisions.
How the alliance impacts CFP expansion, media rights contracts for the three conferences and other issues remain to be seen, as well.
While no immediate changes are taking place with Tuesday’s announced alliance, George believes it’s a positive step for CU, the Pac-12 and college sports.
“This is about what’s best for the collegiate model,” he said. “It’s about what’s best for our conference, and what’s best for the University of Colorado. … We think that this alliance will help bring some stability to the collegiate model and to intercollegiate athletics. There’s a lot on our plate. I think working collaboratively together with them – and our peers at the SEC and the Big 12 – I think that’s important. But we felt like this was the right move at this point in time for us to address a lot of the issues that we have in our industry today.”