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Behind The Newly-Announced Athletic Conference Alliance


In college football, there are five athletic conferences considered elite - the Power Five. Yesterday, three of them announced an alliance.


JAMES PHILLIPS: To the three of us, this was a chance for a new direction, a new initiative that I don't think has ever been done before.

CORNISH: ACC Commissioner James Phillips - The Big Ten and Pac-12 also joined in. Now, what this alliance will actually do isn't clear, so we brought in Nicole Auerbach, who covers college football for The Athletic. Welcome back to the show.

NICOLE AUERBACH: Yeah, thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So this alliance was announced on Tuesday. Do we have any sense on the purpose? What did they say it's for? And do we have any idea of what it'll look like?

AUERBACH: We don't know the extent of it. We know that at some point they hope to have football games scheduled against each other on an annual basis. And we know that they want to work together and possibly vote together on major policy and governance issues. But it's very vague by design, I think, right now because it's at very early stages. So they're trying to say, hey, we're on the same team. We're working together on stuff. We see college athletics in a similar way.

CORNISH: Interesting, because the universities of Texas and Oklahoma agreed to leave the Big 12 conference, and they went to the Southeastern Conference, or they're planning to in the next few years. Can you talk about what all this movement is about?

AUERBACH: Well, the SEC adding Texas and Oklahoma is a major power move, and I think that's what led to the formation of this alliance, because you had a lot of pressure on the other power conferences to do something in response and to show strength and to show might. And so they banded together essentially to say strength in numbers. So they banded together, say we have 41 schools across our three leagues and we are going to stay united, and that is our response. It will include aspects like football scheduling. It will include, you know, stances on playoff expansion. But really it's about doing something in response to what the SEC did. It's a countermove to an aggressive move of the SEC adding two blue bloods (ph) to their league.

CORNISH: Right. And the College Football Playoff, which crowns the national champion, has been publicly talking about an expansion. Is the alliance trying to look for, somehow, a voice in that decision? I mean, I know there's a lot of money at stake.

AUERBACH: Yeah, I think the three commissioners involved in the alliance really want their input as part of the process for the playoff expansion. There was a four-person working group that came up with the proposal for a 12-team format, which is what is being vetted right now. And the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 were not on that four-person working group. So I think this is one way for them to exert influence as a bloc and make sure that the aspects of the proposal that they support are in there.

CORNISH: Can you talk about why this matters? I mean, for people who think, like, well, there's the you know, NCAA - there's all kinds of sort of governing bodies. What's the reason why we should care about kind of the alliance of various athletic conferences?

AUERBACH: Well, the NCAA has never been more fractured and less powerful than it is right now, which is part of the reason it is facing calls for drastic change. College athletics is at this inflection point, and everyone's trying to figure out, what are ways that we can position ourselves to help chart our own course? And the SEC did that by adding Texas and Oklahoma and renegotiating its media rights deals for a massive deal with ESPN recently. But these other conferences have to figure that out, too. How do they get a say in the future? So that's what this is really about. It's trying to figure out what the next five and 10 years of college sports look like.

CORNISH: Nicole Auerbach, a senior writer for The Athletic, where she covers college football, thank you for explaining this all to us.

AUERBACH: Absolutely. Anytime.

(SOUNDBITE OF PARQUET COURTS SONG, "WIDE AWAKE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.