It’s been two days since three Power 5 commissioners sat in front of cameras, matching backdrops behind them, and talked about a new alliance they described as a “collaborative approach surrounding the future evolution of college athletics and scheduling.” If you watched the press conference, you know it was long on talking points and cliches, short on details. And the fact that there’s no formal pact — nothing in writing, just a so-called gentlemen’s agreement — is reason enough to roll your eyes because as soon as the ACC, Big Ten or Pac-12 decides their interests run counter to whatever alliance has been created, trust me, this new partnership will fall to the wayside, in part because there’s literally nothing preventing it.
In other words, I’ll believe this matters when it matters.
For now, it mostly seems like little more than a reaction to the SEC’s recent aggressiveness that damaged the Big 12 and separated Greg Sankey’s league from the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12. For now, it mostly seems like little more than a way to keep the SEC in check and ensure the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 play a big role in determining how and when the College Football Playoff is expanded, where the new games will be played, and what television networks are involved. Very little of this has anything to do with basketball.
But basketball was mentioned.
In short, the three conferences have committed to working together to create non-league games between their member institutions — both early season games and midseason games. So we could someday get UCLA at Duke, Michigan at Oregon and/or North Carolina at Arizona. Which sounds great to me. The more interesting matchups, the better. But coaches of good mid-major programs — coaches like Jeff Boals at Ohio, Drew Valentine at Loyola Chicago, Grant McCasland at North Texas and Rick Stansbury at Western Kentucky, just to name a few — must be reading this with great frustration. Because what they have to know, deep down, is that every non-league game schools from the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 schedule against each other is one less non-league opportunity against a Power 5 opponent for them.
So the separation continues.
For a while now, it’s been difficult bordering on impossible for mid-major programs to sign home-and-home series with power-conference members. Well, if this alliance holds up, it’s about to get even harder, which will make it more challenging than ever for mid-majors to build at-large resumes for the NCAA Tournament.
It’s a trick decades old.
The power-conference schools largely refuse to play quality mid-major programs (unless it’s on slanted terms), then they spend the days leading up to Selection Sunday screaming about how the quality mid-major programs “didn’t play anybody” while ignoring the fact that they’re the reason. Round and round it goes. And now, at least in theory, this very real issue in the sport will be exacerbated.
Is any of this the point of the alliance?
It’s just a byproduct.
But it does serve as evidence that the divide between haves and have-nots will soon get bigger, never smaller. And it’s a reminder that the majority of teams playing Division I basketball have no realistic chance to create an at-large resume, meaning their NCAA Tournament hopes will always be tied to a single-elimination conference tournament played in early March with pretty much everything happening in advance of that week deemed mostly inconsequential.