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Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Delany discusses partnership with Pac-12

By Adam Rittenberg

I had a chance to speak with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany earlier this afternoon about the league's new scheduling and branding partnership with the Pac-12 Conference, set to begin in 2017 for football.

Here are some of the topics we discussed:

CONFERENCE SCHEDULES

The scheduling partnership means the Big Ten won't be moving from eight conference games to nine beginning in the 2017 season. The league had announced the increase in August.

"If it's not off the board, it's coming off the board," Delany said. "When this opportunity was raised, it's pretty much the understanding that it's in lieu of."

The lingering concern with nine-game conference schedules was the 5-4 split with home and road games, which would create inequities every season. The nine-game league slates also ensured the Big Ten of six more losses each season. With the Pac-12 agreement, "you might have less [losses], you might have more, but they'll all be home and away and they'll all be intersectional."

Delany reiterated a point he has made for months in quashing expansion rumors: that Big Ten teams want to play each other more often than less. While that won't happen with this announcement, the Pac-12 opportunity provides the type of nonconference scheduling enhancement, much like the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in basketball, that couldn't be passed up.

"We have a chance to do some things, through this coordination, in neutral markets and major cities and large arenas that we otherwise couldn't do," Delany said. "... We've really taken that concept of the nonconference games and expanded it to another conference that we have a lot of shared history with and a lot of shared vision with. It really increases the scope and reach of both conferences in a national way in a way that hasn't been done before."

OTHER NONCONFERENCE SERIES

One concern with the Pac-12 scheduling partnership is how it would impact other longstanding Big Ten nonconfernence series such as Michigan-Notre Dame and Iowa-Iowa State.

The answer: not much if at all.

While Delany said the Big Ten has no position on how its schools schedule outside the conference, his hope is that the venture won't impact historic rivalries. The decision to stick with eight conference games makes this a lot easier. Athletic directors like Dave Brandon (Michigan) and Gary Barta (Iowa) already have stated that their historic series with Notre Dame and Iowa State, respectively, will continue as scheduled.

DETERMINING THE MATCHUPS

One difference between the Big Ten-Pac-12 football scheduling and the ACC-Big Ten challenge in basketball is that television will have a decreased role in determining the matchups. The football games will be scheduled collaboratively by the two leagues and its members.

"We haven't involved television and I don't expect we would," Delany said. "We may ask an opinion, but like the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, television is integral to putting that together. ... Most importantly, it will be home-away-neutral, and I think there will be movement of games and opponents. But the notion of competitive equity would probably be the No. 1 aspect."

We could see six home-and-away series in 2017 and 2018 and then the matchups would shift. Another possibility is creating three pods of eight teams, four from each league, where each team would play the four from the other conference. These pods could be determined by teams' track record.

Delany said the games likely would take place in the second, third and fourth weeks of the season, although he didn't rule out having them during the opening weekend.

The two leagues already have quite a few games scheduled for the next three seasons. The idea is to increase that number in 2015 and 2016 with the goal of having 12 matchups in 2017. Some of the already finalized series could be rolled into the new partnership.

NATIONAL APPEAL

The Big Ten and Pac-12 noted that the partnership is an alternative to the expansions done by other conferences. But the venture also enhances both leagues' profiles -- especially because of the impact on both the Big Ten and Pac-12 television networks -- and in turn makes them more attractive to expansion candidates.

Quite a few folks have already commented that the move makes the Big Ten more appealing to a school like Notre Dame, which plays nearly half of its football games against Big Ten or Pac-12 schools.

Asked about becoming more attractive to expansion candidates, Delany said, "I don't know about that. You're always trying to become more attractive, whether it's the games or television or the collegiality, whether you're doing bowl tie-ins or ACC challenges or expansion, you're always trying to become more attractive. ... That probably has benefits in terms of television down the road, growth of the network."

The Big Ten's current TV deal expires in 2016.

THE PROCESS

Former Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther, now a consultant to the Big Ten, played an integral role in brainstorming the partnership. With further expansion unlikely, Delany asked Guenther and others to think about ways the Big Ten still could grow its brand.

An agreement with the Pac-12 seemed like a natural move.

"He said, 'This is a group that's got a lot of commonality, a lot of history,'" Delany said. "They go from the Canadian border to Mexico, and from the Pacific to Colorado. We go right up to Colorado, take it out to Pennsylvania. We have 12, they have 12, broad-based programs.

"I challenged Ron with, 'Hey, what's the next thing?' I didn't have in mind this."

Athletic directors from both conferences met in New York on Dec. 7. Another group of ADs and conference officials then met in Denver, while some university presidents from both leagues met in San Francisco. Delany and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott then met with their respective presidents before finalizing the agreement.

"Everybody is good in terms of the concept," Delany said. "Now we have got to execute over time, but we have that time."