- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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The once-planned, never-materialized Pac-12/Big Ten regular-season alliance is but a fleeting memory. But the the new bowl agreements between the two leagues might be the next best thing.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 will now meet three times in the postseason, as the two leagues officially announced Monday their involvement in the Holiday and Kraft Fight Hunger bowls, to go along with their cherished Rose Bowl partnership. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was disappointed when the original alliance fell through, but now he's got three guaranteed postseason games against the league which shares the most in common with his own.
"Our schools probably play each other as much as any other, and that goes back a long time," Delany said. "Collaborations don't happen very much because they're difficult. We had some difficulties on our side, and [Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott] had some on his side. But what that didn't do is, it didn't interrupt the communication. It didn't interrupt the desire to create good matchups. ...
"That was a plane that didn't fly, but once it didn't fly, I'm on to doing something else. And this is a really good something else."
Scott said the bowl partnerships didn't come about as a result of the failed alliance but that "our conferences have a tremendous affiliation for one another."
"We have looked for ways to play each other more often, in a more systematic, formalized way," Scott said. "But even in informal ways, our teams like to play each other.
"We had some communication during this process, but each conference goes about this process independently. I would say it's something we were warm to, something we welcomed but not directly tied to what we tried to do [previously]."
While it would have been great to see both leagues partner up for regular-season games, that was always going to be unwieldy, as different programs have different philosophies and agendas. Now, several Big Ten teams should get a chance to rotate through three great California cities with San Diego and San Francisco added to the mix.
OK, so the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl will technically be held in Santa Clara, Calif., site of the new Levi's Stadium. But Scott said that bowl "will take a big leap forward" when it moves there from its current location in AT&T Park in San Francisco. The game also will now have the No. 4 pick from Pac-12 teams, greatly elevating its status.
The only potential drawback is the cost of travel. Flying to California and staying in hotels in the Bay Area and San Diego is not exactly cheap. But the Big Ten does have plenty of fans already in that region.
"We're fortunate," Delany said. "We have the largest alumni bases in the country -- probably the world. I think we're probably pushing on 5 million living alums. They are all married to someone. They've got kids. And they're dispersed. The Midwest is a great place to live, but so is the West Coast. And so is the Sun Belt.
"I think we've got 300,000-plus alums living in the West Coast. Probably 250,000 in the southern third of California. But another very large and significant group in the Bay Area. I think it's great for our fans and I think our fans are going to enjoy traveling there too. San Francisco is not a town we play in very much unless we're playing Cal or Stanford. So to be able to come there and make plans, I think it's exciting for our fan base."
Some fans may grumble about the distance, but is it any more expensive than traveling to Florida or Arizona for bowls in the past? And Big Ten fans, as Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl boss Gary Cavalli put it, "are used to coming out to the West Coast for college football games." Holiday Bowl executive director Bruce Binkowski summed up the appeal of his game pretty succinctly: "It's San Diego in December."
It's hard to beat that. And as a consolation prize for the once-planned, never-materialized Pac-12/Big Ten alliance, this looks pretty good, too.
8hDavid M. Hale