Who needs to expand when you can collaborate? That's the message from the Big Ten and Pac-12 on Wednesday, one that should be greeted with applause from fans of both conferences.
A collaboration, in this case, means the Rose Bowl conferences will play each other annually, instead of just in the Rose Bowl and a couple of annual nonconference tilts.
The collaboration will get off the ground faster in basketball and Olympic sports, but by 2017 the conferences are expected to have a full, 12-game Pac-12/Big Ten football schedule in place. Yes, every Pac-12 team will play a Big Ten team on an annual basis.
What does this mean for you?
Well, it means Michigan-USC and Oregon-Ohio State: Marquee games that will move the buzz needle nationally. But it also means teams with smaller stadiums -- Utah, Washington State, Oregon State, etc. -- are going to get quality games annually that put them in the spotlight.
From the news release:
In football, the objective is to create an annual 12 inter-conference game schedule between the two conferences by the 2017 season. The plan calls for each school to play an opponent from the other conference every year with some flexibility built into the process to respect existing post-2017 FBS non- conference match-ups. Additionally, more inter-conference games are expected to appear sooner based on schedule openings. Many sports, including men’s and women’s basketball, could see an increased level of inter-conference competition in the near term, possibly as early as the 2012-13 academic year. Over the coming months there will be a series of detailed scheduling planning meetings among administrators of both conferences to work out exact details.
“As other conferences continue to grow through expansion, we believe there is great merit in deepening the historic relationship between the Big Ten and Pac-12,” Big Ten Commissioner James E. Delany said in a statement. “We believe that both conferences can preserve that sense of collegiality and still grow nationally by leveraging our commonalities in a way that benefits student-athletes, fans and alumni. This collaboration can and will touch many institutional undertakings, and will complement our academic and athletic missions.”
ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski writes:
It isn't a merger, but the cleverly constructed "collaborative effort'' (as the official press release describes it) provides the Pac-12 and the Big Ten with some of the benefits of expansion without the mess of exit fees, litigation and the loss of historical rivalries. And from a strategic standpoint, the arrangement could broaden the geographical, television and brand reach of both conferences.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told Wojciechowsk this collaboration puts the breaks on expansion.
"We've obviously explored the possibility of going beyond 12 [teams],'' Scott said. "I've been a believer, philosophically, of that if it made sense. Now I don't see us expanding anytime in the foreseeable future. A lot of what we can do through collaborating with the Big Ten will help us accomplish some of the same things.''
What sorts of things?
For one, it's about good games that generate buzz, which means more revenue. It also means high-quality content for broadcast partners ESPN and Fox as well as the Big Ten and Pac-12 Networks. For athletic directors, their job of scheduling three nonconference games a year just got easier. It also should benefit recruiting in terms of exposure in big markets.
Yes, the Big Ten knows playing regular games in California could help it, and probably more than the Pac-12 playing in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Still, the bottom line is this was some forward-thinking that has the potential to benefit everyone while preserving two conferences that value tradition.
And, best of all, it should produce some really great games.