#WarOfTheRoses: Big Ten and Pac-12 Expand Partnership, Change Football Landscape


College basketball has had cross-conference showcases for more than a decade, starting with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, later adding the Big 12/Pac-10/12 Challenge, SEC-Big East Challenge and even the Missouri Valley-Mountain Challenge. Aside from the redundant use of the challenge, these partnerships are an innovative means for conferences guaranteeing their members marquee, top dollar games sure to draw national attention.

The one-and-done nature of football’s regular season blocked such a movement on the gridiron. Leave it to Larry Scott, the Pac-12 commissioner who in his short tenure has already made Big Kahuna-sized waves, to break the mold. As first reported by The New York Times Pete Thamel, Scott and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany announced their leagues would begin cross-promoting in similar fashion on the football field starting in 2017.

It seems only fitting that this revolutionizing of college football would come from the two leagues that, when they first agreed to participate in the Rose Bowl together, began a trend that has endured nearly a century. A tip of the cap to the Granddaddy Of ‘Em All is in order in this new, annual clash. May I be the first to suggest “War Of The Roses?”

But the new partnership goes well beyond just one Saturday of games every fall. This could mark a dramatic shift in the college sports landscape.

Super conferences are no new concept. During the 2010 and 2011 realignment periods, the idea of such leagues was discussed to the point of that the phrase “super conference” began to lose meaning. Nearly everyone with an opinion agreed on what exactly a super conference would entail: 16 teams in two divisions spanning multiple time zones and television markets. This merger creates the inevitable super conference, yet maintains the historic integrity of each conference’s traditions.

The super conference is here, but it’s not what pundits envisioned. This Big Ten/Pac-12 partnership is a pooling together of resources. It’s the United States and Soviet Union aligning. It’s Apple and Microsoft product-sharing. It’s Macho Man and Hulk Hogan teaming up.

OK, so that’s hyperbolic. But it is a reformatting of the game’s power structure.

Perhaps most impressive is that this aligning of megastars is without the guidance of the 6-ton mouse that stands in the corner of the room every time sports make a dramatic change. An interesting caveat of the Big Ten and Pac-12 partnership is the promise of shared appearances on each other’s television networks — neither of which is powered by ESPN. There are suits in Disney-Land (not the amusement park) assuredly fuming over this merger, as it means just five years from now, the largest combined presence in the ever-growing college football market is outside of their Magic Kingdom.

A counter-attack is inevitable, and one can bet that the heavyweight SEC will be at the forefront. Since the Pac-12 brokered a record-breaking television in the spring, assumptions have been that the next deal awaiting college football’s undisputed top conference would lift the benchmark even higher. The SEC would be an intriguing mantle piece for another such cross-league partnership, but where does it go? Is the Big 12 a viable option considering its instability? The ongoing failure of the Longhorn Network suggests ESPN isn’t quite as prepared for this regional concept that makes the new Pac-12 Network so profitable.

Furthermore, are SEC athletic programs prepared to sacrifice a week of their non-conference schedule for a forced Big Six conference match-up? Lastly, virtually any partnership will be seen as a downgrade for the league. The top is a lonely place to be, but any hypothetical ESPN-led partnership would have to feature the SEC lest it be watered down.