Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, December 28, 2011
How exciting would it be to see Wisconsin play USC in the Rose Bowl to kick off a season? Well, It could happen under a new partnership announced today by the Big Ten and Pac-12 that will include inter-conference scheduling across all sports as well as cross-promotion on each league's TV network.
"It's sort of in lieu of what some other people are doing (with expansion)," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said. "Our idea is you can't stand still. You have to build in an environment where people are competing for attention, where they're competing to have the best competitive assets and to present themselves in the best way. I think both of us believe ? this is the most constructive way for us to do that."
By 2017, each Big Ten and Pac-12 team will play a non-conference football game against a foe from the other league. And one of those scheduled games could be played at a venue like the Rose Bowl in a season "kickoff" event. In fact, it's thought Big Ten and Pac-12 could kickoff matchups at NFL venues across the nation as a way of christening the season. It would be similar to the annual SEC-ACC matchup in Atlanta that takes place the first weekend of the season.
Men's basketball could have a similar arrangement, as Big Ten and Pac-12 schools would meet in NBA facilities across the nation in early season matchups.
"This makes a lot of sense," said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, "in terms of continuing to broaden our exposure and improving programming and improving the caliber of our schools' matchups."
Imagine Michigan playing host to Arizona and Rich Rodriguez in Detroit's Ford Field? Or Iowa playing USC in the Rose Bowl? Washington playing Illinois in Soldier Field in Chicago? UCLA playing Ohio State in Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati? Cal playing Penn State at the Philadelphia Eagles' venue?
Exciting possibilities. And the same type of tantalizing games could take place in hoops, too. But know this: For football, the amped up schedules could make winning a national championship more difficult.
"It probably does," said Delany. "But we think it will help out programs, recruitment, television ? and ultimately we would be awarded. This is pro-fan, for the fan, for the player and for recruitment. But that's just one aspect of the overall take."
Faced with playing tougher non-league schedules, it's not known how this will impact how Big Ten schools fill out their non-conference schedules. In particular, what does this mean for the Big Ten schools-Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State–that play Notre Dame on a regular basis? Will they no longer schedule the Irish?
Another possible causality of the new scheduling arrangement: The Big Ten's plans for a nine-game conference schedule. The league was planning to implement it in 2017; but that idea may be nixed. However, the Pac-12 will continue plans to play a nine-game conference menu.
While the Big Ten's plans for an expanded league schedule may be off, this new alliance doesn't necessarily mean the end of something else: expansion by the Big Ten and Pac-12. But there no plans for either league to grow at this time.
"I don't think it would foreclose any future possibility, but I think this is recognition that we're not anticipating any expansion in the foreseeable future," Scott said. "It takes some of the pressure off of feeling like you need to expand. It's a new, creative approach to deriving some of the same benefits ? and it's a very natural, genuine fit for us."
"Any issue on expansion," Delany said, "will have to be dealt with on its merits at the time it arose, given all circumstances. I don't think it's any more of a red light than it was before this was conceived and discussed."
Bottom line: Delany and Scott will continue to do what they think is best to enhance the profile, academics and revenue of their respective conferences. Recent history tells us that.
Delany launched the ground-breaking BTN in the summer of 2007. In 2011, the conference welcomed Nebraska to swell its ranks to 12 teams and added a league title game.
The Pac-12 has evolved and changed at a quick pace under Scott, who was hired in July 2009 and continues to modernize the storied league. Scott nearly pulled off a huge coup in the summer of 2010 by making his conference a 16-team league when he flirted with the additions of Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. This year, the Pac-12 did expand by adding Colorado and Utah and implementing a league title game.
Scott hasn't stopped there. He traveled to China earlier this month, hatching plans for the Pac-12 to play games there in the next three to five years with hopes that the league's games would someday be available there on TV. Scott also is contemplating playing games in Central America, India and South America.
And, over the summer, the Pac-12 announced it would launch its own TV network in 2012, kicking off this August.
Now, the Pac-12 has forged this partnership with the Big Ten, which some fear may be a step to all the major conferences pulling out of the NCAA. But that's not the case.
"I don't think there's anything about this that has an effect on the NCAA and the way it operates," Scott said. "Conferences and schools have long histories of collaboration in different areas. This goes further, and is deeper, but it's not a political statement."
But it is a statement about the growing strength of the Big Ten and Pac-12 on the college sports landscape.
Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com. Find all of his work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow Dienhart on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his RSS feed.