The Alliance: How a B1G-Pac12-ACC non-con scheduling agreement should work

tl;dr version: How a B1G-Pac12-ACC non-con scheduling alliance should work.

In The Athletic today, Nicole Auerbach reports that the Big Ten, Pac-12, and ACC are expected to announce the framework of their alliance (a.k.a. The Alliance), possibly as soon as next week. Per Auerbach:

It's not yet clear how specific the announcement will be because there are so many details to iron out, although administrators in all three leagues have stressed in recent conversations that issues of governance can and should be front and center.

Schools within the three conferences believe they are like-minded, that they want to continue to prioritize broad-based sports offerings and that the academic profile of their institutions matters — as does graduating athletes. For example, Big Ten schools sponsor an average of 24.8 sports per campus, with the ACC (23.8) and Pac-12 (22.9) not far behind. SEC schools offer an average of 19.9 sports.

Now, ensuring that a broad number of non-revenue sports continue to be offered is admirable, and maybe these conferences will finally start doing the correct things in terms of governance in regards to player health, safety, and well-being (though I'm not holding my breathe on that one). But as fans, we probably care most about the scheduling aspect -- how should it work? Can we make this work?

Folks, it can work. And it can be spectacular. But we need to be slightly, though not excessively, creative.

First, a couple ground rules, prerequisites, and thoughts on incentives:

  • We're not combining conferences here (otherwise the conference commissioners would not be signing off on it). This is non-conference only, and football only (though I completely support incorporating or even expanding this idea into non-conference for other sports where it makes sense).
  • We're going to presume that the 12-team playoff (6 highest ranked conference champions, 6 at-large) happens. I think you have to assume it happens, solely because a scheduling alliance like this doesn't work in an era where 1 non-con loss might sink your playoff chances.
  • Relatedly, and you'll see why in a moment, we're going to presume conferences ditch divisions and move to a conference schedule where every team has a few locked rivals and rotates the rest. The exact format doesn't matter, what matters is you get a 1-14 standings at the end of every season.
  • On that note: the Pac-12 has 12 teams. The B1G and ACC have 14. So, we're going to assign 2 other programs to the Pac-12 to even things out a bit. One is BYU -- an independent, located in the Pac-12 footprint, decent fan following (it's going to have to agree to have its games played on networks affiliated with the B1G/ACC/Pac12 though). The second could/should be Notre Dame, which has some surmountable complications as you'll see. If not Notre Dame, we're grabbing Army or Boise State.
  • The goal here is money (ticket sales) and eyeballs (on television). As Andy Staples pointed out in The Athletic, the goal from networks is having more high profile games that draw more than 4 million eyeballs (or around there). The Alliance has to try to do that in its schedule.
  • That being said, there has to be some variety here -- trust me, no Northwestern fan wants to be stuck with Stanford and Duke into perpetuity, and I'm sure as cool as it may seem initially, Ohio State playing Clemson and Oregon or USC every year might get boring/stale too. And teams fluctuate in their quality, too -- imagine telling yourself in 1997 that Florida State-Michigan would be a matchup of two terrible teams? (Not that I'm not enjoying that fact...)
With those ground rules in place, here's the plan:

  • 2 non-conference games, with each team getting a road game and a home game.
  • Even years: ACC at B1G, B1G at Pac12, Pac12 at ACC. Odd years: B1G at ACC, Pac12 at B1G, ACC at Pac12.
  • The "non-con challenge" weeks are set in advance, ideally between late September and mid-late October (you'll need 3 weeks, one for each "challenge" listed above). As a B1G fan I’d love one in November, but I bet other conferences balk at that. All teams in the Alliance set the two weeks they're involved in as TBD on their schedules -- they'll know whether they're home or away, but they won't know the opponent.
  • At the end of the season before the Alliance begins (and the end of each subsequent season), you rank the teams 1-14 in each conference (based on rankings, SP+, etc.), and group them into top 5, middle 5, bottom 4.
  • Now here’s the fun part: on conference media days in the summer, you draw the opponent you host based on your own finish from the previous year (if you’re top 5, you draw from the top 5 "hat" of the conference that’s visiting, etc.), and you find out (when the conference you’re a visitor for draws) where you’ll play. Ideally you do this in primetime on your conference network, making a spectacle of it that will draw some eyeballs on a random weeknight in the middle of the summer.
    • If Notre Dame is part of this and with the Pac12 for purposes of this Alliance, you'd have to modify this slightly, given that Notre Dame has guaranteed 5 ACC games every year and you couldn't play the same opponent twice. So, under this plan, Notre Dame drops down to 4 ACC games a year plus whoever they draw from ACC/whoever from the ACC draws them in this challenge (depending on the year), with the caveat that when Notre Dame draws any ACC team it has already scheduled is removed from the hat, and when any ACC team that already has Notre Dame on its schedule draws from a hat containing Notre Dame, Notre Dame is taken out before they draw. If Notre Dame schedules a B1G opponent in non-con, it'd be handled the same way.
Why is this idea brilliant? A couple reasons:
  • First, think back to 2020, and what was one of the most memorable games of the season: BYU vs. Coastal Carolina. It was a matchup of two highly ranked teams that spontaneously came together at the last minute. This Alliance captures some of that spontaneity and arguably the "highly ranked matchup" part (albeit based off of the finish the year before).
  • Second, and as an improvement on the last minute BYU vs. Coastal Carolina game, this gives fans a couple months to plan road trips/buy tickets, and for TV networks to promote the games/put them in cool time slots, etc. You draw at media days in July, and that gives fans a couple months to plan a road trip if they want to see their team play in a particularly cool venue (or plan a monster tailgate when a great opposing team comes to visit).
  • Third, this makes B1G/Pac-12/ACC Media Days absolutely ginormous. If I'm a B1G fan and I know my team is travelling to the Pac-12 this year as part of the challenge, I'm now paying attention to Pac12 media days to see the draw and where my team lands. Vice versa for all the other conferences. Moreover, as each "draw" occurs, there's going to be a week of analysis by media/fans: Who got an easy draw? Who got a hard draw? What matchups are most exciting? How will these impact the 12-team playoff race? Etc. etc.
  • Fourth, this balances the desire for those 4+ million matchups with some fluctuation/randomness to avoid staleness. You're going to get Ohio State vs. Clemson/USC/Oregon a lot, simply because those teams are perennially in the top 5 "hat" for their conference. But sometimes you'll get Ohio State vs. Miami or UNC or Washington instead. Some years, Northwestern is in the top 5 hat, other years they're in the middle 5, and in a year like 2019 they'd be in the bottom hat.
  • Fifth, that factor -- the ability to be in a "better" hat -- becomes something of a motivator, as it could improve your home attendance the next year if you draw a better opponent. But it's also not a death sentence -- for 2021, you'd have big name programs like Michigan, Michigan State, and Florida State in that bottom 4 hat.
  • Sixth, that fluctuation/randomness actually increases the chances to luck into an unexpected 4+ million game (as seen below).
So, let's say this is in place for 2021, with BYU and Notre Dame with the Pac12. I tried my best to line up the conference standings based on finish, and here are the "hats" I came up with for drawing purposes:
  • Top 5 Hat -- B1G: Ohio State, Northwestern, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin. ACC: Clemson, Miami, UNC, NC State, Boston College. Pac12: Notre Dame, Oregon, BYU, USC, Washington.
  • Middle 5 Hat -- B1G: Penn State, Minnesota, Maryland, Nebraska, Rutgers. ACC: Pitt, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech. Pac12: Stanford, Colorado, Utah, Arizona State, UCLA.
  • Bottom 4 Hat -- B1G: Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois. ACC: Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Syracuse. Pac12: Oregon State, Cal, Washington State, Arizona.
2021 is an odd year, so we'd have B1G at ACC, Pac12 at B1G, ACC at Pac12. Using a "not-exactly random, but it suffices for these purposes" format of listing home teams in each hat alphabetically and road teams in reverse alphabetical order, here's your game lineup, with some notes where I felt appropriate:

B1G at ACC:
  • Wisconsin at Boston College
  • Ohio State at Clemson (see, you still do end up with Ohio State vs. Clemson)
  • Northwestern at Miami (private school, Chicago/Evanston vs. Miami/Coral Gables battle!)
  • Iowa at NC State
  • Indiana at UNC (this is a sneaky fun game if both teams stay ranked, plus a great basketball rivalry)
  • Rutgers at Georgia Tech
  • Penn State at Pitt (This? This is a fun rivalry matchup)
  • Nebraska at Virginia
  • Minnesota at Virginia Tech
  • Maryland at Wake Forest
  • Purdue at Duke
  • Michigan State at Florida State (two pretty big names just happen to get matched up after bad years)
  • Michigan at Louisville
  • Illinois at Syracuse
Pac12 at B1G:
  • Washington at Indiana (again, could be fun depending on where they're ranked when they play)
  • USC at Iowa (sign me up for this -- could easily hit 4 million, and a random 4 million game that you might not otherwise get)
  • Oregon at Northwestern (this is a random but fun matchup that we'd likely never otherwise get)
  • Notre Dame at Ohio State (absolutely massive TV audience for this)
  • BYU at Wisconsin (weep for Madison's bars, who will have to rely on locals only)
  • Utah at Maryland
  • UCLA at Minnesota
  • Stanford at Nebraska (this is kind of an interesting matchup, honestly)
  • Colorado at Penn State
  • Arizona State at Rutgers
  • Washington State at Illinois
  • Oregon State at Michigan
  • Cal at Michigan State
  • Arizona at Purdue
ACC at Pac12:
  • UNC at BYU
  • NC State at Notre Dame
  • Miami at Oregon (this could get huge TV ratings)
  • Clemson at USC (this would get bonkers TV ratings)
  • Boston College at Washington
  • Wake Forest at Arizona State
  • Virginia Tech at Colorado
  • Virginia at Stanford
  • Pitt at UCLA
  • Georgia Tech at Utah
  • Syracuse at Arizona
  • Louisville at Cal
  • Florida State at Oregon State
  • Duke at Washington State

Looks pretty good, right? Comments? Thoughts? Ideas on how to improve it? Ideas on how to get Kevin Warren, Jim Phillips, and George whatever his name is of the Pac12 to adopt it?