The SEC's additions of Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 sent shock waves around the sport, and sparked plenty of theories about what would come next.
Would there be full-blown realignment? Which teams and leagues could be poached? How would the moves impact the next round of media rights negotiations? The Texas/OU addition undoubtedly strengthened the SEC and weakened the Big 12, but what would the other three Power 5 leagues do in response?
Some clues emerged Aug. 13, as The Athletic first reported and ESPN confirmed that the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 have been discussing an alliance around key topics in the sport. While the long-term implications could be immense, the immediate concerns appear to be about finding common ground in an emerging power battle between the SEC and everyone else.
"This is about seeing if there's a philosophical alignment," one AD told ESPN. "At this point, there's no financial component."
Added another AD: "No one is tearing up scheduling contracts at this point."
The 41 schools (including Notre Dame, an ACC member in all sports except football) in the three conferences have some common traits and have partnered in the past, but large-scale agreements are far from a slam dunk. Even among conference members, philosophies can differ, as was evidenced when several Big Ten schools expressed frustration when the league decided against playing the 2020 season amid COVID-19 concerns last summer.
But with the NCAA's role as a governing body in question in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's ruling in NCAA v. Alston — in which Justice Brett Kavanaugh opened the door to future antitrust litigation against the NCAA — there's at least a tacit understanding that the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 need to find common ground or cede significant political clout to the SEC as major issues including playoff expansion, name, image and likeness (NIL) and player compensation loom.
Sources said all three leagues began exploring options for a countermove to the SEC's addition of Texas and Oklahoma last month, which led to a formal committee to analyze an alliance that includes the commissioners from the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12, along with several ADs from each league. Members of that committee are expected to hold a phone call in the coming days to determine the specific language of a formal announcement, according to multiple administrators with direct knowledge of the talks.
Presidents and athletic directors from the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12, along with the league commissioners, have been in discussions for several weeks on "philosophical issues" of alignment. ESPN spoke to sources in and around the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 to find out more about the alliance, answer key questions and forecast what could unfold over the coming weeks and months.