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Conference Scheduling Alliances Are Great In Theory, Hard To Pull Off In Reality

handshake-good-backlitFirst things first… football and basketball are two completely different sports.

Basketball coaches usually wrap up their own non-conference schedules just months ahead of their next season.

In football — with much more money on the table — athletic directors handle the non-conference scheduling.  Typically any “big” games are lined up at least a year or two in advance.  Aside from neutral site money games (Atlanta, Arlington, Houston, etc), most all games between BCS-level foes are scheduled three, four, five or more years in advance.

For that reason, it’s much easier to pull off a two-conference “challenge” type event on the hardwood than it is on the gridiron.  There are only 12 football games per season (as opposed to 27-30 regular-season basketball games).  Each one of those 12 games has an enormous impact on an athletic department’s year-end revenue.  And with a playoff on the way, the top-tier games on a school’s schedule will have to locked down for strength of schedule purposes.

All that said, in recent months, with conference realignment talk filling cyberspace and the airwaves, talk of conference challenges and scheduling alliances has still generated more talk than ever among football fans… and between actual conferences.

The Big XII admitted that it had had talks with the ACC about such a scheduling partnership.  Then — just as we suggested on this site — it was learned that some talks between the Big XII and the SEC had occurred as well.

Just this week news broke that the Mountain West and Pac-12 are exploring a possible scheduling deal.  That’s the same Pac-12 that had initially reached such an agreement with the Big Ten.

And what do all of those alliances — Big XII/ACC, Big XII/SEC, MWC/Pac-12, Pac-12/Big Ten — have in common?

Not one of them has actually gone from theory to reality.  Not one.  But they sure look neat on paper, don’t they?

On this site, before John Swofford pulled a grant of rights agreement out of his hat, we suggested that the SEC could help save the ACC — if it wanted to — by agreeing to a scheduling alliance with that league.  The ACC was looking for extra cash — cash that ESPN is now stepping in to provide in an effort to halt further realignment — and a series of neutral site games against SEC squads all branded under a corporate sponsor’s logo would have been worth some nice cash for both the SEC and the ACC.

An ACC/SEC partnership would make sense in non-financial ways, too.  Already Florida/Florida State, Georgia/Georgia Tech and South Carolina/Clemson meet annually.  With Louisville set to join the ACC, the Kentucky/Louisville game would become the fourth built-in tilt between the leagues.  Vanderbilt and Wake Forest just wrapped up a series of games suggesting those two schools could form a fifth partnership.  If those five games remained/became annual events it would leave nine schools from each league — not counting part-time ACC member Notre Dame — to match up on a rotating basis.  The best matchups could be moved to NFL stadiums in Atlanta or Nashville or Charlotte or Washington or Pittsburgh.  ESPN would love it.  In-season “bowl” games.

Just as a random example, imagine the following as one season’s lineup of games:


  SEC School   ACC School   Annual/Rotation   Location
  Alabama   Miami   Rotation   Atlanta
  Arkansas   NC State   Rotation   Nashville
  Auburn   Pittsburgh   Rotation   On Campus
  Florida   Florida State   Annual   On Campus
  Georgia   Georgia Tech   Annual   On Campus
  Kentucky   Louisville   Annual   On Campus
  LSU   Syracuse   Rotation   East Rutherford
  Missouri   Virginia   Rotation   On Campus
  Miss. State   Boston Coll.   Rotation   On Campus
  Ole Miss   Duke   Rotation   On Campus
  S. Carolina   Clemson   Annual   On Campus
  Tennessee   N. Carolina   Rotation   Charlotte
  Texas A&M   Virginia Tech   Rotation   Houston
  Vanderbilt   Wake Forest   Annual   On Campus


Not every game would be a winner but even the worst games would beat matchups with FCS squads.  And again, the above is just an example.  (Please, look at the possibilities and don’t get hung up on who we matched with whom and where… this isn’t about the specifics).

In the above scenario there would be a battle between two corps of cadets.  A new border battle.  Extreme North versus extreme South.  A David Cutcliffe Bowl.  Plus some good games between traditionally strong programs.

Slap an AT&T logo on all of them, give them to ESPN (potentially for its SEC and ACC networks) and let everyone rake in the cash.

But that’s just one option for an SEC scheduling alliance.

We also suggested that with the ACC reaching out to the Big XII for a series of games, the SEC could damage Swofford’s league’s chances of survival — if it wanted to — by stealing their dates, so to speak.  Sources claim the Big XII and SEC had some discussions at some level about the possibility of an alliance.  The two leagues have already broken new ground with their co-ownership of the Sugar Bowl.  They’ve also just officially announced a basketball challenge.  If two leagues appear to be getting chummy at the moment, it’s the SEC and the Big XII (ironic considering the moves of Missouri and Texas A&M).

In theory — there’s that word again — the four existing SEC/ACC rivalries could be left intact with the 10 remaining SEC teams lining up games with the 10 squads from the Big XII.

Imagine this draw as a possible slate of games:


  SEC School   Big XII School   Annual/Rotation   Location
  Alabama   W. Virginia   Rotation   Pittsburgh
  Arkansas   Kansas State   Rotation   St. Louis
  Auburn   Texas Tech   Rotation   On Campus
  LSU   Oklahoma   Rotation   Arlington
  Missouri   Kansas   Annual   Kansas City
  Miss. State   TCU   Rotation   Houston
  Ole Miss   Baylor   Rotation   On Campus
  Tennessee   Okla. State   Rotation   Nashville
  Texas A&M   Texas   Annual   On Campus
  Vanderbilt   Iowa State   Rotation   On Campus


Under that plan you’d have Nick Saban coaching against his home state school.  Mike Gundy would face the team whose job he didn’t take.  There would a We-Hate-Tommy-Tuberville Bowl.  There would also be showdown between Bears and Black Bears.  (Sorry, Rebel fans.  It had to be done).

Throw a Dr. Pepper logo on that “SEC/Big XII Challenge” and split the games between ESPN and FOX depending on each game’s location.  Money, money, money for all.

Now, again, not all of those games would be home runs.  They would, however, be infinitely more interesting than the total strikeouts that are Florida versus Georgia Southern, Arkansas versus Samford, Tennessee versus Austin Peay, etc.

So if scheduling alliances look so good on paper, what’s the problem?

Contractually, no conference is going to want to marry itself long-term to another conference.  Again, the difference between basketball and football is enormous.  If an alliance in hoops falls apart, most teams are still making last-minute adjustments to their schedules anyway.  Each game makes up about 1/30th of a team’s strength of schedule rank.

But imagine what would happen if one league decided to pull out of an ACC/SEC or SEC/Big XII football alliance with a year’s notice.  Ten schools would be left trying to procure new foes in a panicked rush.  With strength of schedule expected to play such a big role in playoff selections, no schools would want to wade through the flotsam and jetsam to find a last-minute floatation device.  Mainly because most schools would have already filled their remaining non-conference slots with the Flotsam States and Jetsam Techs of the world.  Throw in a third dud and a team’s strength of schedule could become a very real problem.

Right about now you’re probably thinking: “Well, why not just make the contract very difficult to break?”  Unfortunately, if a contract is that ironclad, it’s doubtful any league would be willing to sign the thing in the first place.  If we’ve learned anything from the past three years it’s that situations can change quickly.  Conferences would want out clauses in “alliance” type deals to protect themselves against unforeseen developments.

Also, these types of agreements can’t be compared to members of a single conference signing — what most believe to be — ironclad grant of rights agreement.  Schools that have done so have turned their media rights over to their conference office in a last-ditch effort to hold their conference home together.  There would be no such desperation involved in two leagues trying to hammer out a scheduling partnership.

Hey, we like the alliance/challenge idea.  Under those arrangements fans would see more interesting matchups, most teams’ strength of schedule would be aided, and there would opportunities for everyone to make more money.  For those reasons, we hope to see two leagues actually pull off such a notion.

But to date, it’s never been done at the major conference level in our current big-dollar environment.  Not even the handshake agreement between the best buds known as the Big Ten and Pac-12 could take such a plan from spitball idea to full fruition.

In theory, scheduling alliances are great.  In reality, they’re gonna be damn hard to create.  We’ll be interested to see which conferences are the first to actually succeed in building one.

And we’ll be just as interest to see how long their alliance actually holds together.



Great idea, bad example:

"The total strikeouts that are Florida versus Georgia Southern"

In neither challenge mentioned would Florida's scheduling be affected.  Oh, and Florida is playing both FSU and Miami this year, possibly the hardest schedule in the nation.  But I still like the conference challenge idea.  Rotating through ACC/Big 12/Pac 12 every six years would be great.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

Looks like most folks chose not to actually read these lines from the story:

"And again, the above is just an example.  (Please, look at the possibilities and don’t get hung up on who we matched with whom and where… this isn’t about the specifics)."

Sometimes I think I could headlines a story "I Hate Cabbage," write 40 lines about why I hate cabbage, include a chart showing cabbage's nutritional value (stating that I hate cabbage anyway)... and the majority of comments would still be about my love of cabbage.

This piece was not about who should play or where they should play or when they should play.  I stated it's a "given year" for example only.  The gist of the article is that these things are not as simple to pull off as they are to dream up... or comment on.

If they were, we'd have already seen two leagues bring such an arrangement to fruition by now.

Thanks for reading the site,



A&M isn't going to want to play in any neutral site games until their Arkansas contract at Jerry World is up.


If an alliance was ever made.  I don't see any reason the contracts would have to be guaranteed long term.  If conferences want an out, just make the alliance a 2 year or 4 year deal.  If one conference wants out then they have to exercise the option 2 years in advance for example.  That way everyone gets enough time to find other scheduling options.  I don't think either league would be particularly interested in the breaking an agreement at the last minute as both leagues would be scrambling to find new games.

I think one of the biggest problems in forming this sort of alliance is making sure that each school got enough home games.  It might be hard to set things up to work that way being that each school has different needs and ongoing commitments.


Yes, please. Revive MU-ku, although the Jayhawks are still too butt-hurt about us leaving the Big XII to agree to it. This game DESERVES to be played. I would suggest, however, that K-State-Arkansas would make much more sense in Kansas City than in St. Louis. Much more convenient to both fan bases.


Yes, that's a non-starter in StL, but I understand the thought. Better would be rotate kU-MU between KC and StL and play kSU-Ark between KC and Wichita.


My idea of an alliance was a little bit different. Have an open date with all of the teams in each league. This will take a couple of years to cycle through, but could happen in theory.  I pick  the 2nd or 3rd weekend in September. Each team is each scheduled for a home or away game in the line up, but teams are set outside of the current 4/5 current rivarly games. This allows the schools and communities to plan for a home game, which takes a lot of work and resources. This will allow the conferences to schedule pre-season for the next year based upon the needs of the team and conferences. Those teams that need a marquee game to build SOS for a hopeful playoff bid could be scheduled to play each other. Those teams that will need a little help reaching bowl eligibilty could be scheduled against the projected bottom teams for the other league to hopefully pad a victory. This will allow a nice rotation of teams, and not lock teams (other than the current rivalry games) into a long term contract. If the whole thing blows up one year, I am sure the schools will not have much of an issue filling the schedule with buying a game with FCS or something. Plus if it is an ACC/SEC challenge, it is more inventory for the two conferences networks without ESPN paying more money.


Are the 4 already existing teams have to be included on that "open date"?  Ga./Fla./SC all seem to have theirs the last game of the season.  Ky. seems to be earlier in the year.


The UGA/UF/USCe games are all scheduled Thanksgiving weekend, and there would not be any reason to move those scheduled rivaries. It would allow some of those teams to pair up with a conference game that week where the rest of the ACC/SEC challenge happened. If you get one more of the rivarlies onto Thanksgiving weekend (UK/UL or Vandy/WF), you could then schedule two SEC east games that weekend. USCe/UF/UGA and Vandy or UK. There is only one set game between those two (UGA/UF), and the cocktail party is not moving from October. That would give CBS at least one marquee matchup that weekend outside of the ACC/SEC challenge. There should be at least one good match up created between the UF/USCe/UGA schools each year.


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