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ACC Forms Alliance With Big Ten, Pac-12 To 'Protect' Collegiate Model

ACC Media Days Football
Nell Redmond
Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner Jim Phillips speaks during the NCAA college football ACC media days in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

The Atlantic Coast Conference is partnering with the Big Ten and Pac-12 amid structural changes in college sports.

With the alliance, the three conferences plan to collaborate on a number of topics in college athletics, including NCAA issues, College Football Playoff expansion, and creating stability during an upcoming potential period of realignment.

The ACC calls the agreement an alliance that will, in part, improve academic support for student athletes.

“To the three of us, we felt the stabilization of the current environment, across Division I and FBS — in Power Five in particular — this was a chance for a new direction, a new initiative that I don’t think has ever been done before,” ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said.

A recent Supreme Court ruling said NCAA schools had violated anti-trust laws by limiting educational benefits for athletes. And the NCAA itself recently passed a rule that allows college athletes to earn money from their names, images and likenesses.

In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Phillips said the alliance allows its 41 schools to help each other make those changes.

“We all believe this is the right step for all of us to move forward at a critical juncture when you talk about a new governing structure,” Phillips said. “We're all dealing with that. So we are better together than we are separate.”

The formation of the alliance also comes amidst the news that future conference realignment may be in the horizon in Division I college sports.

Just weeks ago, the SEC invited Big 12 giants Oklahoma and Texas to its conference, which would create a 16-team league. The Sooners and Longhorns are expected to join the SEC no later than 2025. The move would leave the Big 12 with just eight schools and a murky future.

“We want and need the Big 12 to do well,” Phillips said. “The Big 12 matters in college athletics.”

If the Big 12 attempts to add to its membership in response, it could trigger a domino effect in realignment that sees several schools changing conferences.

“I wouldn’t say this is a reaction to Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC, but to be totally candid, you have to evaluate what’s going on in the landscape of college athletics,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said.

The three alliance commissioners — Phillips, Warren, and George Kliavkoff of the Pac-12 — suggested that they won’t be poaching schools from each other’s conference during a potential realignment.

“There’s an agreement among three gentlemen and a commitment from 41 presidents and chancellors and 41 athletic directors to do what we say we’re going to do,” Kliavkoff said.

Commissioners from each conference did not give details about what programs or policies the alliance would create. They said they would schedule more matchups between the conferences in football, and men and women’s basketball, but did not say when.

The ACC and Big Ten already have a partnership in basketball, playing the ACC-Big Ten Challenge each season. For example, in women’s basketball, Iowa will visit Duke this season, while Michigan will play at North Carolina in men’s basketball.

There is also a proposal to expand the College Football Playoff from four to 12 teams. Kliavkoff and Warren both said their conferences support playoff expansion, while Phillips said the ACC had not landed on a final position.

At the ACC Kickoff event in Charlotte in July, Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney said that playoff expansion is "inevitable."

"Money's driving that. I assume that's what the fans want. But I think most importantly, what do the players want?" Swinney said. "I think the conversation needs to be: How do we get it right for the player, end of the day? How do we save the bowls?"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Will Michaels is WUNC's General Assignment Reporter and fill-in host for "Morning Edition"
Mitchell Northam is a Digital Producer for WUNC. His past work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SB Nation, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and is also a voter in the AP Top 25 poll for women's college basketball.
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