Conference realignment: How’d ACC, Pac-12 partnership work?


ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips takes a drink during a break in Duke’s 70-56 victory over Louisville in the second round of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Wednesday, March 10, 2021.

Back in March, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff and his ACC counterpart, Jim Phillips, sat side-by-side watching Duke play in the NCAA tournament at San Francisco’s Chase Center.

At the time, they represented a simple quorum in the three-pronged alliance involving their leagues and the Big Ten.

Now, after the Big Ten shattered that alliance by raiding the Pac-12 to add UCLA and Southern Cal last month, Kliavkoff and Phillips remain to pick up the pieces and plot a future that keeps their leagues viable.

By all indications, they are doing just that, discussing what CBS Sports reporter Dennis Dodd, longtime Pac-12 reporter John Canzano and others have described as a “loose partnership,” that could bring intriguing cross-country matchups in football and basketball and help add needed media revenue to both leagues.

ESPN will certainly play a major role in what happens.

While the ACC and ESPN have a media contract through 2036, the Pac-12 is currently in a 30-day negotiating window for its next media rights deal. Fox and ESPN are both involved.

With the ACC already in business with ESPN, it certainly makes sense for the two to rope what’s left of the Pac-12 into the deal allowing ESPN to freeze its competitor, Fox, out of the equation. Also, having just lost its two schools in the Los Angeles media market, the Pac-12 needs to bring something new to the table to help make up for that weakness.

The ACC Network, on the air since 2019, is a far stronger product than the Pac-12 Networks, which don’t have the same carriage agreements with cable, satellite and streaming services the ACC’s channel does. Anything that brings eyeballs to the ACC Network helps ESPN and the league. Adding a reason for viewers on the West Coast to watch the ACC Network is a sound plan.

Inventory involving west coast teams would boost the bottom line and allow the ACC to distribute more media revenue to its member schools. Increasing revenue to close the growing gap between the SEC, Big Ten and the ACC is of utmost importance to Phillips.

But how would it work? ACC sources remain mum on the issue. But Canzano, based in Oregon, laid out scenarios about how the partnership could work in a report this week. Talking with Pac-12 sources, he reported about possible football game in Las Vegas between the two leagues’ regular-season champions and a series of basketball matchups — like the existing ACC/Big Ten Challenge — between teams from the Pac-12 and ACC.

The leagues could also play nonconference football games against one another, something discussed already when the ill-fated alliance involving the Big Ten was announced last summer. In addition to the football champions playing in early December, a game between the two second-place teams was also mentioned to create a doubleheader and add further interest.

The Pac-12 media negotiation period is scheduled to close on Aug. 4, so some kind of deal involving the ACC could come close to that date.

This story was originally published July 14, 2022 1:19 PM.

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Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. He placed second in both beat writing and breaking news in the 2019 Associated Press Sports Editors national contest. Previously, Steve worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), Charlotte Observer and Hickory (NC) Daily Record covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly. He’s won numerous state-level press association awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.

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