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New Power 5 leaders face uncertainty

by The Associated Press | July 24, 2021 at 2:12 a.m.
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren speaks during a Big Ten NCAA college football media days press conference, Thursday, July 22, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Conference realignment is back on the table in college sports just as three Power 5 conferences are breaking in relatively new commissioners.

While the Big 12 is trying to keep Oklahoma and Texas from being poached by the SEC, the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast Conference could be challenged to respond should veteran SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey make a bold move.

Texas and Oklahoma will reportedly inform the Big 12 in the next few days that they are leaving, though neither school has issued any statements beyond nondenial references to rumors.

A 16-team SEC with the Longhorns and Sooners has the potential to make what is already the strongest conference in college football even more dominant and wealthy.

Do the other conferences have to react?

For now, the Big Ten -- the SEC's closest rival in quality and revenue generation -- apparently is not feeling pressured into it.

"We haven't had conversations [about expansion], we're not overreacting, it's not who we are," Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith said at Big Ten media days Friday. "We just have to pause, study, learn, do what's right for us. But we haven't had conversations about that move collectively."

Smith stressed that having a commissioner in Kevin Warren, who is still settling into college sports after a long career in the NFL, is not an issue for the league.

"What's a blessing for our league is the collective intellectual knowledge among our ADs and our presidents," Smith said. "If we decide we need to something we'll be in good position to do so."

Warren has been the commissioner since January 2020, but navigating the pandemic has consumed most of his time in the conference. He is still building relationships within his own league.

In the ACC, former Northwestern AD Jim Phillips is in his seventh month as commissioner. Phillips is a veteran of college sports who has been active at the NCAA level. His longevity should give him credibility and relationships across the country.

Phillips already has an expansion target: Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish compete in the ACC in most sports but returned to football independence after a temporary, pandemic-induced season playing in the conference last season.

"That was a really beautiful and beneficial relationship to both Notre Dame and the ACC. They had a chance to play a fantastic schedule," Phillips said this week. "They had a chance to vie for a national championship and compete in the CFP. We have a real-life example of what that could look like."

Notre Dame, however, is unfazed by the latest potential upheaval.

"We like our position regardless of how that plays out [with Texas and Oklahoma]," Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said.

In the Pac-12, George Kliavkoff, a former MGM executive, took over officially July 1, though he got a head start in June by attending College Football Playoff meetings on potential expansion of the postseason system.

Realignment has kicked CFP expansion from four to 12 teams to the back burner in college football for now.

Kliavkoff declined to speculate on how an expanded SEC might influence the Pac-12.

"I consider the Pac-12 an exclusive club with high barriers to entry," Kliavkoff said. "We're not actively trying to poach teams from other conferences, but we are open to listen if schools reach out to us."

Geography limits the Pac-12's possibilities if it did want to expand, and a weakened Big 12 is not well positioned to lure Pac-12 schools away from a relatively stable situation.

The Pac-12's TV deal expires in 2024. The Big 12's runs through 2025. The Big Ten's latest deal is done after 2023.

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)
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)
George Kliavkoff
George Kliavkoff
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey speaks to reporters during the NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days Monday, July 19, 2021, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey speaks to reporters during the NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days Monday, July 19, 2021, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Print Headline: New Power 5 leaders face uncertainty

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