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Big Ten/Pac-12 alliance helpful on many fronts

Updated: January 31, 2012 8:25AM

Score another shrewd move for Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.

The plan to strengthen ties with the Pac-12 by increasing athletic competition between the two conferences is a nice subtle response to the expansion mayhem that is sweeping the nation. It will give the two leagues a way to grow the audiences of their television networks without expansion complications.

The Big East’s frantic transcontinental expansion plans are fraught with peril. Even the rock-solid SEC, with its additions of Texas A&M and Missouri, has created the potential for 14-team scheduling and geography headaches.

The Big Ten/Pac-12 alliance announced this week makes a lot of sense. At the top of the list, the leagues hope to start playing 12 interconference football games by 2017.

From there, the possibilities are virtually endless, Delany and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said. Interconference basketball games and Olympic sports events, including a Ryder Cup-style golf showdown, are on the table.

It starts with football

But football, which pays the bills, is the key. The new agreement will provide attractive programming for the Big Ten Network, which has been a hit since 2007, and the Pac-12’s network, which will debut in 2012.

An early-season game at the Rose Bowl could happen in 2013. Other marquee neutral-site games, at places such as Soldier Field, Wrigley Field or Yankee Stadium, also are envisioned.

It’s not quite as glamorous as it sounds. When Illinois lost to UCLA 6-3 in Pasadena, Calif., on Sept. 13, 2003, the game was a mere step-child to the Granddaddy of Them All.

On the other hand, a Nebraska-Stanford matchup, or any pair of ranked teams, in Pasadena could attract a lot of early-season interest.

A series of Big Ten/Pac-12 interconference meetings will beat the stuffing out of those endless tune-ups in which Northeast Southwest State picks up a guarantee for getting pounded.

This alliance also is a nice tip of the cap to Rose Bowl officials and other bowl-system proponents who don’t want a plus-one or playoff system shoved down their throat. By further solidifying ties with the Pac-12, the Big Ten, which has been the conference most concerned with protecting the bowl system, has added a stronger potential ally.

Adding more competitive early-season games to the basketball schedule also seems promising. The Pac-12 alliance won’t affect the ACC/Big Ten challenge in the near future, Delany said.

Expansion working out fine

While many expansion plans seem like reaches, the recent additions of Nebraska to the Big Ten and Utah and Colorado to the Pac-12 are looking like solid moves that give the two leagues conference-championship-game symmetry and television benefits.

The new partnership also allows the two leagues to remain flexible.

If Notre Dame ever reverses field and wants to join the Big Ten, it would be irresistible. In the meantime, with the Irish giving every indication that they’re not interested, the Big Ten has found a way to turn on more televisions and enhance recruiting throughout the vast Pac-12 region.

It’s a good move for the Big Ten and another careful advance by Delany in the changing world of big-time college athletics.

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