The Big Ten's scheduling partnership with the Pac-12 isn't happening after all, and the fans of both leagues will pay the price.
The two leagues announced Friday that their pact, which initially called for 12 football games per season, has been called off. The reason: At least four Pac-12 schools were unwilling to agree to mandatory scheduling, ESPN.com has learned. A key sticking point is that Pac-12 teams play nine conference games while Big Ten teams play only eight. Adding in traditional non-league series like USC-Notre Dame, Stanford-Notre Dame and Utah-BYU, and it makes the scheduling situation tougher for those in the Pac-12.
While this isn't a total shock, as the Big Ten blog first reported in April that several Pac-12 schools had reservations about the scheduling agreement, it's disappointing for all involved. Who didn't look forward to future matchups such as Michigan-USC, Ohio State-Stanford, Nebraska-Oregon and Michigan State-Washington?
Although those games still could take place, the agreement would have given us 12 interleague matchups each season. The complaints about soft nonconference scheduling would be mitigated a bit, especially in a playoff environment where schedule strength will matter.
Here's the timeline of how things went down, ESPN.com has learned:
November: The Big Ten and Pac-12 athletic directors meet in New York and agree to the partnership.
Dec. 28: The two leagues announce a major scheduling partnership, which aims for a round-robin football schedule by the 2017 season. It also includes agreements involving other sports as well as shared content with the leagues' TV networks. The Big Ten says the Pac-12 agreement will take the place of an announced move to nine league games.
March: The Pac-12 approaches the Big Ten and says several of its members have reservations about mandatory scheduling.
April 20: Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez tells ESPN.com's Brian Bennett that several Pac-12 schools are "dragging their feet a bit on the agreement" but that the Big Ten remains hopeful it can be finalized. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany releases a statement to ESPN.com that reaffirms both leagues are on board. The Pac-12 also affirms its support.
June 26: The San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner reports several Pac-12 schools are hesitant about the Big Ten alliance, although the likelihood of schedule strength being part of the playoff selection formula could change things.
March-July: The two leagues discuss alternatives, including having 10 or 11 interleague matchups from 2017 to 2020, with the hope of getting to a full 12-game schedule. The leagues discuss 13 alternatives with this model. Another proposal calls for six games to take place each season, meaning each team would participate every other year. But not all Pac-12 members agree. The Pac-12 proposes having an agreement involving only its eight willing participants, but the Big Ten wants a complete collaboration or none at all.
This week: Pac-12 informs the Big Ten that at least four of its members won't go along with the mandatory scheduling.
Friday: Leagues announce the partnership no longer will happen.
Here's Delany's statement:
"We are disappointed to announce today that the Big Ten Pac-12 strategic collaboration announced jointly in December 2011 unfortunately will not be consummated. We recently learned from Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott that the complications associated with coordinating a non-conference football schedule for 24 teams across two conferences proved to be too difficult. Those complications, among other things, included the Pac-12's nine-game conference schedule and previous non-conference commitments.
"A great effort was made by both conference staffs to create football schedules that would address the variety of complexities, but in the end, we were just not able to do so. While everyone at the Big Ten is disappointed by the news, we look forward to continuing the historic partnership that we have with the Pac-12 and to working together on other matters in the future."
This is a big disappointment for the Big Ten, which had generated a lot of excitement with the original announcement. It's no secret why several Big Ten teams -- Michigan State, Michigan, Northwestern -- began scheduling Pac-12 teams in advance of the 2017 start date, to generate some buildup for the agreement. If these contracts are signed, expect them to be honored. If they're not, don't be surprised to see Big Ten teams look elsewhere. To a degree, the Big Ten athletic directors have been frozen in their scheduling initiatives by the Pac-12 agreement. Now they could look to shake things up.
The Big Ten also will revisit increasing the number of conference games. Remember, the league in August agreed to go to a nine-game conference schedule by 2017 but shelved the plan after the Pac-12 agreement surfaced. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the nine-game league schedule was back on the table very soon. It's also possible the Big Ten explores a scheduling agreement with another league, but don't hold your breath, especially if that other league already plays nine league games.
It's too bad the leagues couldn't work out a compromise, but don't blame the Big Ten for demanding a full collaboration. If only eight Pac-12 schools were on board, how would that look? You'd have some uneven matchups and, quite frankly, a lot of bad ones.
I'll be interested to see how this failure affects Big Ten-Pac-12 relations going forward. The leagues remain partners in the Rose Bowl and were aligned to a large degree during the recent playoff discussions. But this is an unfortunate situation after all of the excitement in December.
Although today's news might please those who preferred a nine-game Big Ten schedule, it's disappointing for those of us who like to see major-conference teams play one another more often in September. Fortunately, Big Ten teams are gradually beefing up their schedules. You just hope it continues.
As for the Big Ten-Pac-12 games, there's always the Rose Bowl, but it doesn't seem like enough.