SEC, Big Ten to form joint advisory group: What could alliance mean for college sports?

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The two most powerful conferences in college athletics are teaming up to tackle the biggest issues facing the enterprise.
The Big Ten and the SEC announced on Friday the formation of a joint advisory group that will be made up of university presidents and athletic directors. It will discuss recent court decisions, pending litigation, governance proposals and state laws. The goal, the leagues said, is to “take a leadership role in developing solutions for a sustainable future of college sports.”
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The announcement essentially formalizes a collaborative relationship between the two leagues that has been growing ever since commissioner Tony Petitti took over the Big Ten last year. Petitti and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey’s leagues will represent 34 of the 134 FBS schools at the start of the 2024 football season.
The advisory group will “engage with other constituencies as necessary” — a pointed note, considering the frustration many administrators in both leagues have expressed with the NCAA and its typically slow and reactive nature. However, Friday’s announcement was not meant to be construed as the first step of a breakaway from the NCAA. So much of what these leagues do is tied to the national governing body and its services.
“The Big Ten and the SEC have substantial investment in the NCAA, and there is no question that the voices of our two conferences are integral to governance and other reform efforts,” Petitti said in a statement. “We recognize the similarity in our circumstances, as well as the urgency to address the common challenges we face.”
The two conferences are the richest leagues in the country and deal with NIL and other issues at a level different from their peers. Sankey has long complained that the NCAA governs across too diverse a membership, with the schools in the highest-resourced leagues needing to make more decisions for themselves.
“We do not have predetermined answers to the myriad questions facing us,” Sankey said in a statement. “We do not expect to agree on everything but enhancing interaction between our conferences will help to focus efforts on common sense solutions.”
Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman told The Athletic last summer that he believed Big Ten-SEC collaboration could be “transformative.”
“In some circles and on some topics, I think that’s a necessity,” Whitman said. “In this cluttered landscape of college athletics with all the bureaucracy, with all the competing interests, with all the different areas that have proven very unwieldy to try and navigate, if our two conferences lock arms on some of these bigger issues, I think that may be the push that’s necessary to actually get some meaningful change created.”
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Members are expected to be appointed to the advisory group within weeks, though the cadence of its meetings has not been determined yet. The group will have no authority to act independently and will only serve as a consulting body, the leagues said. Petitti and Sankey will both be part of the advisory group.
Friday’s announcement was reminiscent of the ill-fated “Alliance,” the collaborative efforts between the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC that began in the summer of 2021. That was another formal-but-informal arrangement, announced at the height of that summer’s realignment tension, which led to joint efforts around mental health awareness and other timely topics. But it fell apart when the Big Ten took two Pac-12 schools in the next year’s round of realignment.
This partnership is less likely to be impacted by the poaching of schools, as the two leagues meet together as equals — the most powerful conferences in college athletics, staring down an uncertain future together. Many within college sports believe Sankey and Petitti need to lead the enterprise toward a long-term solution on the issue of athlete compensation, a topic NCAA president Charlie Baker raised for nationwide conversation with his “Project D-I” proposal in December.
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(Photo: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

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