In explaining the complicated relationships among the Corleones, Tattaglias, Barzinis, Cuneos and Staccis, novelist Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather, said this:
“It was not perhaps the warmest friendships in the world, they would not send each other Christmas gift greetings, but they would not murder each other.”
In a sentence, that’s all you need to know about the latest episode of the internecine conflicts in big-time college football: Creation this week of “The Alliance” among the conferences of the Pac-12, the Big 10 and Atlantic Coast.
More proof that The Godfather explains most everything in life.
The film even has an apt expression about the insouciance of ESPN’s offing of the Big 12 Conference:
“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”
Ah, we kid. No one has been hurt. So far.
But when Texas and Oklahoma went rogue to join the Corle . . . um, the Southeastern Conference, the other families knew they were in trouble. The trouble would become made worse if they fought among one another over parts of the estate of the remaining eight schools of the Big 12 Conference.
It wasn’t worth much anyway. Better to strike a deal for peace and keep a wary eye on the SEC and its consigliere, ESPN.
Confirmation of the tactic came Thursday when the Pac-12 said it would not expand by poaching the Big 12, a surprise to no one familiar with the little regard the left coasters have for the remainders.
“Following consultation with our Presidents, Chancellors and Athletic Directors, the Pac-12 Conference has made the decision to not pursue expansion of our membership at this time,” a statement by the league said. “This decision was made following extensive internal discussion and analysis, and is based on the current competitive strength and cohesiveness of our 12 universities. It is also grounded in our confidence in our ability as a conference to best support our student-athletes and to grow and thrive both academically and athletically.”
Translated to honest English, the TV revenues in the eight smaller markets aren’t worth the trouble.
Resisting expansion was the first big move made by the new don of the Pac-12, George Kliavkoff, since he took over in May. He previously told reporters that several schools called about joining, and he took a meeting with Big 12 don Bob Bowlsby about a strategic partnership. Instead, three days ago, he shook hands with the Big Ten and ACC, the other members of the Power 5. Together, the alliance has 41 schools and more than 27,000 athletes.
The deal had few tangible aspects, no paperwork, no signed agreements and no practical chance to do much before 2026, because non-conference football contracts are booked so far in advance.
Even Kliavkoff admitted the announcement was merely a gesture.
“Today is a press release,” he said. “But it’s also a commitment.”
It’s a commitment to try to out-flank the TV colossus of the 16-team SEC with Texas and Oklahoma. But trying isn’t the objective; it’s doing. And the hastily assembled Alliance hasn’t even agreed to agree.
“We’ve not committed to voting together on anything,” Kliavkoff said.
Obviously, it’s early after the brazen breakaway of Texas and Oklahoma. No consequences are imminent, and probably not until 2025, when the two schools can join the SEC without paying financial penalties to the Big 12.
That’s also the year when ESPN’s contract to televise the College Football Playoffs expires, meaning that the industry pinnacle will be up for bid among the major broadcast and cable networks, and perhaps Amazon, Hulu and, hell, who knows, maybe TikTok.
With the advent of outside money (NIL) flowing directly to college athletes, forecasting the long-term landscape of winners and losers in the business of big-time college sports is impossible. Small families may rise; big families may fall.
Kliavkoff perhaps is slow-walking a shrewd line during the Great Uncertainty, picking up allies by steadily doing small favors here and there to put his family in a position to strike. Then he can say, “Someday — and that day may never come — I’ll call upon you to do a service for me.”
In the brave new world of college sports, there’s still room for old-school tactics.