Pac-12, Big Ten Alliance Dissolved, Blame Notre Dame As Always

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 22: Randall Telfer #82 of the University of Southern California Trojans celebrates a touchdown catch in front of Carlo Calabrese #44 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on October 22, 2011 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

As widely reported, the Big Ten/Pac-12 partnership is over before it even started. There were going to be difficulties working this schedule and getting everyone to fall in line, but it's sad to see that it just totally fall apart only a few months after its inception.

ESPN.com has learned that the Pac-12 approached the Big Ten in March and said several of its members had reservations about a mandatory scheduling agreement. The main problem: The Pac-12 currently plays nine league games per season, while the Big Ten plays only eight. Pac-12 members such as USC and Stanford, who both also have annual games against Notre Dame, would have added a Big Ten opponent to an already taxing slate. Other Pac-12 schools have regular scheduling agreements with opponents outside the league, such as Utah-BYU.

The leagues worked on several models, including an initial agreement featuring 10 or 11 games a year in 2017-20 with the idea eventually to reach 12. Another proposal called for six Big Ten/Pac-12 matchups annually, so each team would appear every other year. All Big Ten schools were on board with the collaboration, even though some, like Ohio State, could not begin participating until after 2017.

At least four Pac-12 schools ultimately decided they would not accept mandatory scheduling, ESPN.com has learned. One proposal called for eight matchups per year, featuring the willing Pac-12 schools, but the Big Ten wanted a complete collaboration or none at all.

Washington has already gone on record and said they're in favor of this decision. Washington State, not so much.

Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said he favored the decision, although he emphasized the Huskies still want to work closely with the Big Ten and they have home-and-home football series with Illinois and Wisconsin.

"I think we as a conference made a good decision," he said. "I just think it's our best interest to maintain flexibility. I think we landed in exactly the right place."

Washington State athletic director Bill Moos had a different view.

"I'm extremely disappointed it did not pan out," Moos said. "For the Cougars, I thought it was an ideal opportunity for us to bring quality BCS opponents into Pullman early in the year on a regular basis.

"I know some of my peers were worried about playing nine conference games (the Pac-12 plays nine, the Big Ten eight) and adding to it. But we're all doing that (scheduling one rugged nonleague game) anyway, for the most part."

It makes sense because Washington seems to have an easy time scheduling tough opponents (a monster's row lately in LSU, Nebraska, Oklahoma, BYU) and seem to be willing to go anywhere in the country and play the best, which has to be respected.

So who are the remaining schools? I'm guessing USC has to be one of them for obvious reasons. I'm going to eliminate small schools that would clearly benefit from this alliance--no reason Washington State, the Oregons (Oregon has plenty of trouble finding opponents; all you have to do is point to this year's schedule), Arizonas, Utah or Colorado would object to this. Although Utah is mentioned in the original post, the Utes have already suspended their BYU matchup a few seasons and have added Michigan to their schedule in the future. So I don't think either of them are one of the core four who objected to this alliance. Nor should Colorado want to drop this alliance to keep the Colorado State (a genuine net-negative rivalry unless they win handily) rivalry going.

So it's probably USC and two of the other three California schools. I'll guess Stanford is one, with Cal or UCLA being the other. Why would any of them oppose this alliance? What other factors other than the extra conference game could have caused this schism?

Notre Dame. One of the big sticking issues has to be USC's future scheduling concerns, because USC has to play Notre Dame every year now and forever. Since Notre Dame won't suck it up and choose a conference like everyone else, USC would have to play a Big Ten team and Notre Dame, which pretty much precludes any other big matchups from other conferences unless the Trojans want to have the hardest schedule year in, year out. This is a similar concern for Stanford, who have a recurring deal going on with the Irish until 2019.

Why would USC want to give up the power they have with regards to scheduling and hand it over to the Pac-12 to decide who comes up next on the calendar? Do they really want to end up with a year that puts opposition like Wisconsin, Texas and Notre Dame on the schedule while other national title contenders have their pick of Troy, Florida Atlantic and Charleston Southern? What purpose would loading up on the schedule serve when the system isn't geared to entirely reward strength of schedule?

That isn't a good look for USC to have to frontload their schedule and then enter the meat of the Pac-12, where they haven't gone undefeated since 2005. If the Pac-12 wants national championship contenders on a regular basis, they have to lessen the probability of a multi-loss USC. That is probably the case the Trojans made, and it is a persuasive one.

At least until Notre Dame negotiates themselves into the Big Ten and the upcoming superconference race. SACK UP.

California schools don't worry about scheduling as much. Cal has scheduled schools like Tennessee, Michigan State and Maryland and will soon draw Ohio State and Texas. UCLA has Nebraska and Texas on the docket and have played Notre Dame, Tennessee and Texas in recent years. USC generally plays anyone who's willing like Ohio State, Nebraska, Arkansas, and now Boston College and Notre Dame forthcoming. Stanford tends to be a little weaker on the OOC draw because of attendance issues, but does have the annual Notre Dame game and has played schools like Duke, Wake Forest and TCU (with Army, Northwestern and Rice upcoming). We've already talked about how Washington has a heck of a time finding the toughest schools out there.

The point is that California schools (and Washington) have less of a problem with finding marquee OOC opponents compared to everyone else. One reason is that teams like to come to California and are generally higher-prestige contests, but another big factor is the pipeline to California recruiting. Why should these schools restrict themselves to Big Ten matchups that will on average be lower-profile? Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska are cool matchups and all, but there's limited prestige in besting the Purdues and Indianas of the world.

California schools play each other every year. Cal and Stanford are in one division, USC and UCLA are in the other. As part of the agreement for the Pac-10 to become the Pac-12 they're all guaranteed to play each other. On average the California matchups are generally the hardest and physical and most heated games in the conference. It's already a bit of a disadvantage for each of these four teams to have to face each other every season.

If the Pac-12 could revert to an eight game schedule, I'd imagine the California schools objecting to this agreement would be less hostile to this arrangement. But that'd probably mean having to axe one of their California games. Not happening anytime soon.

So the conference will have to hope they can find good opponents somehow, and that the Big Ten and Pac-12 can work outside these parameters to ensure teams that don't have an arranged partner or easier scheduling flexibility can get together and play on a recurring basis. Don't think that Oregon-Wisconsin rematch is out of the woods, or that you will never see Mike Leach invade the Horse Shoe. The agreement is just dead for all schools, but I'm sure teams from both conferences will still work to get as much cross-competition going between Pac and B1G as they possibly can.

They can't play WAC and MAC teams forever, can they? (Wait don't answer that.)

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