On Tuesday, Oregon State and Washington State won a preliminary court ruling that affirmed their claim to being the sole governing members of the Pac-12. Now, schools are hoping to finalize their future scheduling arrangements, perhaps within the next few days.
There are many possibilities on the table, but many questions must be answered about their feasibility. A meeting of Mountain West chiefs is scheduled for Thursday.
According to three sources involved in the discussions, the most imminent possibility is for the two schools to remain members of the Pac-12, but form a football scheduling alliance with the Mountain West. The Beavers and Cougars will not be eligible for that conference tournament but will play the majority of their games against each other and different MWC schools for a year or two. While the schools will operate under the Pac-12 “umbrella,” they will not attempt to organize a conference championship for themselves.
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A source involved in the discussions said that “dialogue has increased” recently between PAC-2 and the Mountain West. The NCAA allows a two-year grace period for FBS conferences to return to the eight-school requirement.
Under the model being discussed, the schools’ other athletic teams would compete as “affiliate members” of the MWC and other Division I conferences such as the Big West or WCC. In those sports, they can play a full conference schedule and be eligible for those leagues’ tournaments as well as automatic berths to the NCAA tournaments.
“Our desire is to play for championships,” a school source said. “Obviously our focus is on the West, but maybe some sports will have to play in another conference.”
If the alliance with the Mountain West fails, the schools have also identified enough opponents to create their own football schedules for next year while placing their other sports in different conferences, two of the sources said.
But in order to float across multiple conferences, the two schools will need other associations willing to take up non-football sports, and those other conferences will need an incentive to do so. Schools may also need an NCAA waiver for this.
The announcement could come by the end of this week, though a second source involved in the discussions predicted it could take until after Thanksgiving to finalize the details. Oregon State AD Scott Barnes said Portland-based sportswriter John Canzano on Tuesday“We’ll get all the information to them when (coach) Jonathan (Smith) meets face-to-face with the players” after the regular season. The football transfer portal will open on December 4, but the women’s football portal has already opened, and the men’s football portal will open on November 20.
Oregon State and Washington State will “keep the Pac-12 open” as an entity, to preserve the league’s intellectual property and, more importantly, its assets. In addition to media rights and other revenue from last year as a 12-school league, the two expect to receive future revenue streams such as the NCAA Tournament units the league has already earned (an estimated $60 million), and the remaining two years of their Rose. Bowl contract (about $80 million) and two more years of CFP distributions (each Power 5 received $79 million last year, though it has not been determined whether the two-team Pac-12 will receive the same amount).
“The (Pac-12) marks in our field are not going to change at all,” a second school source said.
But these discussions are a two-way street. The Mountain West Conference and/or other conferences will need to get something out of the partnership. A few extra football matches and some additional inventory in other sports likely won’t be enough to increase TV revenue in a meaningful way. The league wouldn’t want to provide a part-time home for Oregon State and Washington State, just so they could raid the MWC in a few years. You will need some kind of long-term commitment. Yahoo Sports reported earlier this week The Sun Belt passed a Pac-2 Scheduling Alliance proposalAnd he sees no benefit in it.
The MWC does not have a rights grant and believes its exit fee slate extends in perpetuity, according to a league source. That means a member leaving with more than one year’s notice would cost at least $17 million, or at least $35 million if they left with less than one year’s notice, regardless of the status of their TV deal, which runs through 2025-26.
The possibility of Oregon State and Washington State using Pac-12 funds to pay that exit fee has been discussed informally, but it’s not clear how desirable that option is, nor exactly when the schools will have full control of those funds. Pac-2 schools have said they plan to keep their budgets at the Power 5 level, and will need a significant amount of that money to do so.
It’s also not clear if any of the MWC schools want to rebuild the Pac-12. Some members have been frustrated by the lack of proactive activity within the MWC, such as allowing the American Athletic Conference to annex several Texas schools in 2021. But joining the Pac-2 would come with all kinds of unknowns. Other than the remaining funds and a severely diminished brand, it’s not clear what advantages there will be, especially with the College Football Playoff about to move to a 5+7 12-team model next year. (Note: WSU President Kirk Schultz must approve this change for it to happen, as a Pac-12 CFP representative. He has indicated a willingness to negotiate.)
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The Pac-2 also does not have a media rights deal for next year, and the conference has been named in several lawsuits and an ongoing case with the National Labor Relations Board. What makes the league attractive enough for MWC schools to pay an exit fee or try to dissolve the MWC to leave a few outliers behind?
Oregon State and Washington State could simply join the Mountain West and enjoy a significant financial advantage, but the fact that that has not happened yet indicates how undesirable that option is for them. At least for now.
The main question now is: Can Oregon State and Washington State just float around in purgatory for a year or two hoping something better comes along? Whether that’s finding a way to rebuild the conference or hoping a Power 4 conference comes along? They may achieve a court victory in the short term, but they are running out of time to know the future.
“These are very unique circumstances and haven’t really been tested,” the first school source said. “There is a lot to discover.”
(Photo: James Snook/USA Today)
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