WSU president prepares realignment moves from ‘bad spot’

Tamil houseESPNAugust 9, 2023, 12:34 p.m. ET5 minutes to read

Washington State President Kirk Schultz has admitted that his school’s athletic program is in “bad shape” as it faces a harsh new reality in the wake of the Pac-12 defections last week.

Schulz, in his first conference call back to four teams, relived tense moments at the Pac-12 Chiefs’ call Friday morning. Going into the day, optimism emerged that Oregon and Washington might stick to a new TV deal and save the league.

Oregon and Washington essentially ended the call before it began, Schulz said, revealing their intentions to finalize a deal with the Big Ten.

“It’s like breaking up; it’s awkward,” Schulz said. “Nobody wants to sit there for too long.”

The pivotal point came as the call got under way, when Schulz texted veteran athletic director Pat Chun: “We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

In a wide-ranging interview with ESPN, Schulz assessed Washington State’s options moving forward as “keeping all things on fire.” He stressed his and Chun’s involvement with the student-athletes in the aftermath of the seismic day and admitted to being “angered” at his fan base.

Schulz served as Kansas’ chief through and around the Big 12 upsets of 2010, distilling Friday’s detour from a potential deal with Apple into the current scramble.

“I don’t remember a day that was so dramatic in a change of scenery,” he said.

He later added, “College athletics is at its worst with this realignment stuff. Everyone is really looking out for themselves. What it also does is change behavior and people stop being honest with each other.”

Schulz made it clear that regardless of conference or affiliation, Washington State would continue to “invest” like the Power 5 program. He also said Washington State would not cut sports, even if it faced a budget crunch that he estimated would account for 40% of school athletic revenues that would disappear. (The school already faces a budget shortfall of more than $11 million, and he said using student fees, which are low at the school, might be one way to help raise money for athletics.)

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He emphasized the human side of a moment like this for the Washington State Department of Sports and Athletes, predicting that the next two years “wouldn’t be pretty.”

“I don’t want to underestimate it,” Schultz said, “that’s some budgetary practice.” “You’re laying people off. Your best coaches are always on the market. All of a sudden, one of these shows [to a coach that] It didn’t look so good a year ago [looks different]. “

Washington State’s future remains uncertain. He and Chun met with 200 student-athletes for half an hour and answered their questions and concerns about what athletics would look like in Washington state. They have created an open dialogue to answer more questions and concerns that will arise.

The athletes’ main questions centered on whether to cut the sport, access to tournaments, travel, and the final conference destination for the school.

Schulz did not have an answer to the conference piece, saying that WSU has hired an advisor and will explore options. These have included adding programs to the remaining Pac-12 or joining a league such as the Mountain West or perhaps the American Athletic Conference.

“At the end of the day, we’re doing something on the East Coast that, unless there’s a lot of money, there’s no way to make it work,” Schulz said.

Waiting for an engagement between the ACC, Stanford, and Cal is something they — and Oregon State — are dealing with, he said.

Part of the chancellor’s job will be to assess the residual value of the Pac-12, which includes significant brand equity, NCAA basketball units and what area the four remaining schools should have access to from the media money received from the Pac-12. Attorneys are examining the extent to which these schools have access to media funds and other league assets this year.

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The four remaining school leaders now make up the Pac-12 Board of Directors. Schulz is the only one with ample experience in member-athletes, as both Stanford and Cal leaders are on their way out, and Oregon State President Jayathi Y. Murthy has been in office for less than a year.

If Cal and Stanford don’t go to the ACC, Schulz is open to exploring a forward path for the Pac-12 as an option. However, Schulz said it’s uncertain if Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkov will be a part of that.

It was a “minor issue” at this point when asked specifically about Kliavkov’s future, Scholz said, but “if we choose to reconstruct a conference around those four schools, is George that guy? It all then becomes a primary issue rather than a secondary problem.” ” He has said that if Stanford and Cal remain, any creative solution moving the Pac-12 forward will likely require a “different” media consultant. Kliavkoff hired Doug Pearlman of Sports Media Consultants, who did not have extensive college sports experience.

“For me, when something like this happens, we need a new group of people to start the slate clean,” Schulz said of a media consultant.

What might some Pac-12 options look like? He noted that schools from the Mountain West and possibly in Texas could be looking to jump in, but that is all dependent on a media deal.

Schulz said Washington State and Oregon State are in touch with Mountain West, which looms as an option. There is skepticism from Mountain West that Stanford and Cal would want to join, he said, but the league is “very interested” in Oregon and Washington State.

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We may accept an invitation to join [the Mountain West]And we rely on private dollars to make sure our budgets are top of the league.”

Schulz, who has been at Washington State since 2016, gave little thought to how the league got to this point and acknowledged that the Chiefs played a role in the conference’s demise.

When he got to WSU, he said, he was “amazed how little I got to engage with the Chiefs” in their respective athletic departments. A culture emerged where the Pac-12 chiefs only met three times a year, and there was little crossover with the athletic directors.

He saw a much different level of interest than when he was in the Big 12.

Asked if presidents deserve some blame, Schulz said, “Chiefs do.” We have separated presidents for too long.

He said Klyavkov was “shocked” by leaving USC and UCLA. From that moment on, Schulze said, the league members started looking for themselves.

“That’s what we did in the end,” Schulz said. “Not just last week. People had feet in both camps.”

Schulz knows that thinking about the past won’t help Washington State move forward. Clarity about the school’s future should come in the coming weeks, he said, and the return of football would help.

Washington State hosts Wisconsin in a marquee game during the second week of the season.

“Once you get through the next week or two, people will take a deep breath and a little sanity will start,” Schulz said. “We have a new milestone for a new indoor practice facility in the Wisconsin game. We’re playing soccer. There’s positive momentum, we’re investing in the facilities. It doesn’t mean everything goes away.”

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