July 23, 2024
Ten schools are fleeing the conference next summer in an unprecedented collapse. Will Washington State and Oregon State attempt to rebuild the conference?

The Pac-12 hurtled toward dissolution Friday as two of the remaining schools, Stanford and Cal, received invitations from the ACC, according to a source close to the process.

Only Washington State and Oregon State remain as members for the 2024-25 sports season — at least for the moment.

The Cougars and Beavers are exploring several options, including traditional conference realignment moves into either the Mountain West or American Athletic Conference.

The most intriguing play is also the most complicated: Rebuild the Pac-12 by raiding other leagues or executing a reverse merger with the Mountain West.

Everything had been on hold as the schools waited for Stanford and Cal to make a decision.

“The rebuild with four (schools) was the best option but also had challenges,” a source said. “Now, it’s time to figure out what it looks like with two.”

The unprecedented nature of the Pac-12’s collapse, with 10 schools scheduled to depart next summer, has cluttered the terrain for Washington State and Oregon State.

Before choosing their path, the schools first must determine what assets and liabilities exist within the Pac-12’s legal and financial structures and whether remaining as the sole owners of the conference would be the most lucrative move.

“They have to look at the bylaws, just as they would if there were four schools (remaining),’’ an industry source said. “It’s harder, and they don’t have the academic heft of Stanford and Cal.

“But they are committed to getting clarity on the financial and legal pieces. This isn’t an issue for the athletic directors or the presidents. It’s an issue for the financial officers and the attorneys.”

The Pac-12 bylaws suggest Oregon State and Washington State would control the conference’s assets if the legal entity remains intact, but the assets would be split 12 ways if the Beavers and Cougars depart and the conference is dissolved.

“It may not make sense for Washington State and Oregon State to go into another conference,’’ the industry source said. “If you dissolve the Pac-12, then you’d divide by 12.”

The NCAA Tournament units accrued by the conference in the six-year cycle ending in March 2024 are expected to carry a value of more than $60 million through the end of the decade. Depending on how the attorneys interpret the bylaws, the Beavers and Cougars could be entitled to the entire amount.

Other conference assets include the emergency reserve fund, the Pac-12 Networks infrastructure and various sponsorships.

However, there are liabilities, including a recently signed lease on office space in the Bay Area to house the Pac-12 Networks production facility.

(All 12 schools are expected to share the financial hit from the Comcast overpayment scandal via revenue reductions in the current fiscal year.)

“Once clarity comes, and if there’s access to the (NCAA) units, there might be a clear path,” the source said.

But two schools don’t make a functioning conference. The reconfigured Pac-12 would need at least eight members by the summer of 2026 to meet critical NCAA requirements.

If they chose to rebuild, the Cougars and Beavers could attempt to poach the top Mountain West football programs. Or they could attempt the tricky reverse merger with the Mountain West dissolving and all 12 schools entering the Pac-12 together.

“No brand in the Group of Five has the value of the Pac-12 brand,” the industry source said. “If you have the brand, you own the history.”

The other vital piece to any salvage operation is securing a media rights deal that would begin next summer. No linear networks (ESPN, Fox, CBS) or streaming services (Apple, Amazon) would partner with the rebuilt Pac-12 without knowing the membership composition.

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Mountain West commissioner Gloria Nevarez, a former Pac-12 executive, likely would be appointed commissioner of the rebuilt league.

“The good thing is that Gloria’s willing to be creative, and she’s smart enough to see what’s at stake,” a source said. “You could argue that she knows the Pac-12 better than anyone (currently working there).”

But the reverse merger option and pursuit of a media rights contract are on hold until the Cougars and Beavers decide whether to attempt a reclamation project or simply flee the scene of destruction.

And they won’t make that decision until clarity comes on the assets and liabilities, an intricate process that could take several weeks.

“Washington State and Oregon State are pragmatic schools,’’ a source said. “They don’t have egos. They know who they are, and they have some time.

“Nobody contemplated this when they wrote the bylaws. It’s outside all scenarios.”

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