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Could Oregon State & Washington State remain in the Pac-12?

On June 30, 2022, an absolute shockwave was sent through the world of college athletics: USC and UCLA were leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten. It was unheard of at the time. Just imagining it -- two teams located in the very southwest corner of the continental United States joining a conference predominantly in the northern Midwest and headquartered in Chicago, a little over 2,000 miles away -- was totally insane. The farthest school away from USC in the Big Ten, Rutgers, is 18 miles away from the Atlantic Ocean. Whereas, USC is 10 miles away from the Pacific Ocean. At least with football, teams have a week to prepare and travel for games, but what about the other sports? Are UCLA's women's soccer teams expected to play Tuesday night games at Rutgers, Maryland, or Penn State and then attend classes in Los Angeles just a couple hours after getting home?

Fast forward just a little bit over one year and as crazy as those concepts still might be, they've become just another slight inconvenience in the world of college athletics. The Big Ten now has four Pacific Coast teams mixed in with all those Midwest and Atlantic Coast teams. The Big 12 now has schools in Florida, West Virginia, and Ohio sharing a conference with schools in Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. The SEC, perhaps the only regional Power 5 conference left, still has teams in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina competing against teams in Texas and Oklahoma.

Now, even the ACC has added West Coast teams. Friday morning, the ACC announced that its members had voted to invite Stanford, California, and SMU to the conference. So the ACC, whose farthest west members before were Louisville, Georgia Tech, and, excluding football, Notre Dame (all of whom are in the Eastern Time Zone), has now added two California schools, just miles from the Pacific Ocean, as well as a school from Texas.

As of the publishing of this article, 13 teams will begin play in a new Power 5 conference next year, the same year college football moves to a 12-team College Football Playoff:

SEC: Oklahoma & Texas

Big Ten: Oregon, UCLA, USC, & Washington

Big 12: Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, & Utah

ACC: Cal, SMU, & Stanford

We've known for a year now that the 2024 college football season would be one of major change, but Friday's move by the ACC just piled on. What does all this mean for the two remaining members of the Pac-12?

This season, the Pac-12 will play football with the 12 schools it's named for. Then, suddenly, as of now, they'll go from 12 to just 2 member institutions when the clock ticks 12:00am PDT on July 1, 2024: Oregon State and Washington State. The consensus around college football is that the two will just naturally fall into the Mountain West next year, a Group of 5 conference. If that were to happen, their best-case scenario this season would be upsetting former Heisman Trophy-winning QB Caleb Williams and #6 USC en route to a potential Pac-12 Championship. Doing so would land them a guaranteed New Year's Six bowl game berth, and maybe even a College Football Playoff berth, where they could compete for a National Championship. The best-case scenario in the G5 Mountain West Conference would be winning the Mountain West Championship for a berth in the LA Bowl. Their only chance at an NY6 or CFP berth would be to go 13-0, which, as we saw with 2017 UCF, might not even be enough for the CFP. Cougar and Beaver fans don't deserve this. The universities don't deserve this. These are two faithful and passionate fan bases of universities that put money and care into their football programs, even if they're not the biggest schools. Oregon State fans would die for their Civil War rivalry against Oregon. Washington State fans make sure that the Ol' Crimson flag is flying week in and week out in the background of ESPN College GameDay. When Lee Corso screams in cheer of the visiting team to start the show, we always get that panoramic shot of the crowd, we always see that Cougars logo. They don't deserve to be stuck going to a G5 conference...and maybe they don't have to.

Could Oregon State & Washington State remain in the Pac-12? In the NCAA rulebook, it's stated that an athletic conference must have a minimum of eight member institutions to compete in a sport. There's also an exception that allows two years to reach that eight-member benchmark.

The Mountain West's current media deal with CBS and FOX ends in 2026. Schools in the American Athletic Conference (AAC), probably the most competitive G5 conference, only need to pay a modest $10M exit fee. So, just as every conversation surrounding realignment must include hypotheticals, let's take a look at those. If Oregon State and Washington State stay in the Pac-12 after July 1, 2024, they're allowed to play 12 regular season games. This would include as many conference games against each other as they'd like, as many out-of-conference games as they'd like, a Pac-12 Championship against each other, and then go on to a bowl game, if eligible. Also, under the current format, there will be six conference champion berths available in the CFP the next two seasons. Whoever won that Pac-12 Championship would likely be in the CFP, unless they lost 4-5 games with a weak schedule. Plus, since the Pac-12 would still be considered a P5 conference by the NCAA, they'd have the right to the conference's guaranteed $79.3M from the CFP annually, as well as a P5 compensation amount from March Madness, even if neither school makes the tournament. Then, all they need is a short-term grant of rights deal. Would Apple TV really turn a deal down if the schools took just, say, $12M? Why wouldn't they? They'd make it back. Maybe someone like CBS will have a gap without the SEC and take them on, or ESPN could get a 10:30 pm ET game back once the current Pac-12 GOR ends. That likely wouldn't be an issue.

This way, each school would earn over $100M per year for those two bridge seasons of 2024-25 and 2025-26. Plus, add all the revenue the schools make independently off merchandise, tickets, etc. So now, the hypothetical: what about after that? Well, they could get through the 2025-26 academic year on their own. That's when the Mountain West GOR ends. Without an exit fee, why would Boise State, Fresno State, San Diego State, and Air Force (possibly Wyoming, Colorado State, or UNLV as well), say no? They'd see the same benefits in joining the Pac-12 as listed here. They'd officially be in a power conference and make that kind of revenue from the NCAA. Even if the GOR or fan perception isn't in the same league as the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC or ACC. What's the problem with that? There really isn't a risk in that situation. It would be a refined Mountain West, but better. They're essentially replacing Hawaii, Utah State, Nevada, and New Mexico with two P5 schools. Then adding P5 money by doing so, tripling or even quadrupling their revenue in the Mountain West right now.

On top of that, as mentioned before, schools in the AAC would only have to pay $10M to leave, so they'd be able to use the exact same pitch made to those Mountain West schools with the AAC schools they want. Tulane and Memphis are the two most obvious and valuable candidates, but who else? UTSA has been pretty good lately, just joining the elite conference of the G5 for this season, plus they bring the recruiting haven of Texas into the conference in a valuable market in San Antonio. Rice brings the same with the Houston market. USF has always been viewed as a sleeping giant, and bringing Navy in with the independent Army to join Air Force would unite the three service academies, which they've been trying to do since they all started football programs a century ago. Of course, these scenarios require leaving the West Coast more often, but the money is there...and we've seen over the last year that travel has moved to the bottom of the priority list behind money, playoff access, and even more money.

After all that, here's what a new Pac-12 could look like in 2026 after Oregon State and Washington State ride out two years alone in the conference:


Air Force

Boise St.

Colorado St.

Fresno St.

Oregon St.

San Diego St.

Washington St.









Is this likely? Is it unlikely? Who knows when it comes to conference realignment. These schools know this is a possibility though. If there was no hope in the Pac-12 right now, they'd join the Mountain West because we now know that the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, and AAC aren't taking them, but they haven't. They still have hope. Everything that's mentioned here is common knowledge at Oregon State and Washington State, it just depends on whether they're willing to try it. And if they do, can they pull it off?



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