PULLMAN – Washington State’s leaders are offering words of encouragement for Pac-12 supporters.
“Really, I’m very optimistic moving forward,” WSU president Kirk Schulz said Friday. “With every week that goes by, that sense of optimism probably increases.
“The conference is as unified as I’ve seen it in my six years here.”
Speculation regarding the Pac-12’s fate has been swirling since June 30, when USC and UCLA gave the West Coast power conference a major gut punch – the Los Angeles schools will officially drop out of the Pac-12 in 2024 and join the Big Ten.
Many began to fear for the Pac-12’s stability without its stronghold in L.A. Would more members defect in search of lucrative options in other conferences?
“When the announcement first came out, obviously there was a sense of, ‘Oh, maybe everybody’s out for themselves,’ ” Schulz said.
“But over the last couple of weeks, there has been a strong focus on moving ahead strategically. What can we do to make the Pac-12 stronger than it is now? That’s been the focus of our conversations.”
Three weeks into this round of conference realignment, the Pac’s 10 remaining schools are holding steady.
“Our membership is committed to being together,” WSU athletic director Pat Chun added. “Obviously, we had two members that weren’t committed.
“Being in these meetings, there is positivity. We are united and there is a pathway forward for the Pac-12. … Where we sit today, I honestly think the Pac-12 is well-positioned for its next chapter, and that’s good news for Washington State.”
WSU’s administrators struck a positive tone during wide-ranging phone calls with The Spokesman-Review earlier this week. Schulz and Chun are asking Cougars fans and Pac-12 enthusiasts to remain patient as the conference works through media-rights agreements with prospective TV partners and considers expansion.
Media rights are at the top of the agenda for the Pac-12, which entered its 30-day negotiating window earlier this month. Schulz and Chun can’t provide concrete details, but both hinted at a favorable outcome around the corner.
“I think it’s going to put us in a very strong position,” Schulz said of the Pac-12’s potential media deal. “We haven’t seen lots of specific numbers yet. It’s too preliminary to say at this point, but we fully expect (the media payout for Pac-12 schools) to be substantially more than we’re getting right now.
“That’s a really important factor for our fans to know – we’re not going to be in some diminished Pac-12 with less revenue. I think we’re going to see a nice enhancement in revenue, and that’s going to be important for lower-budgeted schools like Washington State.”
That’s not just some false hope, Schulz assured. From what he’s heard, media partners are excited about a West Coast product.
“We still have some tremendously valuable schools in our footprint that have lots of TV eyes nationally, regionally,” said Schulz, a key player in the Pac-12’s negotiations.
A respected voice nationally in college athletics, Schulz is one of the Pac-12’s executive committee members and the conference’s representative on the College Football Playoff board of managers.
“Top to bottom, we’ve got a quality set of 10 schools and our media partners want a strong West Coast presence. Does it hurt to lose the L.A. market? No question. But on the other hand, I think we’re well-positioned moving forward.”
Despite reports that the Big 12 is considering a few Pac-12 schools, Schulz has observed a “unified sense of purpose” among Pac-12 leaders during biweekly meetings between the conference’s presidents, athletic directors and second-year commissioner George Kliavkoff.
“People might say, ‘That’s great, but what about the dollars?’ ” Schulz said. “If the dollars are correct, nobody’s going to go anywhere.”
Might the Pac-12 add a couple of new members – San Diego State, Southern Methodist and Fresno State have been mentioned as possible targets – to the fold? Perhaps, but Schulz said he doesn’t expect to see any announcements in the next month about expansion.
“We’re trying to take our time and do this carefully. I can’t tell you today whether we will expand or won’t expand. We’re taking a careful and deliberate look at schools that fit our academic profile in the Pac-12, that care deeply about the student-athlete experience … and share the core values of the schools in the western part of the U.S.”
Talks of a potential merger between the Pac-12 and Big 12 fizzled out last week, according to ESPN. WSU’s leaders downplayed the significance of the news.
“There’s just a lot of dialogue going on right now,” Schulz said. “We’re exploring lots of opportunities as a conference. Our fans should expect that we’re not putting all our eggs in a certain basket, and that we’re continuing this dialogue. I think people are going to be excited about what comes out in the next few months. It’s going to be a bright future for the Pac-12.”