PULLMAN – Beginning in 2024, Washington State’s conference opponents won’t include Southern Cal and UCLA. But that’s the least of the Cougars’ concerns regarding Thursday’s stunning news.
In two years, the Trojans and Bruins will ditch the Pac-12 and join the Big Ten. The Los Angeles schools’ decision triggered a ripple effect that will be felt across the college athletics world – and will fundamentally change the landscape of NCAA competition on the West Coast.
What does it mean for the future of the Pac-12 Conference and its remaining members, such as Washington State?
WSU quarterbacking great Ryan Leaf echoed the sentiment that many Cougars fans had expressed on Twitter throughout the day.
“It’s not good for the (Pac-12) and certainly not good for Wazzu,” Leaf said via text message.
Best-case scenario: The Pac-12 manages to survive despite losing its foothold in L.A., retains its existing members and adds a couple of new schools to the fold. The conference would presumably need to poach from the Mountain West or the Big 12 – which will send Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC in the coming years.
A Pac-12/Big 12 merger is another intriguing alternative that became a talking point among college football experts shortly after reports surfaced that UCLA and USC would be departing.
But without the two flagship L.A. schools and all the TV revenue they produce, the Pac-12 and its remaining institutions are sure to take a financial hit if the conference stays alive. That doesn’t bode well for the Cougars, whose athletic department reported an operating deficit of over $30 million in spring 2021.
Worst-case scenario: The long-lived Pac-12 dissolves and its member schools are forced to find new homes.
It wouldn’t be so difficult for some of the conference’s more prominent universities, such as Oregon and Washington. The Big Ten might attempt to add another well-known member or two, according to reports, and the Ducks and Huskies would probably be the top choices. Some national college football reporters have suggested the Big 12 may pursue a few Pac-12 leftovers from sizable markets.
That could leave the smaller-market teams – namely WSU and Oregon State – on the outside looking in.
“Essentially relegation,” Leaf added.
There is a real possibility that both fall from power conference status in 2024 and have no other options but to join the Mountain West Conference. Of course, the WSU faithful would prefer the Big 12 if the Pac-12 were to crumble.
“This won’t be the last change we see. The big guys are getting bigger and the distance between the haves and have-nots will get farther apart,” former Cougars football coach (1989-2002) Mike Price said over text. “We are all COUGS and we are proud of our record in the Pac-12 and our football history. WSU will always be our team and we will support them and cheer for them no matter what league we will be in. I don’t think the sky is falling, but just a change of weather.”
The Pac-12 was “extremely surprised and disappointed by the news coming out of UCLA and USC,” per a lengthy statement issued Thursday evening by the conference office, which affirmed that it is “confident (the Pac-12) will continue to thrive and grow into the future.”
A WSU spokesman referred to the Pac-12 release when asked for comment.
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