FORT COLLINS, Colo. – There may well come a day when Washington State leaves the ruins of the Pac-12 Conference for the Mountain West, a move that might be seen as equal parts seismic and strange.
If that day is in the cards, it’s some time away, according to Mountain West Commissioner Gloria Nevarez.
“At this point, I think we would best couch it as just having started a conversation,” Nevarez said on Saturday afternoon at Canvas Stadium, the site of Washington State’s season opener against Colorado State. “It was public that we went to visit both campuses (WSU and Oregon State), and we just talked about who we are, and how we’re built, mission, core values and how we’re structured.”
As one of the two schools left standing in what is now the Pac-2, WSU has few options. A Big 12 invite doesn’t seem imminent. American Athletic Commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement Friday that the conference will “not look westward” in expansion.
That eliminates two options that Washington State President Kirk Schulz outlined in some of his first public comments on the collapse of the Pac-12 and the Cougars’ place in the rubble. Only one of three options is still on the table: joining the Mountain West.
In part, that’s why Nevarez visited Pullman last week. In that meeting with WSU brass and the school’s advisory committee, Nevarez outlined the benefits of the Cougars joining the conference, according to a memo posted to the school’s website. Still, asked on Saturday about the meeting, Nevarez described it as more of an introduction than a plan.
She said that’s because she’s still relatively new to the Mountain West. Previously, she worked in the Pac-12 from 2011-2018, serving as senior associate commissioner and senior woman administrator. She became the Mountain West’s commissioner in January.
“I think it’s more of a start of a conversation, getting to know each other, at least getting to know the Mountain West,” Nevarez said, “because I am very familiar with both the schools and personnel, but really just introducing them to who we are.”
Among other things, according to that memo, Nevarez said she would “welcome WSU with open arms.”
What makes her comfortable with that idea?
“I do think both those schools (WSU and Oregon State), geographically, are aligned with us,” Nevarez said. “We take a lot of pride in our student-athlete experience. Our schools have a lot of synergy around providing accessible education, being inclusive, but also having a broad range of impact on their immediate community. So I think there’s a lot of similarities there.”
There may be multiple ways for WSU and the Mountain West to join forces. The most obvious might be for the Cougars to simply join the conference. In that scenario, they would likely be losing out on what’s left of Pac-12 distribution funds, according to a reading of the bylaws – but it’s likely the least-risky move, since they would immediately have a new conference home.
Alternatively, the Mountain West could vote to dissolve the conference, which would eliminate the roughly $30 million exit fees that would come with those teams leaving in time for the 2024 season.
That might enable WSU and OSU to form a new conference under the Pac-12 branding and rebuild the conference, which was another option Schulz mentioned.
Whatever happens, though, seems destined to drag on for at least several more weeks.
“There’s some things that need to be sorted out between schools and the Pac-12 Conference, and I’m sure that’s gonna take some time,” Nevarez said.
“And then on the outward-bound, you have to think about preparing for next season. But from our perspective, we’re good. We’re ready to rock this season and ready to pivot if we need to later.”