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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

New Pac-12 commissioner, WSU’s Schulz vow to press forward in murky NCAA straits

WSU President Kirk Schulz speaks at a ceremony announcing a partnership between the VA medical center and WSU medical school on Aug. 31, 2020. He’s leaving WSU in 2025.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

On the day when the official schedule for Washington State’s football team was announced, about the only thing WSU President Kirk Schulz could guarantee about the future for Cougar fans: They get some “terrific” new college towns to visit on Saturdays.

Schulz joined newly appointed Pac-12 Commissioner Teresa Gould for a news conference Thursday where they vowed to keep fighting to ensure that the conference’s only remaining members, Oregon State and WSU, continue to get a chance to play for championships and a share of revenues amid a college landscape that is changing seemingly by the hour.

Gould sat for her first meeting last week as part of the College Football Playoff selection committee when it decided on a new 12-team playoff system for the upcoming and 2025 seasons. Of those 12 teams, five slots will be reserved for the five-highest ranked conference champions and seven at-large selections.

Gould noted that college presidents and conference commissioners have agreed on nothing for 2026 and beyond.

“I think none of us would have ever anticipated the amount of change that is going on right now,” said Gould, responding to a question. “Yesterday looks different than today. And, who knows what the headline is going to be tomorrow.”

Gould officially takes over Friday for former Commissioner George Kliavkoff, who was ousted by a vote of Schulz and Oregon State president Jayathi Murthy, who are the only two remaining Pac-12 governing board members after the conference’s other 10 schools departed for the Big Ten, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast conferences.

Schulz and Murthy hired Gould, who had been serving as the senior associate commissioner under Kliavkoff.

“Just to be clear, we are very much in the infancy stages of talking about what happens beyond 2026,” Gould said, referring to the College Football Playoff committee. “We are not discussing one model or one option. We are looking at many.”

Gould said her first priority is to make sure WSU and OSU have access to the playoffs based on “what they competitively earned on the field. Number two, that they are treated fairly in terms of revenue distribution,” she said.

The conference, which is allowed to continue for two years under NCAA rules, already has signed a scheduling agreement with the Mountain West Conference for the upcoming and 2025 season for football. For basketball and most other sports, WSU and OSU have become associate members of the West Coast Conference.

As part of the deal with the Mountain West, the remnants of the Pac-12 agreed to formally discuss a potential merger. But Gould said those talks have not yet taken place.

“We have been very much focused over the last couple months in finding homes for all of our sports,” she said. “That has been the short priority, to make sure all of the programs on both campuses have a viable home for next year to compete and to have access to the post season.

“The football agreement was critical in advancing those goals for us,” she continued. “I would say in terms of the future, … our obligation to our programs and our student athletes is to remain open-minded to all options. We really do feel that there are going to be a lot of different options on the table that we need to consider and pursue.”

Schulz added the pivotal vote for the College Football Playoff commissioners – college presidents and chancellors separate from the CFP committee – to create the new 12-team playoff. The key for him, he said, was securing seven at-large spots.

“At the end of the day, what’s important for Washington State University and for our football program is access to the playoff,” he said. “If you have one of those magical special seasons, and we win a lot of football games and are nationally ranked, I want to make sure I don’t have to sit down with our players and coaches and say, ‘Sorry. That access is just not there.’”

Both Gould and Schulz were asked to respond to reports about how the recent agreement between the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference may signal that those power conferences were seeking a split from the NCAA.

Schulz said he thinks that would be a mistake.

“It’s easy to throw hand grenades at the NCAA. I know schools do. Presidents do. Lots of people do,” Schulz said. “But at the end of the day, we need an organization that puts on championships, that does do some rules setting and handles enforcement.”

He said it’s too early to trash the current system, even as it faces myriad legal challenges on many fronts, including union membership and athletes seeking compensation for playing before the Name Image Likeness agreements.

“I think if you don’t have the NCAA, you are going to have to have another organization do that,” Schulz said. “Let’s work with structure we’ve got instead of just standing up something brand new.”

Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Colorado, California, Stanford, UCLA and USC all left the Pac-12 after it failed to secure a new television rights deal.

Gould said she’s had some very promising conversations but did not provide specifics.

“We know there are passionate fan bases for both programs all over the country that really want to make sure that they are able to watch all of those home games,” she said. “I think we are hopeful that we will have an announcement in the near future. But we have been really encouraged about interest in those media rights.”

Whatever deal is struck, Schulz acknowledged that it probably will not approach the revenue from the previous Pac-12 television contract. That leaves WSU facing the prospect of less money at a time it’s $100 million in debt following upgrades to Martin Stadium and other athletic facilities over the past decade.

“Over time, athletics at WSU has overspent,” said Schulz, who noted that it was one of many schools to do so. “We’ve made a strong commitment that we can’t accumulate more internal debt. So we are having some tough internal conversations about what that is going to look like.”

The university must pay about $10 million a year just to service the debt.

“It’s just like any of us with a car or house payment; you can’t elect not to do that,” he said. “I don’t want anybody thinking that somehow we are going to default on that. We are building that into our budget models looking forward.”

Schulz said the school will begin meeting with the WSU Board of Regents next week for a budget that will be made public in April.

“So we are going to have to make adjustments in our budget and what we pay and things like that,” Schulz said. “But we don’t feel we have to do that overnight. We can take our time and do them in a measured fashion.”

He noted that since the Pac-12 largely dissolved last fall, the school has been able to retain most coaches and athletes.

“We only had a few of our students go into the (transfer) portal,” he said. “And it surprised us and surprised our staff as much as anybody else.

“I wish there was something that was in the water in Pullman that I could point to, but it really comes down to the coaches,” he continued, “and the culture they build in addition to some of those other resource pieces.”

Those same coaches also were pleased with the recruiting classes they signed for the fall sports, he said.

“Are there some that might have decided to go elsewhere because they don’t know what conference they are going to be competing in? I’d be naive to say none of that happened,” Schulz said. “But not to the extent that all of us really feared.”

Instead of Los Angeles, Seattle, Eugene or Salt Lake City, Cougar fans now get to visit Fresno, San Diego and Albuquerque for away games in 2024 as part of the new scheduling agreement with the Mountain West.

“I’m looking forward to our fans seeing new football venues,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that we don’t come strutting in there thinking we are just better than everybody else because of where we were before. We’ll end up getting our ass kicked if that happens.”

In the meantime, Schulz and Gould will continue to retain the Pac-12 brand and watch for opportunities in a changing college landscape.

“We want to be respectful to our new conference partners,” Schulz said, “and we’ve got to keep our eyes on the horizon about what’s best for our two institutions.”