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Pac-12 mailbag: Strategy for Washington State and OSU, poaching penalty for MW schools

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

Editor’s note: Some questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.

With the hefty price to lure Mountain West teams into a rebuilt Pac-12, what’s the strategy for Washington State and Oregon State? – @NoahSaxon72

At its most basic level, the strategy has little connection to the Mountain West. Instead, WSU and OSU are staying as flexible as possible and monitoring the landscape.

If another realignment wave hits – a wave triggered by the fracturing of the ACC – the two schools plan to be well-positioned for any opportunities at the power conference level.

But let’s imagine a world in which the status quo holds: The ACC stays intact; the Big 12 remains content with its structure; and the ‘Pac-2’ schools have no options but to rebuild the conference.

The agreement with the Mountain West, as reported by the Oregonian, carries hefty penalties for poaching, including a $10 million (approximate) fee for every school that accepts an invitation to join the Pac-12 before the summer of 2027.

In other words, an attempt by WSU and OSU to grab six Mountain West schools (to form an eight-team conference) would carry a price tag in the $60 million range.

They have the money: A war chest of approximately $200 million, courtesy of the Rose Bowl contract and NCAA Tournament distributions, should be available.

But to what extent do the Cougars and Beavers plan to use those assets to fund their athletic operations, as opposed to rebuilding the conference?

That’s one of many decisions looming.

However, one source with knowledge of the agreement described the penalty as “not enough to prevent anyone from leaving” the Mountain West to join the rebuilt Pac-12.

Notably, the source added that the per-school cost (about $10 million) had been “hammered down” from the original proposal.

Our guess: The Mountain West schools most vulnerable to getting left behind (San Jose State, Utah State, Nevada, Hawaii) pushed for a big number to dissuade the ‘Pac-2’ from poaching, while the schools likely to make the jump (San Diego State, Fresno State, Boise State) insisted on what they viewed as a reasonable number.

That said, the Hotline has yet to see a departure fee that cannot be negotiated down when it comes time for the departing schools to exit. Heck, the Pac-12 just reached a settlement, and it didn’t have an exit penalty.

(That was one of many mistakes made over the years by the university presidents, who didn’t believe anyone would ever leave the conference.)

All of which is to say the following:

The stipulations within the agreement won’t stop WSU and OSU from poaching the top Mountain West football schools if that, in fact, becomes their strategy.

Nothing will happen in the near term. For now, WSU and OSU will compete as a two-team conference with all eyes on the roiling ACC.

What do you think the ‘Pac-2’ bowl situation for next year looks like? Are any of the current bowl contracts still valid, or will the schools be hunting around with ESPN Events for a spot? – @AmbitiousCoug

The bowl contracts must be overhauled with the demise of the conference, but we’re confident Washington State and Oregon State will have bowl berths available if they clear the six-win eligibility threshold.

The schools will have far more appeal to bowl games than many others.

And yes, ESPN will broker the deals. It essentially controls the postseason.

Why did Washington State president Kirk Schulz request that the College Football Playoff board delay voting to change the automatic qualification format? – @CelestialMosh

Admittedly, we don’t know the specifics behind Schulz’s request. The presidents typically keep their discussions private, and we have not spoken to Schulz in the days since the decision.

However, the delay doesn’t change the outcome: The CFP will shift the access format from six automatic qualifiers and six at-large bids to five automatics and seven at-larges.

With the demise of the Pac-12 reducing the number of power conferences to four, the change would leave one automatic bid for the top Group of Five team.

The other 11 spots will be divided between the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC, with the latter two gobbling the majority.