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Mailbag: The cleanest move for Washington State, OSU and the Mountain West, an ACC divorce and more

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

Isn’t the easiest and cheapest option for Washington State and Oregon State to execute a reverse merger with the entire Mountain West joining the Pac-12? If not, why not? — @MarcSheehan006

The football scheduling agreement between the ‘Pac-2’ and the Mountain West attaches a $10 million poaching fee (approximately) to each current MW school.

If the Cougars and Beavers attempt to invite four schools (San Diego State, Fresno State, Boise State and Colorado State, for example), it would cost them about $40 million. Six newcomers would cost about $60 million, and so on.

However, if the Mountain West dissolves, the poaching costs vanish.

So, yes: The cleanest and cheapest move for the ‘Pac-2’ would be for nine (or more) MW schools to vote for dissolution.

However, we aren’t convinced the Cougars and Beavers would want nine schools, much less all of them. Several are so lacking in competitive success and media value that they would weaken a rebuilt Pac-12.

Of course, the scheduling agreement was written with exactly that reality in mind — to protect the bottom third of the MW from being left behind if the ‘Pac-2’ attempt to raid the conference.

WSU and OSU could take nine (or more) for free. Anything less would be extremely costly.

Your recent article about Washington State and Oregon State (and the strategy moving forward) was great. I would love to hear your thoughts on the upcoming accounting: When and how do the schools and the conference receive and spend (or save) the funds? What stays at the conference, and what is used by each school? Thanks. — @GardenGirlNW

It’s complicated, but here are the basics:

— The revenue generated by all 12 schools during the 2023-24 competition season will be distributed in installments, with the bulk of it coming in the spring.

— The longer-term assets will be available to WSU and OSU at various points over the next few years. For instance, NCAA Tournament dollars are distributed each spring based on units earned over the prior six years.

— The Pac-12 Networks infrastructure could provide ongoing revenue (if leased to a media company), or the infrastructure could become a liability starting this summer if WSU and OSU cannot find a use for it.

So it’s not as simple as the ‘Pac-2’ schools having every last dollar available all at once. Also, their expenditures are fluid.

How much of the total current revenue and future assets should be plowed into athletic department operations to offset the loss of approximately $30 million in revenue from expiring Pac-12 media contracts with ESPN and Fox?

How much should be set aside for rebuilding the conference in 2026 and beyond?

If the Cougars and Beavers have made final determinations, their decisions are not public — a least not yet. But we’re skeptical because of the remaining unknowns:

How much cash will be generated by their (pending) media deals for the home football games in 2024-25?

What are the damages from numerous lawsuits against the Pac-12?

How will the College Football Playoff share revenue for the 2024-25 season and in the next media contract cycle that begins in 2026?

(There are other unresolved issues.)

Our sense is that WSU and OSU will lean into the available revenue and assets to support operations while keeping as much in reserve as possible to prepare for a build-out of the conference in 2026.

What’s the latest on Florida State’s lawsuit against the ACC? That could very well impact the future of the so-called ‘Pac-2’ schools. — @CelestialMosh

The situation is getting uglier by the week.

The ACC’s latest court filing accuses the Seminoles of breaching their contract with the ACC and violating confidentiality agreements and, notably, it seeks to bar FSU from the conference’s board of directors.

Specifically, it asks the court for a “permanent injunction barring Florida State from participating in the management of the affairs of the Conference while it has a direct and material conflict of interest.”

So everything’s just grand.

Two things are abundantly clear, in our view:

— The process will take many months to play out.

— There is no turning back.

Even if the Seminoles lose their challenge to the ACC’s grant-of-rights contract, the political damage is done, the relationship is broken and it’s only a matter of when, not if, Florida State exits.

And as we have noted repeatedly, the Seminoles will have company. Clemson, North Carolina and Virginia would depart, as well, leaving the ACC in a greatly depleted state.

In that scenario, the implications for Stanford, Cal, Washington State and Oregon State — and many others — would be momentous.

Do you see the SEC and Big Ten breaking away and forming their own playoff that would exclude the ACC and Big-12? — @JonBernal19

Before presenting our view, the Hotline feels compelled to offer important context: This topic has received attention lately but isn’t new.

Back in the winter of 2022, after the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 voted against College Football Playoff expansion, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey quietly left open the possibility of his conference forming its own postseason event.

A few months later, Sankey addressed the topic publicly, telling The Athletic: “It’s still in a folder someplace. I’m not offering that as leverage. We were talking about our own reality.”

But the seed had been planted.

Fast forward to the 2023 season, with the Pac-12 fractured and the Power Five having given way to the Big Two. Guess who Sankey got chummy with? Yep, new Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti.

Yahoo made note of their relationship in a recent article. But for months, there have been whispers about an increasing level of strategic alignment between the two conferences.

Yes, they are rivals on the field and serve competing media overlords — the Big Ten has linked arms with Fox, the SEC with ESPN — but they are alike in one crucial respect:

Neither has much need for the ACC, Big 12, ‘Pac-2’ and Group of Five.

Does that mean Sankey and Petitti are actively planning their own postseason event? Probably not, although the legal framework for a postseason breakaway exists.

Here’s why:

The CFP is expanding to 12 teams for the 2024 and 2025 seasons — the final years of the current media contract cycle with ESPN.

But starting in the fall of 2026, the CFP effectively does not exist. There is no media contract. There is no binding format for access and brackets.

So the SEC and Big Ten could take their long list of blue-blood schools and form an eight-team event that would render the other league obsolete.

In our opinion, the breakaway option isn’t their preference. They would much prefer a format for 2026 and beyond that includes the entire FBS while creating favorable circumstances for the kingpin conferences on two critical fronts: access (i.e., bids) and cash.

In other words, the breakaway option would be used, first and foremost, as leverage. And we suspect that will prove a successful tactic, for the Big 12, ACC, ‘Pac-2’ and Group of Five schools are wholly dependent on the Big Two for postseason relevance and revenue.

They will take whatever they can get. And if it’s not to their liking, the Animal House rule will still apply: “Thank you, sir, may I have another.”

Why wouldn’t the Pac-12 teams going to new conferences with reduced revenue shares just join with their football and men’s basketball programs? — @byrcetacoma

There are several reasons, but atop the list is equal opportunity.

Let’s use Washington as an example.

Had the Huskies agreed to send football and men’s basketball into the Big Ten and left their Olympic sports in a depleted Pac-12 — or moved them into the Mountain West or West Coast Conference — there would have been immediate uproar on campus.

In that instance, Title IX requirements would have provided a daunting legal backdrop.

The same issue applied to the L.A. schools when they agreed to join the Big Ten in the summer of 2022 and to the schools that are heading to the Big 12 and ACC.

Title IX has done miraculous things for women’s sports over the decades. The fact that football is part of the resource calculation — there is no female equivalent in numbers or cost — is part of the reason for the ongoing financial pressures within college sports.

Prior to the Pac-12 teams leaving to the Big 12, you argued that increased access to the College Football Playoff made Pac-12 membership more valuable. Doesn’t that still apply? — @mlondo856

You’re looking at the issue the wrong way. Arizona, ASU and Utah left for the Big 12 because they didn’t have the option to stay.

Once Washington and Oregon agreed to join the Big Ten early on the morning of Aug. 4, there wasn’t a viable Pac-12 available for the three ‘Corners’ schools.

Enhanced CFP access wasn’t part of their calculation; all they cared about was finding a home.

Now, it’s fair to ask if playoff access was part of the calculation for Washington and Oregon. And clearly, it wasn’t — the Huskies, especially, were so frustrated with the media rights deal proposed by commissioner George Kliavkoff that all other considerations (CFP, cross-country travel, etc.) were secondary.

Whether they made the smart competitive choice won’t be clear for several years.

Whether they made the right choice on media partners — not linking arms with Apple, arguably the most influential company in the world — is also up for debate.

Will this year’s spring football games be televised. And if so, by whom? — @bogeycat85

We are not aware of any decisions at this time but certainly will report on developments.

For context, consider the timeline that played out last year: ESPN announced on March 13 that it would televise Colorado’s spring game on April 22.

So we’re likely many weeks away from the networks finalizing their plans.

The recent financial problems in athletic departments at Arizona and elsewhere, combined with the citing of the SEC and Big Ten as “mini-NFL” leagues, raises the question of the role of the supposedly universally admired American university system. Is this system sustainable? — Lawrence Grant


College football is hurtling toward a drastic change to its competitive structure and economic model. That change could be six years away or six months away — it’s impossible to know because there are so many change agents hammering away at the system.

One of those change agents is the NCAA president himself. Charlie Baker has proposed an expensive football subdivision in which schools would pay players directly.

We don’t expect Baker’s proposal to gain the necessary approval — there are too many competing interests within the NCAA’s governance structure.

But we’re extremely confident that a series of legal challenges to the NCAA model will lead to revenue-sharing agreements with the players and the implementation of a professional model at the highest level of the sport.

Contact Jon Wilner at