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Mailbag: Pac-12 vs. Mountain West survival scenarios, House impact on Title IX and the ‘Pac-2’ war chest and more

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

The Hotline mailbag publishes weekly. Send questions to and include ‘mailbag’ in the subject line. Or hit me on Twitter/X: @WilnerHotline.

Please note: Some questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Five years from now, will we have a Pac-12 and a Mountain West? Or just a Pac-12? Or no Pac-12 at all? –@NILvsNLI

The name of the game in major college football is consolidation, and there is zero reason to expect anything else in the next decade at the Power Four and Group of Five levels.

Instead of selecting a single outcome from the three posed above, the Hotline prefers to offer projections on each:

Pac-12 only: 65%

MW only: 30%

Pac-12 and MW: 5%

It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which competing conferences across the Mountain and Pacific time zones, both at the Group of Five level, would serve the interests of all the schools involved. There just aren’t enough schools to support two conferences.

Baked into our calculation is the underlying desire to keep the Pac-12 alive.

Washington State and Oregon State want the assets affiliated with the name, especially the NCAA Tournament units, and the brand, which includes the intellectual property, is generally regarded as stronger than the Mountain West brand – yes, even in its greatly depleted state.

Hence the likelihood of a reverse merger, by which at least six and possibly all 12 schools in the Mountain West would move under the Pac-12 umbrella.

Before any of that happens, however, Washington State and Oregon State will 1) make every effort to gain admittance to either the Big 12 or ACC or 2) provide a landing spot for Cal and Stanford if the ACC dissolves in the next 12-18 months.

Neither outcome is likely. In fact, both are remote. (If the ACC collapses, Stanford and Cal assuredly will seek membership in the Big Ten.)

But the Cougars and Beavers are wary of committing to a Pac-12 rebuild before allowing events at the Power Four level to play out.

If there’s no place for them in the ACC or Big 12, and Stanford and Cal aren’t available and the challenges involved in a reverse merger prove too great, then WSU and OSU likely would enter the Mountain West in a traditional realignment move.

Is the Pac-12 really going to bring in six Mountain West additions (San Diego State, UNLV, Utah State, Colorado State, Boise State and Fresno State)? Do you have any idea about the timeline for Pac-12 expansion? – @mlondo856

I’m not sure the number would be six, or that it would be the six you have listed. (Utah State carries limited value.) But we know nine votes are required to dissolve the Mountain West as a legal entity and void the departure penalties.

Anything less, and:

• The outbound MW schools would be facing exit fees of approximately $18 million if they give more than one year of notice and roughly $36 million if they give less than one year of notice.

• The Pac-12 would have to cover the poaching penalty outlined in the scheduling agreement between the conferences (roughly $10 million for every school that moves into the Pac-12).

The timing is easier to assess.

WSU and OSU have until the summer of 2026 to either rebuild the Pac-12 or join another conference.

But because media rights deals and membership changes take months to unfold, and because departing Mountain West schools have that one-year deadline to avoid the steeper exit fee, significant clarity should surface by next spring.

That doesn’t mean everything will be resolved, but we should be able to cross some scenarios off the list.

Is Oregon State happier with its TV deal than Oregon (aside from the money)? It looks like the Ducks have been cast as the top program for Big Ten night games. – @Moneyline_RAY

Although OSU and Washington State got the best media deal possible under their circumstances, I cannot imagine the Beavers are “happier” than Oregon in any regard.

Nor would I expect the Ducks to be relegated to night games on a regular basis.

They are a proven needle-mover with TV ratings, will be a playoff contender and have numerous high-profile matchups on the schedule.

A handful of kickoff times have been announced, and only one, against Boise State on Sept. 7, is slotted for Saturday night.

How much of the war chest will Washington State and Oregon State lose from the NCAA credits in the wake of the House lawsuit settlement? – @PAC12Pilgrim

An excellent question that lacks a definitive answer, for two reasons:

• The Hotline doesn’t have access to the liabilities section of the agreement between the two remaining schools and the 10 outgoing schools.

• The fine print in the House settlement has not been formalized.

What we know is the NCAA plans to withhold about $1.6 billion in distributions to the schools to cover the damages portion (back-pay owed to athletes who were prevented from accepting NIL compensation prior to 2021).

Based on our back-of-the-envelope math, that should total about $2 million per school over a decade.

We also know those distributions are based, in part, on the NCAA Tournament units earned by individual teams over the course of time.

And we know the units earned by the 10 outbound schools will stay with the Pac-12, not accompany them to the new conferences.

One possibility is the dollars connected to the NCAA units will be unaffected by the withholdings – that the NCAA will lower the distribution amounts of the numerous other funds that are earmarked for the schools.

We should know more when the settlement is approved by Judge Claudia Wilken sometime this summer or fall. But the vast majority of the “war chest,” which we believe to total approximately $250 million, will remain intact.

With the House settlement, how will Title IX factor into the distribution of payments under the revenue-sharing amount (approximately $21 million per school per year)? Do you expect male and female athletes to be paid equally at all power conference schools? – @TerryTerry79

That’s the most significant unanswered question, and it could be many, many months before clarity emerges. Most likely, that clarity will come from the courts, via a lawsuit.

Some sports attorneys believe Title IX will not apply because the revenue-sharing portion of the settlement is tied to the athletes’ NIL value in the media rights contracts – and NIL is a market-based economy not subject to Title IX.

Other attorneys believe Title IX will apply.

And if so, in what manner? Would the courts simply insist on equal opportunity (i.e., scholarships) for male and female athletes, or would it require equal dollars distributed?

The ACC and the ‘Pac-2’ schools are both on The CW. Is that just a coincidence, or are they working together? – @KevinGH158627

They are not working together, but it’s not a coincidence, either.

The connective tissue was provided by The CW, which is steadily increasing its inventory of live sports. It owns broadcast rights to LIV Golf and the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and it signed a deal last summer to sublicense ACC football and basketball games.

Executives clearly felt the Washington State and Oregon State games – there are 11 set for broadcast on The CW – would create synergy with the ACC package.

We expect loads of cross-promotion and several doubleheaders throughout the fall.

What happened to UCLA’s homecoming game? It should have been the Iowa game, which is now a Friday night after almost a month without a home game. – @Pyperkub

Homecoming is the Iowa game, despite the Friday kickoff.

At least fans know the day and time well in advance to make plans.

Any update on the proposed combination of streaming platforms into one package? – @Gmac_coug

Venu Sports is the name of the platform, jointly owned by ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery. And according to an ESPN news release from mid-May, the service is “on track to launch this fall in the U.S.”

For those interested, there’s a slick website,, although it’s lacking specifics, including the most important detail: the price.

What are the relationships between sources and the schools/conferences? Are sources affiliated with schools/conferences? And how can that affect their integrity? – @crashlit

I assume you mean sources used by journalists, and whether they work for the schools and conferences.

Speaking only for the Hotline, yes: Some sources work for the schools, some for the conferences and some for neither.

And it’s the job of the journalist to know the sources and understand their access to information and any inherent bias that might exist in the delivery of that information.

There was no better example than the Pac-12’s media rights saga, which lasted 13 months and ended in collapse on Aug. 4.

Our sources within the conference were largely optimistic about the conference signing a satisfactory deal and remaining intact.

Our sources outside the conference were critical of former commissioner George Kliavkoff’s tactics and skeptical a deal would be consummated.

Without access to details of the negotiations, we were forced to constantly filter the information as best we could. Who had concrete information? Who was passing off speculation as fact? Was there an agenda or bias?

That process was easier on some issues than others.

As a result of the contradictory outlooks, the Hotline struck a measured tone. We established a Pac-12 survival line that alternated between four and five points throughout the winter and spring of 2023 – meaning, we felt there was a 60 to 65% chance that the 10 schools would stick together.

That’s not much. When you see a four- or five-point betting line in a football game, you assume the teams are closely matched. Victory by the underdog hardly constitutes a surprise.

Ultimately, the driving force behind our slight lean toward survival over extinction was skepticism that the university presidents, an inherently conservative group, would have the guts to blow up the conference.

In the end, they did.