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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Analysis: The Pac-12 has a new commissioner. But does it have a future?

By Jesse Dougherty Washington Post

When Teresa Gould agreed to be the Pac-12’s new commissioner, it felt as if she had taken two distinct jobs. The first, which officially started Friday, is running a fractured conference without neglecting the outgoing athletes and teams. And the second, which will officially begin July 1, will be to help Oregon State and Washington State chart a path forward.

Does that mean – with Oregon, USC, UCLA, Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah, Cal and Stanford leaving in the biggest exodus of realignment in college sports – that Gould’s charge is to rebuild the Pac-12 into something resembling what it was, however hard that may be? Or is it more to find soft landing spots for the two remaining schools?

“I don’t think it would be accurate to say that the best case is rebuilding the Pac-12,” Gould told the Washington Post on the eve of taking over as commissioner. “The best case is whatever scenario would put Oregon State and Washington State in the best possible position to succeed and thrive long term. And that could be a lot of things, right? I think there are options and scenarios out there that we probably haven’t even thought of yet.”

Since Gould was promoted, most of the questions have been about the future, not the present or what destroyed the Pac-12 in the first place. (In a few words: years of mismanagement by previous commissioners Larry Scott and George Kliavkoff.) She is the first female commissioner of a Power Five football conference, though that didn’t come up in the hourlong news conference to introduce her last week. Gould also didn’t name any current members beyond Oregon State and Washington State.

But having worked in the Pac-12 for two decades – first as a senior athletics administrator at California, then as the conference’s deputy commissioner for the past six years – Gould still wants to maximize her time with the 10 departing schools.

The Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament, which began Wednesday in Las Vegas featured No. 2 Stanford, No. 5 USC, No. 7 UCLA, No. 13 Oregon State, No. 18 Colorado and No. 22 Utah. Only one of those teams will be in the Pac-12 beyond this year, but it’s just one example of the conference’s talent beyond football, the driver of realignment because of massive television contracts. If the Pac-12 were a country competing at the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2021, it would have ranked fifth in the medal count. So Gould knows the importance of maintaining relationships, even as the conference disintegrates.

If football and basketball eventually break off to a professional model, could the Pac-12 try to re-form around its old Olympic sports teams, especially because the West Coast is such a good training environment for those athletes? Gould wouldn’t go that far yet. But how about jumping the line with something such as athlete compensation, attracting talent with the chance to make more money than would be possible in other conferences, then the interest of television executives with that talent?

As is, the NCAA’s rules on name, image and likeness (NIL) and compensation would make that a complicated mission. Gould wouldn’t go there, either. But she did recognize that having a small group of decision-makers could enable creativity. College sports could use it.

“Since my first day is actually (Friday), we certainly haven’t had that specific conversation about being out in front on (revenue sharing with athletes),” Gould said last week. “But I do think the alignment and the streamlined governance will certainly help put us in a position to be forward-thinking on some decisions like that, for sure.”

The NCAA requires conferences to have at least seven active Division I members (and for those schools to sponsor men’s and women’s basketball). A conference also has to have at least a dozen Division I sports. But the Pac-12 will have a two-year grace period, during which it can float without the minimum number of schools, starting next academic year.

Gould’s initial deal is for two years, coinciding with that time frame and Washington State’s and Oregon State’s affiliate agreements with the Mountain West (for football) and the West Coast Conference (12 sports, including men’s and women’s basketball). While Gould is open to any direction for the schools, Kirk Schulz, Washington State’s president, sure sounds like someone who wants to resurrect the Pac-12.

“If somebody comes to Washington State or Oregon State to participate in our community … they’re not interested in being part of something on the East Coast or in the Midwest,” Schulz said during Gould’s introductory news conference. “And I think we just got to keep that as a core principle in mind: How do we build? How do we grow? What’s our vision look like? And let’s do it on the West Coast.”

In the shorter term, Gould is now a member of the College Football Playoff management committee at a critical point. She expects to work closely with the other major conference commissioners and NCAA President Charlie Baker, always representing the interests of Washington State and Oregon State. She hasn’t had time to slow down, nor does she expect to in the coming weeks or months. She really hasn’t reflected much on making history.

Still, after the conference announced she would replace Kliavkoff, she received about 350 text messages and another 100 emails. A male colleague at the Pac-12 told her his daughter read the news release and asked why Gould was the first woman in the role. Gould’s brother called and said her nieces could not stop talking about how proud they were. When Gould does replay the journey, she points to working for former Cal Athletic Director Sandy Barbour – a female boss – as a transformative experience that made her believe she could do this.

But before taking the leap, she had to look inward. She had to trust she could leave a mark.

“The last year, 18 months, however long it’s been, since the Pac-12 dominoes have fallen, have been really, really hard – like gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, devastatingly hard,” Gould said. “… And so I’d say my considerations were not about the challenges of the job or the work that was in front of me. That part invigorated me because I always love a good challenge and a good fight. … My assessment of it was more about: Did I have the energy to do it? Because I care so much about these two programs and their ability to move forward. I had to make sure that I had enough in my tank.”