Days after their victory in court, Oregon State and Washington State — the two remaining members of the Pac-12 — are moving forward with future plans.
The schools have re-engaged with Mountain West officials over a two-year football scheduling alliance with the league in an agreement that may serve as a first step in a long-term partnership or even merger, sources tell Yahoo Sports.
Mountain West administrators held calls Wednesday to further discuss the details. More meetings are planned Thursday, including a gathering of league presidents to, presumably, grant commissioner Gloria Nevarez permission to proceed with negotiations.
The two sides — the Pac-2 and Mountain West — are believed to be close to an agreement over terms, but a deal is not complete and may not be finalized for several days. However, models for a potential scheduling alliance were developed and socialized over the last two months, as Nevarez and her staff prepared for this possibility. Yahoo Sports reported about the proposals in a story last month.
Though there are many scheduling models, the most likely is what’s termed a “7+1” format where Mountain West teams play seven conference games — not eight — plus one game against either Washington State or Oregon State. They would rotate the game against either OSU or WSU home-and-away over the two-year cycle.
Games against OSU and WSU are not expected to count toward the league standings. The two Pac-12 members will not be eligible for the MWC championship and will compete as quasi-independents under the Pac-12 banner.
Those Mountain West schools with previously scheduled non-conference games against one of the two schools will play the other as well during the same season. For instance, San Diego State has games scheduled against Washington State, at home in 2024 and on the road in 2025. In the model, the Aztecs’ would likely play Oregon State both years as well.
Three more schools would play two games against the Pac-12 duo in a single season because they have previously scheduled games, including Boise State (Oregon State, 2024), Fresno State (Oregon State, 2025) and San Jose State (Washington State, 2024).
The agreement, expected to include a lucrative financial package for Mountain West members, is likely to feature a long-term commitment to the conference with an intent at a full merger beyond this two-year cycle. Part of the agreement includes a financial penalty that can be levied upon Oregon State and Washington State if the two programs attempt to acquire only a portion of MWC schools in the future.
As for broadcasting rights, Mountain West home games against OSU and WSU will be televised in regular fashion by MWC TV partners Fox and CBS Sports Network. The league expects to receive extra media rights revenue from those games to be distributed across the conference.
Oregon State and Washington State are likely to negotiate separate broadcasting agreements with those networks and potentially others to televise their own home games. The Pac-12’s TV deal with ESPN and Fox ends after this academic year.
For now, the scheduling alliance is football only. Oregon State and Washington State are in discussions with other leagues to create affiliate memberships for their other sports.
On Tuesday, the two schools landed a victory when a Washington county court granted their preliminary injunction against the 10 departing Pac-12 schools. The ruling gives OSU and WSU full governing authority over the league and its more than $400 million in assets this year. The ruling, for now, is delayed while the exiting Pac-12 schools file an appeal.
The decision means that the Cougars and Beavers may soon have access to millions of dollars in Pac-12 revenue from television contracts, the Rose Bowl and NCAA basketball tournament units. That revenue is normally distributed to each school starting with installments in December. Each school is due about $35-40 million.
The cash could help the two schools pave their future, including arranging such a deal with the Mountain West. The two entities — the Pac-2 and Mountain West — have been sporadically engaged in discussions over their futures together. That includes Mountain West schools merging with the two to compete under the Pac-12 brand — a way to preserve the league. Though outlandish and unlikely, a relegation model has been discussed among some administrators as well.
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In a move to retain the Pac-12’s assets — the league is due more than $100 million in future assets — Washington State and Oregon State are preparing to operate as a two-school conference for at least next year and maybe two. They are using a two-year NCAA grace period. Conferences falling below the minimum eight members are allowed two years to return to the eight-member mark before they are no longer recognized as a conference.
In the short term, Oregon State and Washington State need to complete their 2024 and potentially 2025 football schedules. An arrangement with the Mountain West provides them with seven opponents each year The two programs have already scheduled three non-conference games — some against MWC teams — and may pick up other games, including continuing their in-state rivalry series with Washington and Oregon. The Oregon-OSU and Washington-WSU games are not, however, guaranteed to continue.
The shakeup in the Pac-12 has triggered changes in the sport’s postseason.
At their meeting last Thursday, FBS commissioners recommended a change to the expanded College Football Playoff format, agreeing on a model that grants automatic qualifiers to the highest-ranked five conference champions and at-large spots to the next highest ranked teams — a move from a 6+6 model to a 5+7. The change must be approved by unanimous consent by the commissioners’ corresponding board of presidents.
Commissioners also established a policy requiring a conference to have eight members for its champion to be eligible for an automatic qualifying spot. That policy does not need presidential approval, multiple CFP officials told Yahoo Sports.
Such a policy change eliminates Oregon State and Washington State from an automatic bid into the playoffs for winning a Pac-2 league. They would only be eligible for an at-large berth.