Mountain West could add Washington State, Oregon State, starting with scheduling alliance

FORT COLLINS — Saturday’s meeting between Colorado State and Washington State at Canvas Stadium is just the third-ever between the schools, but it could be an annual conference matchup in the very near future.

While Wazzu and Oregon State are the lone schools left in the crumbled Pac-12, the Rams and their conference counterparts are watching and waiting, seeing what move makes sense next for the Mountain West.

Mountain West commissioner Gloria Nevarez, who spoke to reporters prior to Saturday night’s game between the Rams and Cougars in Fort Collins, said the conference is “open to exploring anything that makes us stronger.”

And that includes adding Washington State and Oregon State to its membership.

“We’ve visited both schools and we’ve started the conversation (with both WSU and OSU),” Nevarez said. “Both those schools geographically are aligned with us and there’s a lot of similarities (in synergy and environment) there as well.”

Stanford and Cal departing to the ACC earlier this week left the disintegrated Pac-12 with only two schools. If WSU and OSU are intent on raiding other conferences like the Mountain West and American Athletic Conference to rebuild the Pac-12, they’d need at least six other members to form a bonafide conference, and they’d have to do it relatively fast.

But there are exit fees for the Pac-12’s potential targets to consider — in the Mountain West, a one-year exit notice is $34 million per school, and two years is half that. Plus, WSU and OSU need to buy some time to consider what assets remain for each university within the Pac-12.

CSU athletic director Joe Parker said the confluence of those factors could lead to a “scheduling alliance” for WSU/OSU and the Mountain West in 2024.

“That allows them to bridge and understand their financial situation, try to maximize where they’re at, and then maybe pivot into the Mountain West (in 2025),” Parker said. “There’s also the question of, what’s the stronger (intellectual property)? The value of the branding of the Pac-12, or the Mountain West, or is there something else (new)?”

Nevarez, who was previously a Pac-12 executive prior to being named commissioner of the WCC and then the Mountain West, would be an obvious candidate to head a remade Pac-12 consisting of a majority of Mountain West teams. But she sidestepped that notion Saturday, emphasizing the Mountain West’s stability and geographical consistency relative to the other shifting conferences.

“None of us are naïve because we know this environment is changing minute-by-minute, but right now, we’re in a really good position,” Nevarez said. “We have a lot of like institutions and a strong media deal for the next couple years.”

The 2022 announcement that USC and UCLA were leaving for the Big Ten started the Pac-12’s demise, which was cemented this August by Oregon and Washington’s decision to also join the Big Ten while CU, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah bolted for the Big 12. All of those moves become effective next year.

For CSU’s part, school president Amy Parsons would be in favor of expanding the Mountain West to include the couple Pac-12 leftovers, believing it would benefit Rams athletics as a whole.

“Washington State matches up with us very well academically, athletically,” Parsons said. “We’d love to play with Washington State, and Oregon State… I think they’d be great additions to the Mountain West. They look very much like CSU.”

Parker acknowledged CSU football, which begins Year 2 under coach Jay Norvell on Saturday, is still trying to find out how its program can distinguish itself within the Mountain West among the re-alignment, transfer portal madness and NIL deals that have overtaken major college football.

“We want to honor both our commitment to the Mountain West and what we aspire to do at some point in our future, and that’s being attached to the highest level of play of FBS,” Parker said. “We’re trying to navigate how we put these pieces together with the current footprint, the current membership, and the (Mountain West’s) desire to possibly add Washington State and Oregon State.”

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