The Mountain West Conference announced Friday it agreed to a scheduling agreement with Oregon State and Washington State that will see the two remaining Pac-12 schools add six games against MWC schools to their football schedules next season. It's a move that provides OSU and WSU a stopgap until their long-term future can be determined, while laying the groundwork for the possibility of a more permanent relationship between the schools and conference in the future.
We break down how Oregon State and Washington State got to this point and what the future holds for both programs as well as the Pac-12 brand.
How did we get here?
First of all, it took years of bad leadership under two commissioners -- Larry Scott and George Kliavkoff -- and a group of presidents asleep at the wheel to bring about the collapse of the Pac-12. Still, the Pac-12 would have maintained its place in collegiate sports had UCLA and USC not bolted for the Big Ten. Their departure was the domino that ultimately resulted in the other eight schools scattering to the Big 12, Big Ten and, finally, the ACC, leaving Oregon State and Washington State without a conference when the music stopped.
Since early September, OSU and WSU have attempted to lay the groundwork to rebuild the Pac-12. For a conference to exist, the NCAA requires "at least seven active Division I members," all of which must sponsor men's and women's basketball, and for the conference to sponsor at least 12 Division I sports, among other requirements. However, the bylaws allow a conference a two-year grace period in which it can exist without a minimum number of schools in the case of departures. Without that provision, it's likely OSU and WSU would have joined the MWC as full members. With it, though, the schools can operate the Pac-12 as a two-team conference for two academic years with the hope of adding members down the line. The most obvious targets reside in the Mountain West.
Despite months having gone by, OSU and WSU still do not have a full accounting of what the financial picture in the Pac-12 will be when the dust settles. Some of that won't be determined until the current legal battle for control of the conference plays out. There are other factors, too. There is pending litigation that will likely require the conference to pay tens of millions of dollars (most notably to Comcast), and however things net out -- with the departing schools being paid what's still due to them -- will shape how OSU and WSU move on.
So, in the short term, Oregon State and Washington State needed to find a solution to fill a 12-game regular season next year, leading to the scheduling agreement.
What will OSU's and WSU's schedules look like?
The agreement with the Mountain West adds three home games and three away games against MWC teams for both Pac-12 schools. This has no impact on games that were already scheduled -- including games involving MWC teams. WSU already had games against San Diego State and San José State lined up, in addition to games against Portland State and Washington. So, along with the game against Oregon State in Corvallis, the Cougars still have one more game they need to line up.
Oregon State will have the six MWC games, plus previously scheduled games against Purdue, Boise State and Idaho State. Unlike with the Apple Cup in Washington, there hasn't been an official announcement on if the Beavers will play rival Oregon next year, leaving two open dates still to be filled.
One possibility that WSU athletic director Pat Chun did not dismiss is that OSU and WSU could play each other twice next season.
What does this do for the Mountain West?
The Mountain West had the leverage here and the result is an approximate payout of roughly $14 million from OSU and WSU to facilitate this agreement. That amounts to a little more than $1 million per game for each school to help fill their schedules, adding a relatively significant sum to the MWC coffers.
"We truly believe the competitive strength of schedule add that these two teams will bring to our league really helps enhance our positioning for the expanded College Football Playoff," MWC commissioner Gloria Nevarez said.
That's the case, of course, only if the eventual MWC champion beats its Pac-12 opponent.
What will happen to the Pac-12 brand name?
It lives on. The Beavers and Cougars will continue to use the Pac-12 logo on their fields, uniforms and wherever else it has been in the past. However, there is a widely held expectation that, eventually, OSU and WSU will formally merge with the Mountain West schools.
Neither Chun nor Nevarez was willing to entertain that possibility Friday, citing a focus on the short term, but barring an unforeseen development that makes the most sense. It's just a matter of how it's structured.
Despite its diminished state, the Pac-12 brand still carries value, relative to the Mountain West, which is why there is potential for a so-called reverse merger. In this scenario, the Mountain West schools would move, as a group, in the opposite direction, allowing them to avoid paying a buyout. It's highly likely this new "Pac-Something" would still be run by the MWC leadership team.
Where does the CFP go from here?
For now, OSU and WSU are in a tough spot. There is no expectation for the Pac-12 champion, if or however that's determined, to be eligible for one of the expected five slots designated for conference champions. The possibility of either team being playoff worthy next season given everything that has happened seems remote, but if either is in the mix, it would likely need to earn one of the at-large spots -- like Notre Dame -- and would not be eligible to host a game.
Still, WSU coach Jake Dickert said he believes this agreement gives the Cougars a better chance to be relevant for playoff purposes than had they been forced to schedule a fully independent slate.
What's the latest on all the court filings with OSU/WSU and the Pac-12?
After a superior court granted control of the conference to OSU and WSU last month, the Washington Supreme Court issued a stay of that ruling while the court reviews the case and decides whether to take it, dismiss it or pass it on to the court of appeals for review. What that means in the short term is that the Pac-12 must have unanimity in all matters, preventing both OSU and WSU from making major decisions about what to do with conference revenue and the departing schools from going nuclear and deciding to vote to disband the conference altogether and distribute the remaining assets. An accelerated briefing schedule to determine how the case will move forward will conclude by Dec. 12.
What about the other sports?
That's still being ironed out and, perhaps, will be more difficult given how many more games are played in sports other than football. Nevarez was unwilling to address the possibility of similar scheduling agreements when asked about it Friday, but sources told ESPN that discussions have taken place. It's also possible that OSU and WSU could find temporary homes across other conferences for the time being, but the priority was to get something done for football.