Pete Thamel breaks down logistics of Pac-12 lawsuit, Mountain West merger

On3 imageby:Nick Schultz09/08/23


The Pac-12, as it stands right now, looks to be the effective Pac-2 after a landmark round of conference realignment. Only Oregon State and Washington State are left, and the next steps of the league are still unclear.

That could be coming into focus, though, after the two schools filed a lawsuit Friday over the makeup of the board and voting rights. According to ESPN’s Pete Thamel, it comes down to — just like most everything else in realignment — money. But there’s another factor in play: the Mountain West.

On3’s Eric Prisbell has reported the idea of a reverse merger between the Pac-12 and Mountain West could still be on the table. But the Pac-12’s assets could make that a complicated conversation, and Thamel shed more light on that on The Paul Finebaum Show Friday.

“With two teams left in the Pac-12, [Oregon State and Washington State] want to assure, essentially, that those two schools comprise the board of directors,” Thamel said. “Now, there are 10s and 10s of millions of dollars of assets at stake. $42 million at the end of fiscal ’22, the lawsuit stated. There’s also another estimated $50 million in NCAA Tournament units. And believe it or not, the Pac-12 Network — often the butt of jokes in our industry — made $40 million last year. The network infrastructure is worth money.

“Essentially, at the core of this suit is Washington State and Oregon State wanting to keep their options open. And if there are enough assets — now there’s liabilities. The overpayment to Comcast, there’s 10s of millions [of dollars] potentially owed there. But if Washington State and Oregon State can leverage those assets and essentially invite or have an amicable merger with the Mountain West, they could use that as a pot of money to also keep the Pac-12 name.”

The Pac-12 board of directors — or, perhaps, what’s left of it — are set to meet Wednesday, Thamel said. Oregon State and Washington State are trying to take control of the league considering they’re the only two schools that haven’t given a notice of withdrawal for the 2024 school year.

But that meeting is a big part of the conversation, and keeping the Pac-12 name while possibly merging with the Mountain West is also a reason why the two schools filed a lawsuit. After all, some big names have come through the league in multiple different sports, from Lew Alcindor and Jackie Robinson at UCLA to Reggie Bush and Caleb Williams at USC.

It’s all part of an ever-evolving conversation out west.

“What they have done is basically pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pac-12 calling a board meeting and inviting everybody and saying potentially that there could be a vote,” Thamel said. “So it almost seems like a preliminary strike to chart their course forward. And it seems like this hints that their course forward is going to be leveraging these assets and trying that amicable merger with the Mountain West. So instead of going to the Mountain West, where you’re only going to make $7 million a year, they’re gonna say, ‘Come. We’ll share this pot of money with you.’ And if you can keep the same TV deal, you could potentially maybe double your revenue annually for the next couple of years.

“And I do think there is value in the Pac-12 name, right? There’s 108 years of history. … I mean, the Pac-12 name is something. Now, if it’s a Pac-12 with Wyoming and Fresno, it’s different than with UCLA and Stanford. But I do think that there’s a line in the sand there and they’re looking out for their best interest as everybody is in college athletics right now.”