AAC no longer pursuing Oregon State, Washington State

On3 imageby:Eric Prisbell09/01/23

EricPrisbell

The American Athletic Conference is no longer pursuing the remaining two schools in the Pac-12 ConferenceOregon State and Washington State.

League commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement Friday that the AAC – which saw SMU jump to the ACC – is no longer pursuing schools in the Pacific time zone.

“We have known today’s move was a possibility, which has allowed us to investigate a number of options, including consideration of the larger group of institutions in the Pacific time zone,” Aresco said in the statement, without referencing either school. “We have concluded, however, that the best way to proceed for our outstanding student-athletes is to not look westward. Instead, we plan to focus any expansion efforts on schools that allow for sensible and sustainable competition and student-athlete well-being within our strong geographic footprint.”

With the AAC passing on Oregon State and Washington State, both appear like they are set for membership in the Mountain West Conference. Commissioner Gloria Nevarez recently made campus visits to both schools as part of the league’s recruitment efforts. The MWC distributes roughly $5 million annually to member schools as part of its media rights package with FOX Sports and CBS Sports, which runs through 2026.

The two Pacific Northwest schools, of course, have the other option of trying to rebuild the 108-year-old Pac-12. Washington State President Kirk Schulz told Pac-12 insider John Canzano on Monday that Plan A remained a potential Pac-12 rebuild.

“We still want to figure out what we might be able to do along with OSU and perhaps Cal and Stanford …,” Schulz said, “about keeping the band together and see what the next steps look like.”

Both the MWC and Pac-12 ‘brands are really strong’

Another issue that requires resolution is what happens to the Pac-12’s assets. Chief among them: the tens of millions in NCAA tournament payouts over the next six years, all of which belong to the conference.

The Pac-12 brand name also carries weight. When On3 recently asked Nevarez about the importance of retaining the MWC name, she said: “Both brands are really strong. And let me just say it breaks my heart. This is a 108-year-old league. I went to law school at Cal. I worked in the conference office. I’m still a little bit shocked and a little bit crushed. People could argue brand strength, but I think it has an incredible brand. So that to me is an asset. But again, it’s part of the greater calculation of assets and liabilities and what is there and what isn’t.”

Nevarez also said that it would be a “missed opportunity” if the MWC did not add at least one Pac-12 school during this realignment round. She is now in strong position to add both Pacific NW schools.

The AAC had been vetting OSU and WSU. Sources had told On3 that the league was interested in adding both schools and that Aresco was planning to make campus visits to both schools in the near future. Aresco had been almost resigned to the fact that SMU could jump to another league — the Pac-12 had been the favorite — since prior to March Madness.

At the CFP meetings in Dallas on Wednesday, Aresco thanked SMU for its commitment to the league. He also addressed the current landscape, in which schools are willing to do almost anything to gain entry into a power conference.

“I’ve talked about how destructive this whole P5 thing can be,” Aresco said. “It’s all about branding. It’s all about the P5 conferences. We heard, ‘Well, Stanford and Cal have no place to go.’ They had a place to go. It may not be the place they wanted to go ideally. But they weren’t orphans. They had a chance to go somewhere. There’s this desperation now because of P5 branding. That’s really what’s going on. … I understand the issue of money. It is based on TV deals. But guys are willing to go for virtually nothing because they feel like they have to have that – they feel that they need that branding.”