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WSU sports to undergo big changes, but still plenty of uncertainty

Courtesy WSU Athletics

There’s angst among sports fans in Washington State University Cougar Nation with news that WSU’s longtime home conference is disintegrating.

Ten of the teams in the Pacific-12 Conference have announced intentions to move to other leagues after the 2023-24 season.

The trigger was the failure by conference officials to negotiate a new media contract, a major source of revenue for athletic departments. The old contract expires at the end of this sports season. Commissioner George Kliavkoff has, for months, promised, but not delivered, a new proposal. Universities that were searching for some certainty for their athletic department budgets began negotiating with other leagues.

USC and UCLA were the first to announce their departures, last summer for the Midwest-based Big Ten.

Conference and university officials continued negotiations with potential media partners, but with no success. With no deal in place, several other Pac-12 schools began searching for new conference affiliations.

On July 27, the University of Colorado announced it would jump to the Big 12, a conference with which it was affiliated until 2011, when it left for what was then the Pac-10.

On August 1, Kliavkoff met with representatives of what was now the Pac-9 and pitched an agreement in which Apple would pay the conference for the right to stream its sporting events on Apple TV. There were apparently no provisions for broadcasting games on over-the-air or cable TV, which is still how most fans watch college football games. But WSU President Kirk Schulz characterized the proposal this way in an open letter to Cougar Nation, released yesterday.

“This model carried with it an opportunity to significantly grow the revenue coming into each school over the next several years. As an Apple user and enthusiast, I looked forward to seeing how we could integrate Pac‑12 sports into the Apple environment,” Schulz wrote.

Another weakness with the proposal is that the payout would have been less than the schools are receiving with the current agreement, something Schulz acknowledged.

“But there was a general acknowledgment that streaming Pac‑12 media was clearly the direction media consumption was going. After several board meetings and robust discussion among all nine schools, we finished our board meeting on Thursday evening with a strong feeling of staying together, pursuing a new partnership with Apple, and moving forward with conference expansion,” he wrote.

When the group met the next morning, Schulz writes that he was optimistic the remaining conference members would stay together. But that optimism quickly went away as the Universities of Washington and Oregon announced they were joining USC and UCLA in the Big Ten. Later in the day, the Universities of Arizona and Utah and Arizona StateUniversity announced they had accepted invitations to join the Big 12.

That left WSU, Oregon State, Stanford and California-Berkeley as the only members committed to the Pac-12 after 2023-24.

“Immediately after the decision, (WSU Athletic Director) Pat Chun and I started reaching out to colleagues around the nation to start working on options for Cougar Athletics,” Schulz wrote.

“We talked with multiple conference commissioners, presidents and chancellors, athletic directors, and other leaders in college athletics. These efforts continued through the weekend — and will continue until we find a suitable home for Washington State athletics. I am in regular contact with the leaders from the remaining Pac‑12 schools and will continue to do so moving forward,” he wrote.

Schulz said those talks will remain confidential and that the university wouldn’t be providing updates to fans. He announced that he was convening “a small group of faculty, staff, athletic administrators, and student leaders to provide feedback on conference options for WSU as our pathway forward becomes more clear in the days and weeks ahead. This group will be announced to the Cougar community by the end of the week.”

The university’s options may be limited. They include joining as a member of the Mountain West Conference, which has a much smaller media deal than the Pac-12. The Pac-12 could also decide to invite universities from other conferences and retain the conference’s brand. However it all turns out, the final result will lead to major change. Schulz asked fans to be patient as university officials finalize a new conference home for WSU’s athletic programs.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.