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WSU, UW athletics officials explain their plight to legislators

The Pac-12 Conference will become the Pac-2 in August.
The Pac-12 Conference will become the Pac-2 in August.

The uncertainty about Washington State University’s athletics future now has the attention of state legislators in Olympia.

A legislative committee on Wednesday queried WSU officials about what’s next now that the Pacific-12 Conference is undergoing a radical restructuring. Ten members, including the University of Washington, will exit in August for other leagues where they hope to make more money. The UW will join the University of Oregon, University of Southern California and UCLA in the Big Ten. Arizona State University and the universities of Arizona, Utah and Colorado will join the Big 12. Stanford and the University of California will become members of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

WSU and Oregon State are the two schools left in the Pac-12 and they control the league’s board of directors.

Chris Mulick, who heads WSU’s Office of State Relations, says that’s not a situation the institutions chose, but he says they have time to review their options and determine whether to try to keep their athletic programs within one of the “Power” conferences, perhaps by rebuilding the Pac-12 or by joining another league.

“It’s not unlike many governments would do. I would fully expect us to use some of the [Pac-12’s] assets to help us get through the next two years on an operational standpoint, until we can find a permanent landing spot,” Mulick said.

The universities have developed agreements with two other western leagues to give their teams places to play during the next two seasons. The football teams will play most of their games in 2024 against squads from the Mountain West Conference. The basketball and other Olympic sports teams will be part of the West Coast Conference for the next two seasons. One benefit of that is the travel involved is generally confined to the western U.S.

One of the, if not the main, concerns is the fiscal situation of WSU’s athletic department. It faces a large deficit and often pulls funds from other parts of the university to balance the books at the end of each year.

Mulick says it’s not yet known how the situation in athletics will trickle down to students, faculty and staff.

“We’re certainly going to have to re-evaluate all of the expenditures that we make within athletics and we do provide academic support for our student-athletes. Maybe it is that they end up with support that looks a lot like the student body en masse gets,” he said. “But I don’t anticipate that this is going to have an impact broadly and on university-wide student support.”

The legislative committee also queried University of Washington athletics officials about the details of the school’s move to the Big Ten, expressing concerns that athletes will travel longer distances and spend more time on the road. Deputy Athletic Director Erin O’Connell says most of the teams’ 2024 schedules have yet to be released, but that, in the case of the soccer teams, travel time won’t change much, in part because the teams traditionally go east to play much of their non-conference schedules.

This week, the Pac-12 announced that its commissioner, George Kliavkoff, will leave his post on March 1. Kliavkoff is blamed by many for failing to negotiate a media rights agreement that would have brought Pac-12 schools similar amounts of money as those in other Power 5 conferences. Kliavkoff will be replaced by Deputy Commissioner Teresa Gould.

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.