Kyle BonacuraESPN staff writer5 minutes of reading
With Stanford and California awaiting the ACC’s decision on potential membership, the Mountain West Conference is on standby, ready to respond should those dominoes fall.
After the Pac-12 collapsed last week, the MWC finds itself in a strong position as a potential landing spot for the remaining four Pac-12 schools: Cal, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State.
How quickly the trickle-down effect reaches the MWC will largely be determined by forces beyond its control.
“It’s about what happens with the ACC or who [Cal and Stanford] Talking,” MWC Commissioner Gloria Nevarez told ESPN on Thursday.
If Cal and Stanford are accepted into the ACC — likely to hit roadblocks Wednesday evening — Oregon State and Washington State are widely expected to move to the MWC, sources told ESPN.
If the ACC doesn’t include Cal and Stanford, it’s unclear how things will look. Since Friday, when five of the nine remaining Pac-12 schools announced their withdrawal, the MWC has been playing out different scenarios.
“A lot of it is trying to sort fact from fiction,” Nevarez said. “There’s a lot of information out there about what’s going on, not all of it is true. In my view, communicating with our sports directors and leaders and contacts in the industry is what our team should try to provide. Better information.”
Sources told ESPN that the American Athletic Conference would be willing to consider adding the four remaining Pac-12 schools.
Nevarez declined to provide details on who he contacted or what specific scenarios were discussed, but insisted that MWC is open to considering several possibilities.
This includes, but is not limited to, the idea of Stanford and Cal belonging to the MWC in all sports except football. This could come if Stanford and Cal choose to go independent in football, or if they see the current Power 5 conference join as football-only members.
“We have a precedent for that now that Hawaii is an associate soccer-only member,” Nevarez said. “We’re open to everything. Nothing is closed at this time.”
Several sources expressed doubt this week that Cal or Stanford would be ready to become full members of the MWC, citing discrepancies in academic standards between their schools and current conference members. However, as the process that begins in 2024 drags on longer and schools become homeless, that position may change.
“The irony is, that line of thinking contributed to where they are now,” one FBS athletic director told ESPN, adding that the Pac-12’s recent fruitless expansion considerations were heavily influenced by academic profiles.
One possibility is a merger between the Pac-12 and the MWC. Even after the demise of the Pac-12, the league’s 108-year history provides more brand value than the 25-year-old Mountain West. How a link is structured can be quite complex.
“There are a lot of questions that need to be asked and answered, but I take it back to how great the Pac-12 is and has been,” said Nevarez, who went to law school in Cal and worked for nine in the Pac-12. Years as Senior Associate Commissioner. “Think about all the assets, the brand, the Student-Athlete Health Summit, all the great things they’ve done.
“It breaks my heart that those things are at risk.”
MWC bylaws prohibit any schools from spending on their own to join the Pac-12. Each buys about $34 million on the other hand without the guarantee of a media deal which is much better than at MWC where they make $6 million a year.
The nuclear option would be for the league to dissolve — and join the Pac-12 without buying schools — but that would require nine of the 12 schools to vote in favor, multiple sources said. going on At the very least, the Pac-12 should line up an ironclad media rights deal that guarantees a significant improvement on the current MWC contract, which — especially given the Pac-12’s struggle to get a deal done before the collapse — is unlikely to materialize.
“It’s hard to get nine to vote on a football schedule, let alone the disappointment of a sure thing, maybe going toward a speculative thing,” Nevarez said. “I think our exit fees and our voting thresholds are designed for that. If nine people have a choice, that means there’s a better thing out there.”
On Tuesday, Stanford coach Troy Taylor expressed confidence that the Cardinal will remain at college football’s highest level.
“I think the players that come here that commit to us want to play Power 5 football, and that’s our mission at this university,” Taylor said. “I can’t imagine anything else.”
If the ACC passes, he can be forced. The Cardinal could keep its Power 5 status like Notre Dame, but the school will have to decide if that’s better for its student-athletes, fans and bottom line than moving to the MWC.