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Commissioner Aresco explains why AAC won’t add Oregon State and Washington State

“If geography was different, it might have worked out, had they wanted to be with us.”

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

It started when UCLA and USC announced their shocking departure from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten in June 2022. Then, all the other dominoes fell suddenly in 2023. In August, Oregon and Washington followed the Los Angeles-based teams in the Big Ten’s western expansion at the same time Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah jumped off the sinking ship to the Big 12. The month of September launched with Cal and Stanford joining the geographically inconvenient ACC, along with SMU. And then there were two — Oregon State and Washington State.

Conference realignment has been somewhat on a pause since the first week of September, with the exception of Army’s upcoming 2024 move to the American Athletic Conference. As of November 2023, Oregon State and Washington State are the only two members of the Pac-12 in 2024, and those programs have spent this chaotic time weighing out their options for the future. One of those options was joining the AAC, and although discussions were held, AAC commissioner Mike Aresco confirmed Monday that move is not happening.

“We kicked the tires a while back in the summer about Washington State and Oregon State and had some serious initial dialogue,” Aresco said. “But the more we talked about it with our membership, the more we realized that the travel in that scenario — especially in Olympic sports and men’s and women’s basketball — was just gonna be too big a burden.”

Aresco cited the inconvenient geography and associated travel as primary reasons for not adding the last two Pac-12 programs. Although football is king when it comes to money in college athletics, Aresco considered the burden it would place on athletes participating in other sports — factoring in the feasibility of travel and the exuberant costs of sending teams to and from Pullman, WA and Corvallis, OR.

“We have resources and we use them to a good effect, but we don’t have the resources that for instance, UCLA or USC or Oregon or Washington have, or even Stanford and Cal, traveling their teams across the country constantly in the future,” Aresco said. “We didn’t feel we had the ability to do that and if you can’t charter with a lot of the Olympic sports, you’re looking at 22-24 hour trips. You’re putting your student-athletes through an awful lot. It’s not the easiest thing to get to, Pullman or Corvallis.”

While the level of interest Oregon State and Washington State expressed in joining the AAC was unclear, Aresco confirmed closure was reached in the realignment discussion.

“We ultimately said, ‘Look, this isn’t gonna work,’” Aresco said. “We would have loved to have them in the conference. If geography was different, it might have worked out, had they wanted to be with us. They did express some interest but we don’t know what level that ultimately was, but we did talk to them about it. Ultimately, I let them know before we announced that we were not gonna go west. Again, the burden and the expense mostly on the student-athletes — that’s the real issue, so ultimately we closed it down. We wish them well and ultimately they’ll figure something out.”

Aresco compared the state of uncertainty that Oregon State and Washington State currently inhabit to the five members that were left behind in the Big East in early 2010s conference realignment. West Virginia found a home in the Big 12, Rutgers transitioned to the Big Ten, and Louisville, Syracuse, and Pitt darted to the ACC — leaving Cincinnati, Connecticut, South Florida, and Temple behind, before the Big East added other programs and rebranded to the AAC.

“They’re not the only ones that have ever been in this position,” Aresco said. “We had five teams that were essentially kicked out of the BCS that were still in our conference at the time the BCS reconfigured and they did those contract bowls. We ultimately reinvented ourselves as the American. And four teams in 1995 were basically jettisoned from the old Southwest Conference that were not included in that merger of the Big 8 and the Southwest that resulted in the Big 12. They had to fend for themselves and they did. It wasn’t the same situation, but they did it. What concerns me is this idea that they have no home. They have a home... The point is there were potential homes for those teams and there will be in the future for them, even though it doesn’t really make sense in our conference.”

However, the AAC ultimately brought in a 14th team on Oct. 25, adding Army from independent status. One reason Army was desirable to the AAC was to operate with an even number of teams after SMU departs for the ACC in 2024, and the Black Knights’ arrival makes organizing bye weeks easier for the conference.

“Adding Army was not expansion in the sense that we’re losing SMU to the ACC next year and we wanted to get back to 14 if we could find the right program,” Aresco said. “Army, it speaks for itself, is a tremendous addition to this conference. So we’re back to 14 and that’s really where we wanted to be. We didn’t want to play with an odd number of teams where you have byes in November and that causes all sorts of controversy.”