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New Pac-12 commish 'prepared to fight' for WSU

Mar. 1—The day before she officially stepped into her new office, new Pac-12 Commissioner Teresa Gould pledged her support to Washington State and Oregon State as the schools and the beleaguered conference continue to navigate their uncertain futures.

Gould and WSU President Kirk Schulz spoke on a variety of topics Thursday, ranging from the College Football Playoffs, the athletics budget deficit at Washington State, the goals and responsibilities Gould inherited, conversations about potential conference mergers and more.

Gould starts as the new commissioner today with a contract set for two years while WSU and OSU traverse their grace period as a two-member conference. The Pac-12's other 10 schools — USC, UCLA, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah, California, Stanford — are all leaving for new conferences after the spring sports season concludes.

"Ever since everything transpired in the Pac-12 back in August, there hasn't been a night that has gone by that I haven't thought about the more than 1,000 student-athletes on the campuses of Oregon State and Washington State," Gould said. "All I could think about is they need a leader who is prepared to fight for them ... and I want to be that leader."

Here's a look at the conversation between Gould, Schulz and media from across the nation in a 45-minute interview session Thursday:

Gould's responsibilities

Gould takes over for departed Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff, who agreed to part ways with the league after he failed to secure a TV rights deal and 10 of the schools decided to jump ship for the Big Ten, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference.

WSU and OSU next season will play football in a scheduling partnership with the Mountain West Conference and play most other sports in the West Coast Conference.

But they are still technically members of the Pac-12, and Gould's office will have plenty of responsibilities.

She said her three main goals are as follows:

Collaborate with and support WSU and OSU in terms of what normal, higher-level Power Five conference schools (known also as Autonomy Five) need to succeed.

Represent the schools and the Pac-12 on the national stage — for example, with the College Football Playoff committee — to advocate for their future revenue and representation.

Be "open minded" in strategic planning for the future, which could include many different options.

WSU and OSU in the past have made it clear they hope to rebuild the Pac-12 while also acknowledging that a merger with another conference, like the Mountain West, could be an option.

Gould will help in figuring out a permanent home for the Cougars and Beavers, whatever that might look like, while trying to make sure they don't get shafted by other conferences in the meantime.

Elephants in the room: What about a TV deal for football and a merger with the MWC?

Gould said conversations about a Pac-12 merger with the Mountain West "haven't started yet" because the main focus the last few months was finding a temporary home for their sports teams. Now, with the alliances with the MWC and WCC, that part is taken care of and there are "lots of options to pursue," Gould said.

No football TV deal has been completed either.

"Not surprisingly, there's great interest in the football products at Oregon State and Washington State, so we're working hard to try to consider the options that are on the table to televise all of the home games at (the two schools)," Gould said.

WSU's $100 million athletics deficit looms

Schulz said WSU knows and is preparing for an athletics revenue stream that will be less than the university's athletics department received in a full Pac-12 Conference.

On top of receiving less revenue, WSU also has to deal with the $100 million in internal debt it accrued over the past decade. The school pays $10 million annually to service the debt.

"Over time, athletics at WSU has overspent," said Schulz, noting that many other schools have done the same. "We've made a strong commitment that we can't accumulate more internal debt, so we are having some tough internal conversations about what that is going to look like."

Schulz said the important thing is the changes can happen gradually.

The president last week told Cougfan.com that football staff members are "taking up to a 10% reduction in pay."

"We're going to have to make some adjustments in our budgets and what we pay and things like that, but we don't feel we have to do those overnight," Schulz said. "We can take our time and do them in a measured fashion because we want a sustainable athletics program ... but we also have to recognize that we have to be realistic about what our revenue looks like coming in."

Odds and ends

Here's a look at some of the other topics discussed by Gould and Schulz:

Player retention: Schulz said player and coach departures amid the uncertainty haven't been as bad as expected, especially among the football team. However, he didn't mention the departure of former WSU volleyball coach Jen Greeny to West Virginia and many of the volleyball players entering the NCAA transfer portal.

College football playoffs: Next football season, the Football Bowl Subdivision will hold a 12-team playoff for the first time ever. Gould said it's important for WSU and OSU to have reasonable access to the NCAA postseason and be "treated fairly in revenue distribution." In short, she doesn't want WSU and OSU to be bullied by the other conferences.

Quote of note

Schulz on rising frustrations with the NCAA amid the ever-changing college landscape: "It's easy to throw hand grenades at the NCAA and I know schools do, presidents do, lots of people do, but at the end of the day we need an organization that puts on championships, that does do some rule setting and handles enforcement. If you get rid of the NCAA ... you've got to stand up a separate organization that's going to have those same functions."

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, swiebe@lmtribune.com or on Twitter @StephanSports.