Commentary: Potential legislation requiring UW-WSU to stay in same conference is noble – but misguided

This week marked the most disappointing week I can remember as a West Coast college sports fan – a fan who has followed the Pac-10 and Pac-12 my entire life. 

But it’s also a reminder of a new reality: that survival in this new college landscape unfortunately is based on the bottom line – which requires each individual school to do what’s best for themselves and no one else.

By now, you’ve likely heard that USC and UCLA will be joining the Big Ten in 2024, a move that completely caught the other Pac-12 schools off-guard, and leaves the future of the Pac-12 in jeopardy. While it guarantees the Trojans and Bruins a much bigger payday, the loss of the two biggest schools in the second-largest media market in the country could potentially result in the end of the disbanding of the conference altogether. 

Believe me when I say I’m outraged at how we got here: From the horrible moves made by Larry Scott, whose decisions led to the diminishing value of the conference. 

And I think it’s an incredibly selfish move by the LA schools that spits in the face of more than a hundred years of tradition, not to mention cooperation among the member schools.

But it IS one more reminder of how "Dog Eat Dog" the culture of college sports have become, between player transfers, NIL and of course, the media rights deals that are dictating new alliances and conference restructuring throughout the nation. And to that point, in order to survive, I would argue that each individual school needs to make decisions that serves its specific needs. 

Yesterday, one state representative, Drew Stokesbary from Auburn, announced that he sent a letter to the presidents and regents of UW and Washington State, urging them to stick together for the good of their student-athletes and fans. 

"Next Washington Legislative Session," he tweeted, "I will introduce legislation requiring both schools remain in the same conference, as they have since 1917."

While his intention is noble, it’s a notion that runs contrary to the entire climate of college sports right now, and frankly, would hamstring one institution, namely UW, from seeking a bigger payday somewhere else. 

Might I remind everyone that, as neither a Husky or a Cougar alum, I have no skin in the game here. But it would be incredibly unfair to an individual institution to force them to link together with another school that doesn’t bring in equal revenue and is located in a completely different media market. I’d say the same exact thing if Washington State was in Seattle and UW was in Pullman. 

And there is no typical precedent for keeping state schools in the same conference. Florida and Florida State play rivalry games every year – but Florida’s in the SEC and Florida State’s in the ACC. Colorado is in the Pac-12, Colorado State is in the Mountain West. Iowa’s in the Big Ten, Iowa State in the Big 12. 

In Stokesbary’s words, packaging Washington and Washington State together is important because the two schools are "stronger together," but frankly, that’s really not the case. The Apple Cup rivalry can continue even if both schools are eventually split apart, finding the best situations that fit them the best, without the burden of how it affects a school on the other side of the state. 

In the end, I don’t have answers, but what I do know is this: The bombshell news this week reinforces my belief that the current culture calls for the leaders of Washington and Washington State to look forward through a cutthroat lens rather than a cooperative one. 

If a partnership ends up being the best thing for both schools, great. 

But no legislation should have to require it to be so.