OSU, WSU pledge fierce competition on the field and strong unity for future

Sept. 21, 2023

Leaders of the Pac-12's two remaining universities used the upcoming Saturday matchup of their nationally ranked football programs to underscore the strong athletic competitiveness both bring to the collegiate sports landscape at a time of continuing uncertainty over conference realignment.

“We are fiercely competitive rivals on the field – and as a proud member of Beaver Nation, I am cheering loudly for a big win for the Beavers on Saturday,” said OSU President Jayathi Murthy. “But I will say we stand united in our mission and our values, and in our total commitment to our students, student-athletes, to our states and to our communities.”

Murthy, along with OSU Athletic Director Scott Barnes, Washington State University President Kirk Schulz and WSU Athletic Director Pat Chun met with national and regional news media for a wide-ranging conversation Thursday. They re-affirmed that while both will be competing against each other on the field Saturday they remain united in their commitment to finding the best conference solution going forward given the looming departures of 10 of the 12 conference partners.

“This is not a case of under-performing teams being relegated,” Schulz said. “In fact, these are two of the best college football programs in the country going head-to-head in a sold-out stadium on national television this weekend.”

Both football programs are undefeated this season and are ranked among the best college teams in the nation. Oregon State is ranked 14th and WSU is at No. 21 in the latest Associated Press poll. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at Gesa Field on the Pullman campus and the game is being broadcast by Fox Sports.

Barnes pointed out that OSU and WSU are very similar with regard to their land grant missions and values, and that has been reaffirmed during discussions in recent weeks.

“When you’re in a fight together, you’re in the foxhole together, you do learn a lot more, and to me it’s confirmed what I thought about the Cougars,” Barnes said.

The Pac-12 has long been among the NCAA’s Power 5 conferences. But as rival conferences look to expand and secure lucrative broadcast deals, Pac-12 programs have been recruited away, particularly those within the largest media markets. The announced departures are set to take effect next season.

WSU and OSU are assessing all options, ranging from evaluating recruiting pitches from other conferences to rebuilding the Pac-12. Schulz and Murthy said they understand the anxiety among students, fans and others but asked for patience as they gather needed information and explore options to arrive at the best solution.

Earlier this month, OSU and WSU took legal action against the Pac-12 to clarify whether departing universities should be permitted to continue voting on issues affecting the future of the conference. Key to the dispute are conflict-of-interest questions and whether the 10 departing schools could hamper or even prevent the two remaining schools from trying to rebuild the conference.

“We all have to understand how fundamentally strong both these institutions are,” Murthy said, noting record enrollment and research funding at OSU. “There are strong successes as a university and those are going to continue. They are going to continue for us and they are going to continue for WSU.”

A video recording of the full discussion can be viewed online.