Why we’re still fighting for the Pac-12

Sept. 8, 2023

Jayathi Y. Murthy, president of Oregon State University

On a typical fall football weekend at Oregon State University, the streets and sidewalks of Corvallis begin to fill with visitors starting as early as Thursday evening.

The spirit is joyful, and excitement is in the air. Students and friends gather, alumni return to reminisce about their college days, and Oregonians who have been sporting orange-and-black since childhood show up to support the Beavers.

By Saturday morning, local restaurants and stores are bustling with customers, and pedestrians crowd the sidewalks and tree-lined streets of our downtown district, which has made Corvallis one of the top college towns in America for residents and visitors alike.

Beaver flags are flying on businesses, homes and cars, music can be heard, and there’s a steady stream of vehicles filing in and out of gas stations. Coolers are filling up with ice, beverages, hot dogs, and snacks from local markets. And Beaver fans converge on Reser Stadium to support student-athletes, coaches, and staff on the field.

There is a feeling of hope and anticipation that unites people from all backgrounds and every part of our state and nation because they share a common purpose: to cheer on Oregon’s statewide university.

This is Beaver Nation.

It’s a scene repeated in college towns across America – and for reasons that are about more than just a game. Preserving, and indeed advancing, the economic and cultural dividends that strong intercollegiate rivalries offer to a state such as ours have been front and center for me as I have navigated the sudden and unexpected unraveling of the Pac-12 Conference on Aug. 4.

On that morning, public universities chose money over mission, abandoning more than a century of tradition of the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten Conference and triggering a cascade of departures. Yes, college sports have become big business for media companies and others. But taxpayer-supported educational institutions have a special obligation to keep the interests of their students and citizens as their top priorities, particularly when “following the money” can lead to real harm to communities and institutions across their home states. After all, we are here for the public good.

Sadly, the decisions of public institutions have now left our historic conference in ruin.

Now the Pac-12’s two remaining members – OSU and Washington State University – have to pick up the pieces, and working Oregonians and Washingtonians, students, small businesses, and local municipalities are left to pay the costs.

What does this mean in practice? Oregon State University, Corvallis and the surrounding community, and the state of Oregon will absorb millions more in losses than the University of Oregon will collect from media rights earnings, NCAA Tournament payouts, bowl games and other payments, with its move to the Big Ten. The net negative impact on Oregon students, families and small businesses will be real.

Oregon State and Washington State are two land-grant universities that were established in rural agricultural regions for a reason – not in big cities that can deliver television viewers and cable subscribers so valued by the media companies driving conference realignment. Colleges and universities like OSU and WSU exist in every state and territory, and together we support the nation’s economic growth and social cohesion through our education, research, and extension missions. None of us are served by the financial incentives driving conference realignment.

Oregon State educates more than 35,000 students, conducts federally funded research approaching a half billion dollars, and sponsors extension and engagement programs across our state. As president, I believe that our purpose is to be a constructive and positive force in college athletics, no different from any of our other missions. We support our student-athletes, coaches, and staff. We lift up our faculty and students, we serve our community, and we cheer loudly alongside our alumni and fans.

As the two remaining members of the conference and in accordance with Conference bylaws, Oregon State and Washington State believe that we constitute the voting membership of the Pac-12 Board in its entirety – not the members who are leaving it. That’s why earlier today we filed a motion in court to seek a temporary restraining order against the Pac-12 and Commissioner Kliavkoff to prevent these parties from being able to make any future decisions about Conference assets and governance. While we will certainly act prudently in any financial decisions we make, in continued collaboration and consultation with the departing members, we cannot allow others to block our continued exploration of future options for the conference and our institutions.

We did not create or seek these circumstances but are prepared to act swiftly to protect the legacy and future viability of the Pac-12.

Our principles are clear:

  • We prioritize the holistic development and well-being of student-athletes and support their academic and athletic goals.
  • We provide the best experience for our fans and inspire engagement across all sports.
  • And we are responsible stewards of the financial resources that have been entrusted to us to support student-athletes and our public mission.

The road ahead is difficult, and we expect resistance. However, by staying true to our public mission that puts people first and advances economic, scientific, and social progress here in our community, throughout the U.S. and around the world, we will navigate this path successfully. It’s who we are. It’s why we’re here. We demonstrate it in the classroom and in competition every day. United, we will pursue all measures within our control to compete at the highest level and maintain the public’s trust.

This is Beaver Nation.