Oregon State, Washington State working to keep Pac-12 open, aligning with Mtn. West, AP sources say. Could USF be in their future?

Oregon State and Washington State are working on a plan to keep the Pac-12 alive as a two-team conference for as long as two years while entering an agreement with the Mountain West Conference that will allow the Pacific Northwest schools to fill out their sports schedules, two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The agreement could set the stage for a long-term deal between Oregon State and Washington State and the Mountain West, but what that looks like is unlikely to be determined soon, said the people, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because the neither the schools nor the Mountain West were making their negotiations and internal discussions public.

In the short-term, Oregon State and Washington State would get the clarity about conference affiliation they need to give their coaches, athletes and recruits. The Mountain West would get a payout from the schools and alignment with programs that have been competitive at the Power Five level.

Oregon State is currently ranked 10th in the country in The Associated Press Top 25 college football poll.

One of the people said if an agreement with the Mountain West cannot be reached, Oregon State and Washington State are still comfortable with operating as a two-team Pac-12 after the other 10 schools depart next summer, but acknowledged filling out schedules for more than a dozen sports each schools sponsors would be challenging.

Oregon State and Washington State won a significant legal victory earlier this week that gave them sole control of the Pac-12 and potentially hundreds of millions in assets, paving the way for them to move forward on clarifying their future plans for conference affiliation.

The Pac-12 was ravaged by conference realignment moves over the past two years, starting with Southern California and UCLA announcing in 2022 they would join the Big Ten in 2024.

This past summer, in the span of about a month, Washington and Oregon revealed plans to also join the Big Ten; Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah said they would join the Big 12; and Stanford and California announced they were moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

That left Oregon State and Washington State on their own, facing a daunting future with dramatically reduced revenue streams.

Schools leaders determined the best path forward was try to rebuild the Pac-12, which still has two years left of multimillion-dollar payouts from the Rose Bowl and the College Football Playoff.

Exit fees in other conferences would make it difficult for other schools to join the Pac-12 on short-notice.

Since the NCAA allows a two-year grace period for a conference to operate with as few as two schools, Oregon State and Washington State could do that for 2024 and possibly 2025.

The plan being worked on would call for Oregon State and Washington State to play schedules mostly against Mountain West schools, though neither would be eligible for the conference championship.

In football, that would mean at least six games each against Mountain West schools for the Beavers and Cougars over the next two years.

___ Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com. Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here.

___

AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football