I like to walk. I walk just about every day. It gives me time to exercise and time to think.
On Tuesday, San Diego State was at the top of my mind, as the Aztecs are getting dragged for this whole Mountain West exit mess. Perhaps rightfully so. As break-ups go this one has “throwing the fine dinner wear at each other” written all over it.
But, as I walked, I thought some more and wondered, “What if this all works out for San Diego State, regardless of how it looks right now?”
Let’s consider what they did two weeks ago. SDSU sent the Mountain West a letter indicating its desire to resign from the conference but wanted to delay the exit deadline from June 30 to July 30 to give their future conference situation a chance to sort itself out.
That went over like a fart in church. Mountain West said no. We all expected that.
I have to believe SDSU expected it, too. After all, here’s part of the text SDSU sent to the Mountain West:
“This letter is to formally notice that San Diego State University (SDSU) intends to resign from the (conference) effective June 30.”
Not a formal resignation, but definitely a statement of intent, at the least. The San Diego Union-Times got hold of the exchange of letters and two things are clear — San Diego State re-iterated that the letter was stating its “intent” and not a formal resignation, and the Mountain West said they were taking it as a resignation and that was that.
So when this broke a couple of days ago, the two parties have actually been exchanging letters for a couple of weeks.
What if, before sending the letter, SDSU gamed all this out? I mean, part of decision-making is anticipating what your adversary might do (and this letter clearly turned the Mountain West into SDSU’s adversary). That means sifting through every scenario, including the unlikely and the downright bizarre.
SDSU wanted to avoid an additional buyout. The school is on the hook for $17 million regardless of whether they gave notice a year ago or give notice a month from now. The difference is that June 30 date. Do it before, and it’s just $17 million. Do it after — assuming you leave for a new conference for 2024-25 — and it’s double or triple that.
So if the Mountain West’s interpretation holds, SDSU avoided the up-charge.
Second, SDSU now has the freedom to leave on June 30, 2024. Remember — the Mountain West is making the assertion that SDSU has resigned and won’t be in the league after that date. That gives the Aztecs the freedom to join whatever league it wants.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking — no one has invited them to join the Pac-12, or, frankly the Big 12. But remember what SDSU athletic director JD Wicker said earlier this year?
“We’re joining either the Pac-12 or the Big 12.”
I don’t believe the Pac-12 or the Big 12 urged SDSU to leave the Mountain West early, nor do I assume that SDSU believed an invite was forthcoming in the next few days. Neither has extended an invitation. But SDSU has talked to both conferences. That’s clear.
You have one conference in the Pac-12 that needs to expand and would rather stay in its own footprint. SDSU checks those boxes. The Big 12 wants a fourth time zone and a large TV market. SDSU checks those boxes.
So, why no invite? The Pac-12 has played its television negotiations all wrong when it comes to expansion. It should have expanded already. It comes down to greed. The 10 remaining schools want to get theirs first and let any others they bring on get less than a full share. I don’t believe the Big 12 sees SDSU as “Plan A,” and I think SDSU is fine with that because the Pac-12 is their Plan A. If the Pac-12 doesn’t want them, I think they feel comfortable that the Big 12 might invite them eventually.
Why would SDSU be OK with this? Because even a half-share of a Power 5 TV deal is more than twice what they’re getting from the Mountain West, which is going to withhold its rights payment for this year — about $6.6 million — to pay the $17 million exit fee.
So, the reality actually could be that the exit fee is $10.4 million and that its first half-share of Power 5 TV money would pay for the rest.
It’s a gamble, for sure. Aside from the Pac-12 and the Big 12, SDSU has no other options.
But I don’t see it as a high-risk gamble. SDSU has two potential Power 5 conference suitors. The Big 12 wants them under the right circumstances. The Pac-12 needs them under any circumstances.
If this holds, the Aztecs just freed themselves from the league they want to leave and put themselves in play to join a Power 5 league paying only the $17 million exit fee it only wanted to pay in the first plus. Plus, the Aztecs are still members of the Mountain West next season.
As the Twitter meme goes, the Aztecs went “Full Costanza.”
But from where I’m sitting, it could totally work out for them, even with the embarrassment it’s currently enduring.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.