Where will conference realignment leave Utah State and the Mountain West?

A merger with the Pac-12 is one reported possibility.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars defensive back Talan Alfrey (25) brings down Utah State Aggies quarterback Cooper Legas (5) at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, on Sept. 29, 2022.

What does the future hold for Utah State and the Mountain West Conference?

Oregon, Washington, UCLA and USC are off to the Big Ten in 2024. Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, and Colorado are also out and joining the revamped Big 12. That leaves the Pac-12 with four schools — Stanford, Cal, Oregon State and Washington State — in 2024.

In a roundabout way, the Mountain West Conference now seems likely to have its realignment moment soon. It could potentially be a beneficiary as a logical choice for the remaining schools without a future conference. Or, the Mountain West’s top brands could be plucked away to join the current Pac-12 lineup.

However, one option seems most likely.

Yahoo Sports’ Ross Dellenger reported Friday a practical next step according to presidents and athletic directors at the remaining Pac-12 schools is a “merger or partnership” with the MWC, which is open to the idea.

Dellenger also writes re-forming the Pac-12 is a “long shot,” as the exit fee for each MWC school to theoretically enter the Pac-12 for the 2024 season is $34 million. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, one option gaining traction among Mountain West officials is merging the two conferences only to absorb the Pac-12 name under one umbrella, avoiding exit fees and taking advantage of the current relative stability of the MWC.

One drawback of that possible reality is the Mountain West’s current TV contract with Fox and CBS, which runs through 2026 and only pays its schools $4 million per year, compared to the reportedly $23 million the Pac-12 recently had in place from Apple prior to Oregon and Washington’s exit. 

From a Mountain West perspective, Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman suggests the remaining four Pac-12 schools will try to find a suitor in the Power Five, though that possibility seems far-fetched.

“Well, I can guarantee you the first thing those four schools are going to do is to do everything in their power to try to find a Big 12, ACC, Big Ten, doesn’t matter, they’re going to try to find something better,” Burman told the Casper Star-Tribune. “But that is going to be very, very difficult.”

Burman added: “I would say Utah State is very similar to us, we need to stay together, and we need to be strong.”

“I would say this in the Mountain West Conference, if we all would stay together and not be fooled into thinking there’s something greater out there and joining a Power 5 league because the Pac-12, no matter who they add, is not going to be an Autonomous 5 league for very long. It’s clear and everybody around the country is talking about that.”

Some suggest Washington State and Oregon State are the most likely to join the Mountain West, with Stanford and Cal looking for upper-tier moves or potentially going independent until the next round of realignment sparks.

But one question remains: would a potential “Pac-16″ that features the remaining Pac-12 schools and the Mountain West be considered a Power Five conference? That could be a factor in deciding each conference’s future.

Regardless, the MWC and Pac-12 are primed for movement, and the clock is ticking.