‘We’re going to continue to be the Pac-12 Conference’: New commissioner ready to put up fight

New Pac-12 commissioner Teresa Gould said she wants to be a leader that fights for the conference’s many athletes. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – On Sep. 23, Oregon State football hosted Washington State. The matchup was a big one, with both squads entering the week inside the Associated Press’ Top 25 rankings, but that was hardly the main story of the Cougars’ 38-35 victory over the Beavers.

Instead, the future of the two teams’ conference took precedence. Fans jokingly dubbed the game the “Pac-2 Championship,” as OSU and WSU were the only programs among the league’s 12 institutions with no plans to jump ship and join another conference at the end of the current academic year.

Nearly six months later, those two schools remain the conference’s only two members, but they will have a new leader. The Pac-12 announced Feb. 19 that it was promoting Teresa Gould, the acting deputy commissioner, to be the next commissioner of the conference. The commissioner-elect, along with Washington State president and Pac-12 board chair Kirk Schulz, spoke to the media Thursday, a day before she officially transitioned into her new role.

“Since everything transpired in the Pac-12 back in August, there hasn’t been a night that’s gone by that I haven’t thought about the more than 1,000 student-athletes on the campuses of Oregon State and Washington State,” Gould said. “There are more than 1,000 young people who went to those two campuses with dreams of competing at the highest level, competing for national championships and having a great student-athlete experience.

“All I could think about was that they need a leader that is prepared to fight for them, a leader that’s prepared to fight on their behalf. And I want to be that leader. … We have programs on these two campuses that compete at the highest level, and I wanted to be the leader that fought on behalf of those student-athletes and their future.”

In addition to serving as the Pac-12’s deputy commissioner, where she oversaw the league’s championship events among other tasks, Gould spent time as an administrator at Cal, where she was the school’s interim athletic director in 2015 and 2016. She will take over for former commissioner George Kliavkoff, who assumed that role in 2021.

Gould takes the reins of the historic conference in an unprecedented and unpredictable time across all of collegiate sports. Over the past two years, the Pac-12 saw several member schools announce plans to depart the conference, following a trend started by Oklahoma and Texas in 2021, when they accepted invitations to leave the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference, arguably the best conference in the nation for football and basketball.

The first two dominoes in the Pac-12 fell a year after the Big 12 news when UCLA and USC announced they intended to join the Big Ten conference in 2024. About a year later, amid Kliavkoff’s struggle to secure a new media rights deal for the conference, eight more schools — Arizona State, Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, Utah and Washington — unveiled plans to leave the conference for various leagues, including the Big Ten, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference.

Now, Oregon State and Washington State are the only two members of the Pac-12. Due to a mere lack of opponents scheduled, the Pac-12 partnered with the Mountain West Conference for football and West Coast Conference for basketball to ensure the Beavers and Cougars will continue to face quality competition.

These days, Gould’s attention almost entirely lies in two cities: Corvallis, Oregon, and Pullman, Washington. And she had quite the lengthy laundry list awaiting when she took office Friday, including securing a new media rights deal and learning how to navigate the ever-changing world of college athletics, but each item will have the best interest of the conference’s two member schools’ present and future at the forefront, she said.

“It will be critical that, moving forward in the coming weeks, I build an organization and an operation that can collaborate and support Oregon State and Washington State in terms of the normal high-level, autonomy-five services that their student-athletes and programs have been accustomed to receiving,” Gould said. “I need to retain and recruit the best talent, the people that are in this for the right reasons to support that student-athlete mission.”

As the commissioner of the Pac-12, Gould will have a seat on the College Football Playoff Management Committee, ensuring the ability to advocate for her conference in the presence of NCAA president Charlie Baker and officials from various leagues around the nation.

Of course, the Pac-12’s interests and value extend beyond football and basketball, although those two sports are the main revenue-drivers for any school. Because of this, and the fact that it’s nearly impossible to predict the direction college athletics are headed, it will be important for the conference to take a conservative approach moving forward, considering all possible options before making a definitive decision for its future.

“There’s no specific timeline, and I want to make that clear,” Schulz said. “Because I think a lot of people out there want to know, ‘What are you going to have done by a particular date?’ And I think as we’ve gone through, from August until today, we’ve tried to be careful to say let’s keep ourselves flexible, let’s make sure that we’re keeping lots of options open for both institutions and for the conference, and not just rush to a decision just because people feel some anxiety about how come we don’t know today what the future is going to look like.”

Although most of the Pac-12’s future remains cloudy, Gould hopes to soon address a media rights deal. There is “great interest” in the Oregon State and Washington State football teams, she said.

She did say that the Pac-12 Networks’ production studio in San Ramon, California, will continue to be in operation for the 2024-25 academic year. It will be used to support Washington State and Oregon State “with live events and content,” Gould said.

Another area Gould addressed was the intellectual property of the conference – including name, branding and logo rights – which features over a century of history. Despite the ongoing “Pac-2” jokes among fans, the plan is to remain the Pac-12 not only for the near future, but for the years to come, she said.

“We are the Pac-12 Conference, and we’re going to continue to be the Pac-12 Conference,” Gould said. “That brand means something nationally, it means something in our footprint on the West Coast, it means something to our fanbase. So we will continue to own the name, the logo and the intellectual property on that, and we think it’s definitely an asset that we need to think through moving forward, how we leverage and how that fits into our long-term strategy.”

Sean Brennan(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Sean Brennan expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Brennan is a football, hockey and baseball writer for Walter Cronkite Sports Network and has interned with the California Collegiate League.