Welcome back, Aztecs.
After a lengthy Board of Directors meeting that spilled into Monday evening followed by silence and speculation, the Mountain West and San Diego State resolved their dispute about whether the Aztecs were leaving the conference.
According to multiple conference sources, the two sides are finalizing paperwork on an agreement for SDSU to remain in the Mountain West — but with conditions.
SDSU will pay the Mountain West's legal fees spurred by a monthlong letter exchange that went from cordial to contentious. The university also will agree in writing not to retroactively use President Adela de la Torre's controversially-worded June 13 letter to invoke a smaller exit fee should it receive an invitation from the Pac-12 or another conference before next year.
Another way to look at it:
The Mountain West will send SDSU the $6.6 million distribution share for 2022-23 that it was withholding as the first installment of the conference's exit fee, less legal expenses that are believed to be under $100,000. And SDSU will remain in the conference for 2023-24 and likely 2024-25 unless it pays the doubled exit fee from leaving with less than 12 months' notice.
That ends a stalemate between the conference and its marquee member that began innocently enough early last month at a board meeting in Hawaii, where de la Torre reportedly told fellow presidents of SDSU's plan to leave for the Pac-12. A week later, she sent them a letter "to formally notice that San Diego State University intends to resign from the Mountain West," noting that "it has been an absolute joy to collaborate and compete with each of the member universities."
Commissioner Gloria Nevarez replied the next day: "I hearby confirm receipt … of your notice of resignation from the Mountain West, effective as of June 30, 2024." She added: "It is with a heavy heart that we receive this news. We wish you only the best in your new conference and will work with you to ensure a smooth transition."
Smooth, it wasn't. De la Torre wrote back June 15 to say SDSU had not formally resigned from the conference, and Nevarez replied that, yes, it had. There was a similar exchange two weeks later, after which attorneys from both sides took the lead.
That led to Monday's board meeting with Nevarez and the presidential board minus de la Torre, specifically scheduled to discuss SDSU's "status" in the conference.
A Mountain West spokesperson said Monday night that "nothing publicly" would be shared from the meeting. The conference still wasn't talking Tuesday, but Nevarez is scheduled to deliver a state of the conference address Wednesday morning at football media days in Las Vegas that is expected to reference the SDSU resolution.
There was talk of the two sides issuing a joint statement Tuesday night, but that never materialized. SDSU officials declined comment.
Mountain West media days last through Thursday. The following day, a few miles away at Resorts World Las Vegas, Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff has his turn under the hot lights.
Despite an expectation that the Pac-12 would unveil at least a framework of a new media rights contract in Las Vegas, several outlets reported Tuesday that it won't happen when Kliavkoff takes the stage Friday morning.
In what had all the trappings of an orchestrated leak, the reports cited sources who said essentially the same things — that the conference's remaining 10 presidents have been "patient," that more potential TV partners have come to the bargaining table in recent months, and a new media rights deal will be announced in the "near future."
SDSU's decision to accept the Mountain West's terms — while insisting it had never formally left the conference — can be viewed as an admission that a Pac-12 invitation might not be coming anytime soon. One possible strategy was to drag out a lawsuit contesting the reinstatement conditions in hopes of buying time for the Pac-12 to complete a media rights deal and vote on expansion.
By consenting, SDSU now faces an estimated $34 million exit fee to leave in 2024-25, when USC and UCLA officially head to the Big Ten and the Pac-12 starts a new media right cycle. The exit fee is half that if you provide one year's notice, and the Aztecs would be well inside that.
"We can't pay the (extra) amount," Athletic Director John David Wicker said last June. "Everyone is aware of that."