The Spartans have experience substantial on-field success recently. Does that matter?
As two of the Bay Area’s major college football schools look for a new home following the Pac-12’s demise, the third sits back in reasonable comfort and watches the chaos unfold.
Will San Jose State be okay once the final domino of this round of conference realignment falls?
“Absolutely,” said athletic director Jeff Konya.
There is a scenario in which the Spartans face a bleak future. However, that moment is several chess moves away and may never come. Conference realignment is nothing if not fluid, vulnerable to unanticipated forces.
“If this were a question in 2014-16, during the acclimation period into the Mountain West,” Konya continued, “I wouldn’t feel as strongly.”
Since those hard times, the Spartans have made significant strides on a variety of fronts.
Coach Brent Brennan has led the football team to two recent bowl appearances (2020 and 2022). Tim Miles’ men’s basketball team has only won 20 games. Baseball and women’s soccer have recently won Mountain West championships.
Meanwhile, the South Campus athletic facilities, including the $60 million (estimated) Spartan Athletic Center, are appealing to fans, donors, and recruits alike. Ticket sales are increasing. Membership in the One Spartan Nation fundraising program has increased dramatically. In addition, SJSU’s location in a major media market has not changed.
“The bet on SJSU has always been the potential on campus,” Konya explained, “and I do believe we are beginning to realize that.” There is a groundswell of enthusiasm to realize our full potential.”
In addition, the Mountain West appears to be united after a shaky summer in which San Diego State flirted with the Pac-12. Commissioner Gloria Nevarez has promised to pursue expansion aggressively if the opportunity arises. Two Pac-12 schools, Washington State and Oregon State, could be available depending on the next realignment moves.
However, SJSU’s neighbors serve as a cautionary tale. Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and California Chancellor Carol Christ awoke early on August 4 expecting to sign a contract that would secure the Pac-12’s future.
Instead, Washington and Oregon abruptly ended the meeting, revealing that they would join USC and UCLA in the Big Ten next summer.
As a result, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah joined the Big 12, leaving the 108-year-old Pac-12 with four members: Stanford, Cal, WSU, and OSU.
The Cardinal and Bears’ next move is dependent on their ability to secure ACC invitations. If they are successful, the ‘Pac-4’ will disband, leaving Washington State and Oregon State with no choice but to seek refuge in the Mountain West.
“Bigger is better in this game right now,” Konya explained. “There are things you can do when you grow up.” But you don’t want to grow just for the sake of growing. The programs must be compatible with the organization’s culture. There are numerous variables to consider.”
What about Washington State and Oregon State?
“They bring a lot of value to the table.”
The Mountain West would become a 13-team conference (with Hawai’i as a football-only 14th school) with no existential threats on the horizon with the Northwest duo on board.
However, if Stanford and Cal do not secure an ACC exit, the calculation changes. One option, perhaps their preferred option, would be to form a partnership with Washington State and Oregon State to rebuild the Pac-12.
The project would almost certainly necessitate the quartet extending membership offers to the Mountain West’s top football schools, with San Diego State atop the list, possibly followed by Fresno State and Boise State.
The Mountain West presidents’ statement of unity earlier this month has little sway in the back rooms and secret channels of realignment.
At that point, the situation becomes complicated for SJSU, which would not be on an aggressive, expansionist Pac-12’s shortlist of schools to pursue.
The Mountain West would lose stature and possibly its financial foundation if it lost its most valuable football programs. The Fox and CBS media contracts will expire in the summer of 2026. Why would the networks agree to renew their contract with a depleted league?
So the Spartans take a step back, cautiously optimistic but aware that the landscape can change quickly and mercilessly.
After all, Stanford, the most successful athletic department in major college sports, is looking for a new home.
“I’ve been in college athletics for 25 years, and the one constant is conference realignment,” said Koyna.”Conferences grow in size for survival or opportunity.” Within that framework, you must do what is right for your institution.”