Oregon State and Washington State face player exodus amid realignment

FILE -Oregon State running back Damien Martinez (6) rushes against Stanford during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Corvallis, Ore. Oregon State running back Damien Martinez, Miami running back Henry Parrish and Pitt defensive end Jayon Hayes entered the transfer portal as the 14-day spring window opened for college football players. (AP Photo/Amanda Loman, File)

Perhaps the biggest blow for Oregon State in recent weeks was the departure of running back Damien Martinez, who had previously pledged his loyalty to the Beavers.

The former Pac-12 Freshman of the Year had proclaimed in interviews and on social media that he was not abandoning the team as the school faced the dissolution of the conference and the departure of his coach.


So it was a surprise when Martinez announced earlier this month that he was entering the transfer portal.

“I can truly say I have given my all to Oregon State and appreciate everything OSU has given me. After long talks with my family and the people closest to me, I intend to enter the transfer portal to continue chasing my childhood dreams for this upcoming season,” he posted on Instagram.

Chasing his dream apparently wasn’t going to happen in Corvallis.

It wasn’t just Martinez. Eight players from the Oregon State women’s basketball team who played in the Elite Eight this month have entered the portal — including AP third-team All America forward Raegan Beers. Eight players from the men’s side have also departed.

There has been a similar exodus of some prominent players at Washington State. Quarterback Cam Ward is now at Miami and women’s basketball player Charlisse Leger-Walker, who helped the Cougars win the Pac-12 tournament in 2023, has elected to spend her final season at UCLA.

Twelve players from Washington State’s men’s basketball team that went to the NCAA Tournament this past season for the first time since 2008 have entered the portal.

Oregon State athletic director Scott Barnes addressed the unease in an open letter to the Oregon State community.

“I hear you and know that it feels like since August we have been on the receiving end of multiple gut punches. When that happens, you are faced with two options – exit the ring or throw counterpunches,” he wrote. “Hear this Beaver Nation, the gloves are on, and we will not stray from our mission.”

The student-athletes certainly aren’t to blame, with greater visibility for future pro careers and more lucrative opportunities for name, image and likeness deals at stake, said Cara Hawkins-Jedlicka, an assistant professor at Washington State whose work includes the study of women’s sports in the media and NIL programs and policies.

The Pac-12 fell apart last summer. UCLA and USC had already announced their departure to the Big Ten. But after then-Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff presented a media rights deal to conference members that some considered underwhelming, Oregon and Washington joined the Bruins and Trojans in the Big Ten.

Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah fled for the Big 12. Stanford and California went to the ACC.

The Cougars and the Beavers were left alone.

Reality set in on Monday, when the NCAA’s Board of Directors formally stripped the Pac-12 of its designation as an “autonomous” FBS conference — essentially taking away the league’s Power Five status.

Both the Beavers and the Cougars will compete in the mid-major West Coast Conference in basketball for the next two seasons. Football teams will each play six games against Mountain West opponents — three at home, three on the road — in the fall with a mutual option for 2025.

“This is a Pac-12 school that’s going to be in the WCC for two years and I think that we got a pretty formidable team and a pretty dang good program,” new Washington State coach David Riley said optimistically. He took over as basketball coach for Kyle Smith, who left Pullman for Stanford following the season.

At Oregon State, football coach Jonathan Smith left for Michigan State the day after the Beavers’ regular season ended. Smith, who played quarterback at Oregon State, said his decision didn’t have anything to do with realignment.

Hawkins-Jedlicka recently was part of a panel at Washington State that discussed realignment and its impact on the school. The overall sense was the landscape is still changing.

“It didn’t seem like doom and gloom. It was pretty optimistic,” she said. “From my feeling, I think we’re all kind of in a space where it’s like we just wait and see how this all shakes out.”

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