Getty Images

San Diego State and the Mountain West Conference are at odds as the Aztecs attempt to smooth over their awkward non-exit from the league. The conference is withholding a $6.6 million distribution and disallowing San Diego State officials from meetings while the league decides whether the Aztecs can be members of the conference heading forward, according to documents obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune. The $6.6 million is being withheld as a means of covering an exit fee the MWC says SDSU owes the league.

At the center of the conflict is a letter submitted by San Diego State president Adela de la Torre to the conference on June 13. The Mountain West considered it an official notice that the Aztecs were leaving the league, while the school claims it was only notice to open communication but not final notice that the decision was made. 

In the letter, the Aztecs wrote "to formally notice that San Diego State intends to resign" from the Mountain West and wanted to discuss potential payment plans and a longer timeline for the program to give final notice as the school waits for an invite from presumably the Pac-12. Per conference bylaws, the $16.5 million buyout jumps to $34 million if notice is given later than July 1. 

Two weeks later, San Diego State opted to reverse course and remain in the conference as the Pac-12 remains in a stalemate amid tense media rights negotiations. However, in an additional letter from Mountain West commissioner Gloria Nevarez, the conference held that the Aztecs gave formal notice -- meaning San Diego State now owes the league nearly $17 million. The status of San Diego State's membership will be discussed at a board meeting on July 17, which will not include de la Torre per MWC bylaws. 

The Mountain West's hardline stance could be a long-term negotiating strategy as San Diego State continues to look to the Power Five level. While the Aztecs are staying in the league for now, there's still a chance the program does attempt to work out an exit in future years. This is Nevarez's first major conflict to oversee after taking over as just the second commissioner in Mountain West history on Jan. 1, 2023.

The fight is the latest casualty of the Pac-12's media rights negotiation, which has stretched far longer than expected. The league is negotiating with both linear and streaming television partners as the existing deal with ESPN and Fox expires on July 1, 2024. Every other Power Five conference has a television deal locked in through the end of the decade. San Diego State likely approached the MWC with a proposed later notice in hopes that the Pac-12 would be able to give them clarity within the next month.  

Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff has been firm that any expansion plans for the conference will only come after a media rights deal is signed. San Diego State has been a high priority team for the Pac-12 as the league loses its duo of Southern California programs, UCLA and USC, to the Big Ten on July 1, 2024. 

The Aztecs are the only other FBS program in the region, and have been rolling as an athletic department in recent years. In the past decade, San Diego State won two conference championships and two additional division crowns in football. The Aztecs also made headlines after a shocking run to the men's basketball national championship game in 2023. The run will earn the Mountain West more than $10 million over the next six years in March Madness revenue shares.