A Washington State Superior Court judge granted Washington State and Oregon State a temporary restraining order and prohibited the Pac-12 Conference from holding a meeting Wednesday with all league members to chart the future course of the league.
The two schools on Friday filed a breach of bylaws complaint in Whitman Country, Washington, against their current league and commissioner George Kliavkoff, attempting to keep the 10 departing member schools from meeting this week and from possessing votes that would decide the future direction of the league.
Judge Gary Libey ordered all parties to “transact business in the normal course” but “put the brakes” on future Pac-12 board meetings. Libey amended the order to allow the Pac-12’s board to adopt a proposal that elicits a unanimous vote, such as an immediate retention plan.
The ruling is important as the two Pacific Northwest schools continue to assess what control over the crumbled league’s assets they retain and how that may play in what decisions they make regarding future conference affiliation.
The two schools could potentially join Mountain West Conference schools in a so-called reverse merger. However, it remains to be seen what that league would be called. Or, as both schools have signaled, they could try to climb a steep hill in attempting to rebuild the fallen 108-year-old conference.
Eric MacMichael, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said during the hearing that OSU and WSU want a chance to see if they can save the league and do not feel departing members should have a say in the future of the conference because the departing members don’t have an interest in the league surviving. In fact, MacMichael contended, the departing schools have a financial interest in the league formally dissolving.
Who should determine future of Pac-12?
It has been a precipitous fall for the Pac-12. UCLA and USC last summer announced they were headed to the Big Ten. And this summer, eight other schools – Stanford and California (ACC); Oregon and Washington (Big Ten); and Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah (Big 12) – announced departures for three power leagues in 2024.
WSU and OSU believe those schools should not have a say in the fate of the conference and that the league’s existing bylaws support their contention.
“The meaning of the bylaws hasn’t changed just because more members have decided to leave,” MacMichael said.
Also striking during the hearing was MacMichael’s claim that departing schools are seeking the league to cover a portion of the transition costs for the schools who are leaving for other conferences.
WSU and OSU claimed that Kliavkoff called a board meeting with representatives from all 12 schools on Wednesday to vote on a “go forward governance approach.” But the Pacific Northwest schools assert that conference bylaws make clear that schools that announce their intent to leave the league forfeit their right to vote on the league’s future direction.
Washington State President Kirk Schulz has said, “The future of the Pac-12 must be determined by the remaining members, not by those who are leaving.”
What happens with the league’s assets?
WSU and OSU also claim that departing members have an incentive to try to dissolve the league because, if that scenario unfolds, all schools would split assets. Those assets include $60-plus million in NCAA tournament financial units paid out over a six-year period.
In its Friday filing, WSU and OSU reference a recent email in which an unidentified representative of a departing school “threatened that the departing members of the conference were poised to take immediate action to seize control of the Pac-12.”
In terms of liabilities, the league also owes Comcast $50 million-plus because of an overpayment to the Pac-12 Network. Yet, the league has agreed that all member schools will be responsible for sharing that debt.