Report: Court docs show UW, Oregon expected removal from key Pac-12 talks

Sep 16, 2023, 3:57 PM | Updated: 4:55 pm

Image: The field at Sun Devil Stadium bears a Pac-12 logo during a game between Arizona State and K...

The field at Sun Devil Stadium bears a Pac-12 logo during a game between Arizona State and Kent State in Tempe, Arizona, on Aug. 29, 2019. (Photo: Ralph Freso, AP file)

(Photo: Ralph Freso, AP file)

Officials from the University of Washington (UW) and the University of Oregon acknowledged in writing they would be excluded from decisions related to the future of the Pac-12 conference, according to a report from the Bay Area News Group published Saturday. The Seattle Times also has posted the report.

The documents could be critical pieces of evidence as Washington State (WSU) and Oregon State (OSU), the Pac-12’s only remaining schools, engage in a legal war for control of what’s left of the conference and where it may go.

The letters were written by UW president Ana Mari Cauce and Oregon vice president Kevin S. Reed to Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff. They are dated Aug. 4, the day UW and Oregon agreed to join the Big Ten, and were obtained by the Bay Area News Group this week from Whitman County Superior Court. Whitman County is in Eastern Washington. Pullman, where WSU is based, is the largest city in that county.

The letters state UW and Oregon expected “to remain an active and participating member in the Conference until” next summer. In letters that were nearly identical, the outlet notes, both Cauce and Reed, who also is Oregon’s general counsel, seemingly acknowledged they were relinquishing their board authority on long-term strategic matters:

I understand that the University will be excluded from Conference discussions pertaining to matters occurring after August 1, 2024, such as media rights agreements and new Conference member considerations.

Restraining order request granted

A judge granted a request by WSU and OSU for a temporary restraining order Monday to prevent departing Pac-12 members from meeting until it can be determined who has the right to make up the disintegrating conference’s board of directors.

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Judge Gary Libey in Whitman County ruled a meeting with conference commissioner George Kliavkoff and university leaders from 10 departing members cannot take place.

WSU and OSU want full control over decision making for the conference as the only schools committed to the conference beyond the current school year.

“Those schools made their decision to leave the Pac-12 prioritizing their financial interest, and they’re not allowed to have their cake and eat it too by now controlling the fate of the Pac-12,” Eric MacMichael, a lawyer for WSU and OSU, said at a hearing Monday in Whitman County.

MacMichael and the remaining Pacific Northwest universities contend eight schools — Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Stanford and California — forfeited their right to be on the board when they announced their intentions to join other conferences next year. USC and UCLA were stripped of voting rights by the Pac-12 in 2022 when they decided to join the Big Ten.

“We don’t want both of our arms tied behind our backs by having every decision made by 10 members, who no longer have any interest in seeing the conference survive, and instead have a strong financial interest in seeing the conference dissolve,” MacMichael added.

What does ‘formal notification’ mean?

The departing schools dispute what constitutes formal notification of departure from the conference.

This summer, in a letter written to WSU president Kirk Schulz and OSU president Jayathi Murthy, Kliavkoff disputed the notion the 10 outbound schools have relinquished their board positions, according to the Bay Area News Group.

But the outlet also explained Kliavkoff’s position appeared to contradict the Pac-12’s official stance, which was initially established in 2022 after USC and UCLA announced they were departing to Pac-12 to join the Big Ten.

On July 14, 2022, then-Pac-12 general counsel Maggy Carlyle wrote identical letters to an attorney at UCLA saying the conference expected UCLA representatives to serve on committees focused on student-athlete well being and other matters that do not create an inherent conflict of interest.” An identical letter was sent to an attorney at USC.

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MacMichael took the same stance during the hearing in Whitman County Monday, also saying it applied to Colorado when that school announced its intention to leave.

“The conference took the position that USC and UCLA were no longer entitled to attend board of directors meetings, and were no longer entitled to vote on behalf of the Pac-12,” he said. “And then when Colorado announced that it was leaving to join the Big 12 on July 27, 2023, the conference took the exact same position.”

MacMichael added that the bylaws don’t change just because more schools are leaving the conference.

“The words of the bylaws haven’t changed, and their meaning hasn’t changed,” MacMichael said. “And that these departing schools and the conference are not entitled to ignore the meaning of those words, simply because it’s no longer convenient for them.”

Judge Libey issued the restraining order in favor of WSU and OSU, but the next steps in the case have not yet been determined.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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Report: Court docs show UW, Oregon expected removal from key Pac-12 talks