Judge gives Oregon State, Washington State control of Pac-12
Nov 15, 2023, 1:26 PM | Updated: 5:44 pm
(Photo: Young Kwak, AP)
A judge granted Oregon State and Washington State a preliminary injunction Tuesday in their legal battle with 10 departing Pac-12 schools, giving the remaining two universities control of the conference.
“Oregon State and Washington State will be the sole members of the board,” Judge Gary Libey ruled in Whitman County Superior Court, not far from Washington State’s Pullman campus.
Over the course of about a month this past summer, eight Pac-12 schools announced they would be leaving the conference to join other Power Five leagues starting next August. Southern California and UCLA announced in 2022 that they would be leaving for the Big Ten.
More on the changes to the Pac-12 conference: UW asks court to dismiss WSU, Oregon State’s suit against Pac-12
In September, Oregon State and Washington State took the Pac-12 and Commissioner George Kliavkoff to court and received a temporary restraining order in an attempt to stop the other schools from convening as voting board members.
Oregon State and Washington State believe if the board was convened, the departing schools would vote to dissolve the conference and divide up the assets among the group of 12, according to court documents. Based on court filings, the ten departing schools are less concerned with the conference’s future assets and more focused on their shares of the 2023-24 revenue. The figure cited is $420 million, or about $35 million per school.
With officials at both OSU and WSU committed to staying in the Pac-12, they believe the money should belong to the conference, not individual schools.
Eric MacMichael, an attorney representing Oregon State and speaking on behalf of Washington State, said the Pac-12 bylaws explicitly state issuing a notice of withdrawal prior to August 1, 2024, meant immediate removal from the conference governing board and decision-making.
Daniel Levin, the University of Washington’s attorney representing all ten departing schools in court Tuesday, disagreed.
“The Pac-12 bylaws do not kick them off the board automatically for telling the conference about their future plans,” he said. He argued conference rules give them the right to be involved in the running of the conference until they actually leave next year.
MacMichael fired back that in previous instances where USC, UCLA and the University of Colorado had declared their intent to leave the Pac-12, they were removed from the board immediately. MacMichael said that none of the ten schools had disagreed with that policy until the University of Washington (UW) later announced it would leave after August 2024.
“Parties are not allowed to just blatantly flip-flop on the meanings of contractual obligations just so they can have their cake and eat it too,” MacMichael said.
More on Pac-12: Colorado leaving Pac-12, returning to Big 12 in 2024
Judge Libey agreed.
“I grew up where conduct spoke louder than words,” he said during his ruling. “What you do and how you do it is what counts in life; not what you say you’re going to do.”
Levin told the judge the other 10 schools were concerned WSU and OSU may want to take all Pac-12 revenue for themselves to entice Mountain West schools to join the crumbling conference.
But MacMichael said no decisions have been made on how revenue will be distributed, and the two remaining schools have no agenda.
Judge Libey also said the other ten schools must be treated fairly. He included provisions in his ruling that the conference can continue with normal business; WSU and OSU must invite the ten schools to meetings, but departing members cannot vote or make decisions.
“Nothing’s going to change in the Pac-12,” Libey said. “The athletes will still be competing. The schools will still be doing business, Pac-12 will still be doing business but will be governed by the two universities that have not submitted their notice of withdrawal.”
The outgoing Pac-12 schools are appealing the ruling to the Washington State Supreme Court. Judge Libey acknowledged the case could even make its way to the nation’s highest court.
But for now, Oregon State and Washington State have temporary control. And the clock is ticking for them to make definitive plans for next season.
“We are trying to explore all options,” MacMichael said. “But we can’t do anything right now because we’re shackled to 10 people who have no interest in seeing this conference survive or move forward or even have a future. All they want is to get every last dollar that they can out of the Pac-12 before they leave and join the Big Ten, the Big 12 or the ACC. So we can’t do anything in this state of paralysis that we’re currently in.”
A two-school conference, allowable temporarily by the NCAA, is a possibility for Oregon State and Washington State next year. But the two schools can’t just compete against each other.
To complete schedules in all sports, the schools have discussed a partnership with the Mountain West, but the details of that alliance still need to be worked out.
The Pac-12 also has no media rights deal beyond this season. Both schools have acknowledged they are facing a huge drop in revenue as the Pac-12 loses Power Five status.
Contributing: Associated Press