July 14, 2024
The schools are seeking clarity from the court on the makeup of the Pac-12 board.

It has been 25 days since Oregon State and Washington State began legal proceedings against the Pac-12, and it could be another 25, if not many more, until the process concludes.

Where do things stand?

Here’s a Hotline guide to the lawsuit brought by the two remaining schools in Whitman Co. (Wash.) Superior Court.

Why did WSU and OSU take the Pac-12 to court in the first place?

The Cougars and Beavers are the only Pac-12 schools that aren’t fleeing the conference next summer. As such, they believe presidents Kirk Schulz (WSU) and Jayathi Murthy (OSU) constitute the entirety of the Pac-12’s board of directors, which holds voting authority over issues ranging from distribution of financial assets to membership composition (i.e., expansion).

When commissioner George Kliavkoff attempted in early September to convene all 12 presidents and chancellors, the Cougars and Beavers sought, and received, a temporary restraining order to prevent the full board from meeting.

Why are they seeking a preliminary injunction?

Preventing the 12 presidents from convening as the board in early September wasn’t the only legal strategy pursued by WSU and OSU. They are also seeking clarity from the court on the makeup of the governing body: Are the 10 outbound presidents entitled to board seats, or only the leaders of the two remaining schools?

The central issue is whether the departing schools have delivered “notice of withdrawal,” which, according to the bylaws, would result in their removal from the board. If all 10 are deemed to have given notice, control of the conference would fall to WSU and OSU exclusively.

The 10 outbound schools believe they have not given legal notice. WSU and OSU dispute that position on the grounds that the schools have publicized their moves on their websites and social media, and their presidents have spoken publicly about the decisions.

Washington and Oregon even acknowledged that they would not be involved in key decisions.

The bylaws do not specify how notice of withdrawal must be delivered.

What is the timeline?

The temporary restraining order issued Sept. 11 has been extended, preventing the Pac-12 board from meeting. And last week, Judge Gary Libey set Nov. 14 as the date for the hearing on the preliminary injunction.

However, a series of steps will unfold before that point, and the sides could settle before the hearing if the 10 outgoing schools determine the process could produce embarrassing documents.

A trial likely would take months.

Is there a legal precedent?

We are not aware of a similar case, in which the collapse of a college conference led the remaining schools to file a lawsuit against the departing schools for control of the board.

However, OSU and WSU believe the relevant precedent was established by the Pac-12, which removed USC, UCLA and Colorado from the board after those schools announced their departures (prior to the collapse of the conference on Aug. 4).

Weeks later, Kliavkoff tried to convene all 12 presidents, a deeply concerning move for WSU and OSU that seemed to contradict the Pac-12’s previous stance on outbound schools.

“The meaning of the bylaws hasn’t changed just because more members have decided to leave,” Eric MacMichael, the attorney for WSU and OSU, told the court.

What are the stakes?

Washington State and Oregon State are considering whether to rebuild the Pac-12, a process that depends heavily on access to any financial assets.

If the 10 departing schools are entitled to board seats, they could vote as a bloc in a manner that harms WSU and OSU. (Momentous issues require approval from 75 percent of the board.) For instance, the 10 outgoing schools could vote to dissolve the conference, leaving the Cougars and Beavers without access to the assets and with no choice but to join the Mountain West.

If WSU and OSU are deemed the only members of the board, they would control the conference and the assets and could determine for themselves whether to rebuild or join the Mountain West.

What is Kliavkoff’s position?

In a declaration to the court on Sept. 11, the day of the hearing, Kliavkoff stated:

Related Articles

College Sports |

Heisman Trophy Watch: Penix leads Williams, Nix as Pac-12 QBs stay hot

College Sports |

Pac-12 football: Utah enters October with no Rising, no offense and no clear path to a three-peat

College Sports |

Pac-12 bowl projections: Oregon to CFP, Washington to the Fiesta

College Sports |

Mountain West power ratings: It’s Fresno State and Air Force on top as UNLV (yes, UNLV) rises

College Sports |

Pac-12 power ratings: As Stanford and ASU race to the bottom, 0-18 looms

“Neither the Conference nor I have a position with respect to the proper composition of the Pac-12 Board. This is fundamentally a dispute among members. As Commissioner, I will follow lawful directives of the Board pursuant to the Constitution and Bylaws and consistent with my duties in the best interests of the Conference.”

However, Kliavkoff previously struck a different tone, writing to WSU and OSU on Sept. 8:

“Your suggestion that ten of the Conference’s 12 members have ‘withdrawn’ from the Conference within the meaning of the Bylaws is mistaken. Not one member school has signaled any intention — or actually attempted — to leave Conference play at any time prior to the end of the current fiscal year on July 31, 2024, or to take back and exploit their media rights.

“We simply cannot accept the suggestion that only two members. — Oregon State University (OSU) and Washington State University (WSU) — now have the right to determine by themselves all issues affecting the Conference, and determine the course of all revenue coming into the Conference, to the exclusion of the other ten member schools.”

*** Send suggestions, comments and tips (confidentiality guaranteed) to [email protected] or call 408-920-5716

*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline

*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.