Washington State, Oregon State take another legal step against outgoing Pac-12 schools, commissioner

Oregon State and Washington State filed a preliminary injunction against the Pac-12's outgoing schools and its commissioner. (Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Oregon State and Washington State filed a preliminary injunction against the Pac-12's outgoing schools and its commissioner. (Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Oregon State and Washington State have taken the next step in their legal fight over governance of the Pac-12’s millions of dollars in assets.

The two remaining members of the conference filed a motion for preliminary injunction in their court battle against the 10 outgoing Pac-12 schools and commissioner George Kliavkoff. The motion, filed Wednesday morning in Whitman County (Washington) Superior Court, seeks an order stipulating that Washington State and Oregon State be the only voting members of the Pac-12 Board of Directors until a final judgment in the case is rendered.

As part of the motion, the two schools produced dozens of pages of documents through discovery that support their claim: that members who have withdrawn from the league lose their voting representation on the board. The claim, at the center of the case, is imperative to control of what is believed to be more than $100 million in assets coming to the conference.

In its motion, Oregon State and Washington State express fear that the 10 outgoing members, if allowed onto the board, could “out-vote” the two to dissolve the league and redistribute the millions in assets to themselves. The assets include revenue from NCAA tournament units (at least $50 million), the Rose Bowl contract (estimated at $80 million) and the value of the Pac-12 Network and its recently renovated studio.

For now, many legal experts believe that the Pac-12’s assets can be retained by the two schools at least in the short term if they preserve the league. OSU and WSU are preparing to operate as a two-school conference for at least next year, even assembling a schedule for the 2024 football season that is akin to an independent school’s schedule. They are in discussion with the Mountain West over a scheduling alliance to complete a 12-game slate.

The motion’s discovery provides insight into the Pac-12’s inner-workings over its final months.

For instance, according to the filings, Colorado alerted Kliavkoff of its departure to the Big 12 through text message. CU chancellor Phil DiStefano texted the commissioner on the morning of July 27. The CU board voted later that afternoon to leave the league.

The discovery also outlined the final few days of the league’s existence, which began on a Tuesday with Kliavkoff’s presentation of an all-streaming media package from Apple and ended on a Friday morning, when the league collapsed as members left. Many of the events were detailed in a story by Yahoo Sports.

A Washington State fan holds up a Pac-2 sign during a game against Oregon State on Sept. 23. (James Snook-USA TODAY Sports)
A Washington State fan holds up a Pac-2 sign during a game against Oregon State on Sept. 23. (James Snook-USA TODAY Sports)

According to the discovery, league presidents agreed on Thursday night to “sign the needed paperwork to move the Pac-12 forward and finalize the deal with Apple” on Friday morning. However, “minutes before” the meeting was scheduled to start, “Oregon and Washington delivered a shocking announcement that they were withdrawing from the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten,” the documents say.

More important to the case is the precedent set for board membership when USC and UCLA announced their departure in June of 2022. Pursuant to league bylaws and the constitution, board members have their voting privileges rescinded once they announce that they are leaving the conference — a somewhat normal concept.

In fact, multiple FBS conferences have similar bylaws and carried out such a situation during this latest wave of realignment. For example, Big 12 administrators often met without representatives of Texas and Oklahoma after those schools announced their departures to the SEC.

Under penalty of perjury, Kliavkoff submitted multiple declarations that USC and UCLA presidents were removed from the board based on their membership withdrawal. The board met without the two schools for more than a year. The same happened after Colorado withdrew on July 27, with the nine remaining members gathering to further discuss a potential new media rights package.

After Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah withdrew on Aug. 4, Kliavkoff confirmed in a text message to an unnamed reporter that the board then consisted of just four members.

“As of today, we have four board members,” the text read, according to discovery.

The court case now marches forward.

Without an injunction, the governance of the league is, for now, in limbo. After a hearing last month, the court ruled that the Pac-12 Board was prohibited from meeting and could not make decisions without unanimous consent.

The parties are in mediation ahead of the case’s next hearing, set for Nov. 14. If a settlement is not reached by Nov. 14, the hearing is likely to determine voting rights, and thus control, of the Pac-12’s cash haul.

However, this legal fight could drag on months, if not more than a year if it reaches trial.