Judge Rules for Oregon State University and Washington State University
A judge granted a request by Oregon State and Washington State for a temporary restraining order on Monday to prevent departing Pac-12 members from meeting until it can be determined who has the right to chart the future of the disintegrating conference.
At a hearing in Whitman County Superior Court in Washington, Judge Gary Libey ruled that a board of directors meeting scheduled for later this week with conference Commissioner George Kliavkoff and university leaders from 10 departing members cannot take place.
Washington State President Kirk Schulz, who now serves as the chairman of the Pac-12's board, and athletic director Pat Chun attended the hearing at a courthouse not far from the school's Pullman campus. The judge did not immediately set another court date.
Oregon State and Washington State want full control over decision making for the conference as the only schools committed to the league beyond the current school year. The schools filed the breach of bylaws complaint Friday.
“I am pleased with today’s decision. As the two remaining Pac- 12 members, Oregon State and Washington State must be able to chart a path forward for the Pac 12--not the members that have chosen to leave it,” Oregon State President Jayathi Murthy said in a statement.
Leaders of the Pacific Northwest schools have stated they would like to rebuild the Pac-12, taking control of its assets and intellectual property while preserving its brand. They say they fear the outgoing schools will try to dissolve the conference and divvy up its assets on the way out the door if they are permitted to convene a board meeting.
“Members who have announced that they are leaving to join a competitor no longer have any loyalty to the Pac-12, cannot be entrusted to make decisions on behalf of the Pac-12,” said Eric MacMichael, an attorney for Oregon State.
MacMichael said on the agenda for the scheduled meeting was a discussion of amending the conference bylaws. He also accused departing members of plotting to use Pac-12 assets to fund their transitions to other conferences.
The Pac-12's attorney, Mark Lambert, said the meeting was called by Kliavkoff to address the operation of the conference for the rest of the school year. He also disputed the plaintiff's assertion that schools were considering using Pac-12 funds to pay for transition costs.
“There are certainly the types of amendments that could be very harmful to their interests, but none of those are on the table and there’s no evidence that a motion for dissolution or a motion to hoard conference funds is even in discussion,” Lambert said.
MacMichael said under the Pac-12 bylaws, Oregon State and Washington State should have the opportunity to keep the conference alive without any interference from outgoing members.
Oregon State and Washington State contend that 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.
The eight schools that have announced their departures over the last month and half dispute what constitutes formal notification of departure from the conference, according to the bylaws.
The official departure date for schools leaving the Pac-12 is July 31, 2024.
Lambert said there is still conference business to attend to by the league office, including the retention of nearly 200 employees.
Libey did allow for the conference to continue to conduct day-to-day business as usual, and granted Lambert's request to permit the league office to take actions that are agreed upon by unanimous written vote of the 10 members that made up the board before the latest round of departures.
Lambert said Kliavkoff and the conference office are caught in the middle of a conflict between Oregon State and Washington State and the outgoing schools.
There were no attorneys for any of the departing schools present for the hearing.
“Each are highly suspicious of the other," Lambert said.