Oregon State and Washington State on Friday filed a complaint in Washington state court against the Pac-12 and Commissioner George Kliavkoff, seeking to prevent departing members from getting in the way of their efforts to rebuild the disintegrating conference.
The breach of bylaws complaint was filed in Whitman County. It requests a temporary restraining order that would keep departing members of the Pac-12 board of directors from meeting next week and taking any action regarding the status or governance of the conference, according to a news release from Oregon State and Washington State.
“Washington University and Oregon State University are asserting our rights,” Washington State athletic director Pat Chun told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “Ten schools have made public declarations that they are leaving the conference, and based on the existing bylaws, the board of the Pac-12 going forward is the institutions that remain. In this instance that's Oregon State University, Washington State University and their presidents.”
The Pac-12 declined a request for comment through spokesman Andrew Walker.
The Pac-12 currently has 12 members, but Southern California, UCLA, Washington and Oregon are leaving next year for the Big Ten; Stanford and Cal are going to the Atlantic Coast Conference; and Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah are leaving for the Big 12. Each school has cited the desire for more financial stability in abandoning the "Conference of Champions," and leaving only Oregon State and Washington State.
The Pacific Northwest schools said Kliavkoff has called members of the board, including the departing schools, to meet Wednesday to vote on a “go forward governance approach.” Oregon State and Washington State contend conference bylaws make clear that by announcing intent to leave, the other schools forfeited a right to vote on league matters.
"We owe it to our student-athletes, coaches, and fans to do everything in our power to protect the Pac-12 Conference and explore all future options,” Washington State President Kirk Schulz said. “WSU and OSU are working in lockstep to identify the best path forward. The future of the Pac-12 must be determined by the remaining members, not by those who are leaving.”
Officials from both schools have repeatedly said their first choice moving forward would be to preserve the Pac-12 brand and rebuild the conference. The filing said the departing members are incentivized to dissolve the conference, which would allow all the schools to split millions in remaining assets.
The filing refers to an email from earlier this month in which an unidentified representative of a departing school “threatened that the departing members of the conference were poised to take immediate action to seize control of the Pac-12.”
“It seems obvious that any 9 members can declare the fate of the conference at any time," the representative wrote, according to the filing.
The legal action seeks to protect Oregon State and Washington State from that possibility. A hearing on their request is set for Monday. The two schools are seeking a declarative judgment from the court.
Oregon State and Washington State are likely heading for some type of partnership with schools currently in the Mountain West, but how that will work is a long way from resolved.
"This is a very complex situation as it relates to what our relationship with the Mountain West might look like. And all options are open in terms of what it could look like,” Oregon State athletic director Scott Barnes told The AP.
Mountain West Commissioner Gloria Nevarez has spoken cautiously in public about the conference’s next moves.
“The Mountain West is open to exploring all options that make us stronger,” she told The AP recently.
Barnes said the Pac-12's financial assets and status as one of five Autonomy Conferences is attractive to potential new conference-mates.
Autonomy status gives the conference certain voting privileges in NCAA governance and could provide two more years of large revenue shares from the College Football Playoff. It remains to be seen whether a rebuilt Pac-12 would retain A5 — or Power Five, as it is typically referred to — status.
“So our desire is to keep the Pac-12 (intellectual property) rights, keep the name, keep the assets, keep the status,” he said.
According to the filing, the Pac-12 ended fiscal year 2022 with $42.7 million in total net assets. The conference is estimated to have about $70 million in payments owed to it from NCAA men’s basketball tournament units. Those get paid out over six-year periods.
The Pac-12 Network reported revenue of $117 million and operating expenses of $77 million in 2021-22, according to the filing. The Pac-12 owes Comcast $50 million due to an overpayment to the Pac-12 Network, though the conference had already agreed to have that debt absorbed by the full membership before the eight most recently announced departures.
Barnes and Chun both said information about the Pac-12's finances was slow in coming at first, but the process seems to be picking up now.
Securing Oregon State and Washington State's position as the sole decision-making members of the Pac-12 is an important step toward determining the schools' future conference affiliation.
Barnes said he hopes a resolution could come in weeks rather than months.
“Option have been narrowed some and that brings some clarity to this,” Barnes said. “This court hearing on Monday will bring further clarity and those items help inform the final decisions we make.”
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