The Pac-12 is now effectively the Pac-2 after Washington Judge Gary Libey on Tuesday granted a preliminary injunction in favor of Oregon State and Washington State, the only two Pac-12 schools that aren’t leaving the conference next year.
The injunction, which the 10 departing schools appealed to the Washington Supreme Court on Wednesday, grants OSU and WSU control over the conference in conjunction with the conference and its commissioner, George Kliavkoff, whom the two schools sued in September. Libey ruled the injunction wouldn’t go into effect until Monday, giving the 10 departing schools time for an appeal.
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The departing schools’ appeal argues, among other points, that the injunction unlawfully gives OSU and WSU “total control over the Conference” whereas an injunction is supposed to preserve the status quo—which the 10 exiting schools interpret as maintaining their rights as active conference members.
Should the appeal fail, OSU and WSU would control conference assets and hundreds of millions of dollars in conference revenue used to run athletic programs. The injunction would likely remain in effect for months, until the court determines the merits of the case.
Assuming an appeal fails, OSU and WSU would control conference assets and hundreds of millions of dollars in conference revenue used to run athletic programs. The injunction would likely remain in effect for months, until the court determines the merits of the case.
While the Pac-12 has voiced a neutral position on which schools ought to have voting rights on conference matters, the 10 departing schools (through the University of Washington) intervened in the lawsuit last month.
The crux of the dispute centers on the legal impact of a school announcing it will leave the conference at a future date and interpretation of conference bylaws.
Libey found more persuasive OSU and WSU’s argument that a school forfeits its vote once it announces, even though the school is still part of the conference. OSU and WSU stressed that once a school says it is leaving, a conflict-of-interest surfaces. That school’s going-forward interests are aligned with a rival Power Five conference, which competes with the Pac-12 over employees, media rights agreements and other valuable resources.
The 10 departing schools insisted OSU and WSU’s reasoning doesn’t make sense, since a school is either a member of a conference or isn’t–there is no purgatory status. Also, if a school loses a conference vote by making an announcement of a future departure, it would be incentivized to conceal its decision to leave until the last minute before departing.
Whether the conference has 12 or two members through the 2023-24 academic year, the more existential matter facing the Pac-12 is the risk of dissolution.
The conference’s media rights agreements are scheduled to expire on Aug. 1, 2024. It’s unclear how the Pac-12 and its two remaining members can attract the interest of major TV networks and streaming services when it can—for now, at least—offer games played by only two schools from the Pacific Northwest. If the conference is unable to convince new schools to join, it would struggle to maintain a reason for continuing operations.
(This article has been updated in the second and third paragraphs to include the departing schools’ appeal of the decision on Wednesday.)
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