COLFAX – The victory Washington State and Oregon State secured Tuesday in Whitman County Superior Court, where Judge Gary Libey ruled in their favor and granted them governing control over the Pac-12 board of directors, was lots of things for the schools: vindicating, refreshing, encouraging.
It was not surprising.
This was always the way this ruling was headed. In September, when Libey granted WSU and OSU a temporary restraining order against the Pac-12 and commissioner George Kliavkoff, he drew on the conference’s previous actions to remove UCLA, USC and Colorado from the board when they shared their notice of withdrawal.
Why would anything change this time around? That the University of Washington tried to act like this was different, that its attorney argued that it didn’t act with any less interest in the Pac-12’s survival by leaving the conference than WSU and OSU did when they explored other conferences, was silly. It felt like a slap in the face, but the Huskies already did that when they jumped ship.
But we aren’t blaming Washington or Oregon or any of the departing schools for leaving. Those schools may have put WSU and OSU in a terrifically tough spot, but they did so out of their own best interest, which is fine. But for UW to act like the rules this time are different – that it suddenly doesn’t have to abide by the same rules it imposed on USC and UCLA when they announced their departures – was an argument destined to fail from the beginning.
In truth, Tuesday’s hearing could have taken much less time than the nearly three hours it spanned. Oregon State attorney Eric MacMichael hammered home precedent, that WSU and OSU were asking Libey to apply the same interpretation of the Pac-12 bylaws that the conference itself applied, while UW and Pac-12 attorneys spent an hour parsing the language of the bylaws and taking the court back to a previous version of them.
It all felt a little mindless, like Washington’s attorneys could put the court to sleep and the Pac-12’s attorney, Mark Lambert, could say as little as possible and get back to wherever he spends his time. MacMichael’s arguments were sharp, lively and drew on Libey – and the conference’s – previous actions. The arguments from Dan Levin, UW’s lawyer, felt like they came from a seventh-grader who just learned how to reference the dictionary for technicalities.
“I feel good, obviously, afterward,” WSU President Kirk Schulz said. “We felt really strongly about our case, and I thought our legal team did a great job of not just summarizing it, but reinforcing those particular points. So we feel good moving ahead and want to continue to operate the conference in a responsible fashion.”
“I think like President Schultz said, it’s a much-needed ruling today,” WSU Athletic Director Pat Chun added. “All we were asking for was the continuation of how this conference is operated. We still have a lot of work in front of us in terms of what next year looks, what the future of the Pac-12 could potentially look like. But today’s a positive step. And today’s the outcome that we were hoping for and expecting, but we’re seeing a lot of work in front of us.”
From the start in August, when this whole thing kicked off, nothing about the departing schools’ arguments made much sense. They plastered their plans to leave the conference all over the internet. They solidified schedules in the Big Ten. They riled up their fans and promised even bigger successes in bigger conferences.
Wait, they said, but that doesn’t mean we submitted a notice of withdrawal. There was nothing official about that. That was just us … sharing the news in every imaginable way? Tapping into their ability to use the internet and spread the news to millions of eyeballs?
These schools’ cases are not just flawed. They are preposterous. Late last week, in a court filing, UW President Ana Mari Cauce shared her concern around the idea of WSU and OSU taking control of the board and the Huskies losing out on 2023-24 revenue.
“Losing this revenue would be devastating for UW and our student-athletes,” Cauce wrote.
Very true, Ana. What ever will Washington do without Pac-12 revenue? What will happen to the Huskies if they leave the conference? What a scary position to be in, to face the consequences of your actions.
Washington State has a lot to figure out. The transfer portal opens on Dec. 4. The Cougars have a football schedule to fill. They can’t actually do so until Monday, giving Washington time to appeal the decision to a higher court, but all signs point toward this decision being upheld.
“I don’t think we’re going to wait on any particular legal decision,” Schulz said, “on what we’re going to do in terms of our scheduling and alliances and things like that.”
Shortly after the hearing ended and Schulz and Chun gathered in the courthouse lobby, they wore smiles. They weren’t giving themselves time to breathe, they said, but this was a sigh of relief. That’s when, as they headed out the front door, Schulz shook Chun’s hand.
“See you back in Pullman on Friday,” Schulz said.
“What’s on Friday?” Chun laughed.
Sometimes the other side’s arguments are so ridiculous that you have to laugh.
Greg Woods can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.