Washington State University and Oregon State University are suing the Pac-12 Conference, claiming other schools breached conference bylaws by announcing their withdrawals too early.
As of summer 2024, WSU and Oregon State will be the only remaining members of the 100-year-old Pac-12 Conference. WSU President Kirk Schulz and OSU President Jayathi Murthy filed a joint lawsuit against the conference Friday in Whitman County Superior Court.
Along with the Pac-12 Conference, Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff is named as a defendant in the 16-page legal complaint.
The complaint does not ask for any of the 10 departing Pac-12 members to stick around, but it posits that those leaving no longer have voting power on the Pac-12 Board of Directors.
While WSU and OSU determine their next steps – whether to join the Mountain West Conference or find other teams to rebuild the Pac-12 – they argue the 10 schools that plan to leave the conference in 2024 should not have voting rights over what happens to the Pac-12’s remaining multimillion-dollar assets.
WSU Athletics Director Pat Chun said existing Pac-12 bylaws give the Cougars and Beavers the rights to make any decisions about governance or assets related to the conference, adding that the two remaining schools “don’t have full transparency from the conference.”
“It’s our right,” Chun said. “And we’re asserting our rights with this temporary restraining order. … There are only two members on the board. We are asserting our rights as board members.”
Chun added that WSU and OSU are working fast to identify the path forward for their respective athletic programs.
“Until we have clarity on assets and liabilities within the Pac-12, we are unable to make decisions,” Chun said. “Part of this step that we took today was for us to be able to begin that process of clarifying what assets or liabilities are actually in the conference.”
In June 2022, USC and UCLA announced they would leave the Pac-12 and join the Big Ten Conference, effective in August 2024.
WSU and OSU lawyers wrote in the complaint that those announced withdrawals violated Pac-12 bylaws, which reportedly state that “no member shall deliver a notice of withdrawal to the Conference in the period beginning on July 24, 2011, and ending on August 1, 2024.”
“This prohibition recognizes the substantial and irreparable harm that an early notice of withdrawal causes to the Conference,” the complaint reads, “including to its ability to retain other members and to negotiate future media rights deals, which generate significant revenue for the member schools and support the Conference’s mission.”
The plaintiffs also quoted the bylaws in stating that if a Pac-12 member delivered notice of withdrawal before Aug. 1, 2024, the member’s representative to the Pac-12 Board of Directors “shall automatically cease to be a member of the Pac-12 Board of Directors and shall cease to have the right to vote on any matter before the Pac-12 Board of Directors.”
The lawsuit followed a request by Kliavkoff that a Pac-12 board meeting be called to discuss “complex issues facing the Conference,” the complaint reads.
Schulz, who is chair of the Pac-12 Board, reportedly declined this request for a meeting.
According to the complaint, Kliavkoff scheduled the meeting anyway and invited all 12 board members to the meeting set for Wednesday.
Part of Friday’s legal filings by WSU and OSU asked for a temporary restraining order to prevent the board from voting until the court rules which schools in the conference still have voting rights.
WSU and OSU reportedly requested a legal hearing be scheduled Monday and hope a restraining order will be issued before Kliavkoff’s scheduled board meeting .
In July, Colorado announced it would leave the Pac-12 in 2024 and join the Big 12 Conference.
In August, five more schools announced their plans to leave the Pac-12, also effective in 2024.
Arizona, Arizona State and Utah announced they would join the Big 12.
Washington and Oregon announced they would join the Big Ten.
On Sept. 1, California and Stanford announced their plans to leave the Pac-12 and join the Atlantic Coast Conference.
A WSU spokesperson told The Spokesman-Review that Schulz was unavailable for an interview Friday afternoon.
The Pac-12 declined to comment.
Spokesman-Review reporter Greg Woods contributed to this report.