Washington attempting to join Pac-12 lawsuit in order to dismiss it

ByKyle Bonagura ESPN logo
Monday, October 9, 2023

The University of Washington filed a motion to intervene in Whitman County (Wash.) Superior Court on Monday, seeking to join the lawsuit filed by Washington State and Oregon State against the Pac-12 and commissioner George Kliavkoff.

If granted, the motion would pave the way for Washington to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which neither the school nor the nine other departing Pac-12 universities -- Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA, UC Berkeley, USC, Utah and Stanford -- currently has the authority to do while not a party to the lawsuit. UW acted on behalf of the 10 universities primarily for jurisdictional reasons, as the original complaint was filed in Washington.

On Sept. 9, WSU and OSU filed a complaint for breach of bylaws and sought an emergency temporary restraining order to protect what the schools saw as an "imminent and existential threat" to the future of the conference. The TRO request was granted Sept. 27, at which point a hearing for a preliminary injunction was set for Nov. 14. The hearing would likely determine who would have voting rights on the Pac-12's board.

"UW has a significant stake in opposing WSU and OSU's claims and preventing the Court from granting the relief requested," the motion states. "True, UW is leaving the Conference after the 2023-24 academic year. But, in the meantime, UW remains a member of the Conference, and board participation and voting power affects the experience of UW's athletics teams and student-athletes for the 2023-24 academic year as well as UW's bargained-for contractual rights and financial interest."

WSU and OSU have contended that each of the 10 departing schools' announcements that they will move to new conferences next year qualifies as a notification to withdraw from the Pac-12, which would, per conference bylaws, removed their voting power. That precedent was set, they argued, when USC and UCLA no longer had voting power when they announced they were joining the Big Ten in the summer of 2022.

The 10 departing schools are challenging the grounds for that precedent.

"As we share another memorable fall season of Pac-12 athletics, we recognize the complex challenges of the current situation," those schools said in a joint statement. "Our court filings show how our schools are in full compliance with the Pac-12 Bylaws, which prohibit a member from leaving the conference before August 2024 but allow schools to announce a withdrawal that will happen after that date. We are looking forward to engaging in further candid and constructive conversations that will allow us to reach a fair resolution and position our communities for future success."

WSU and OSU released their own statement Monday, contending that the 10 schools are "relying on flimsy arguments to try to escape accountability" and that the duo has the right to determine the future of the conference.

Last week, the parties also entered mediation to seek a resolution outside the legal system. WSU and OSU have made it clear they believe the departing schools do not have a claim to the conference's remaining assets. Two weeks ago, the WSU and OSU presidents said they are in the process of understanding what those assets are and how they compare with the existing liabilities, which will inform their decision for how to move forward.

"If the Court grants WSU and OSU the relief they seek, WSU and OSU would be able to make decisions by fiat through the Conference Board that would affect each of the indispensable [departing] institutions that cannot be joined [to the lawsuit], hundreds of millions of dollars in the schools' revenue and liabilities, and the current and future experiences of their student-athletes," UW's motion states. "This would have far-reaching consequences."

There is a Oct. 13 deadline for parties to produce documents responsive to requests for production as part of the expedited discovery process.