On September 1, 2023, following an eighteen-month stretch whereby ten schools in the Pac-12 announced their exit from the conference by 2024, the entire sports world was shocked and concerned about the future of college sports. However, the two remaining schools—Washington State (“WSU”) and Oregon State (“OSU”)—perceived these events as having a much more practical implication: it stripped the exiting schools of their Pac-12 voting power and therefore, any “claim to the conference’s remaining assets.” This implication is now being tested in court.
On September 8, 2023, ahead of a board meeting of all 12 conference schools, WSU and OSU sought an emergency temporary restraining order (“TRO”) against the Pac-12 and its commissioner George Kliavkoff to prevent the board meeting from occurring and forcing “legal clarity . . . on who has voting rights to control the future” of the Pac-12. WSU and OSU argued that they were “the only board members” based on “the conference’s bylaws, which state that any notice of withdrawal from the league means a school ‘automatically cease(s) to be a member of the Pac-12 Board of Directors and shall cease to have the right to vote on any matter.’” Judge Gary Libey of the Whitman County Superior Court ruled in favor of WSU and OSU, granting the TRO based on the “unambiguous” language of the conference’s bylaws. Judge Libey’s TRO will prevent “the conference from having formal board meetings until the court can rule further in this case.” Given that TROs are enacted—as their name suggests—temporarily, the next procedural step is a preliminary injunction hearing, scheduled to take place on November 14th. It's unclear what we should expect at this hearing. Indeed, it has already been made more complicated in the interim as the University of Washington—one of the schools exiting the Pac-12—has moved to intervene in the lawsuit and dismiss it altogether.
More generally, the recent upheaval of conference realignment contributes to already existing large-scale changes in college sports, most notably the NCAA’s 2021 decision granting college athletes “the opportunity to benefit from their name, image and likeness.” Here, the significance of conference realignment lies in how financially dependent college athletics programs are on the multi-year TV deals that conferences negotiate. Indeed, it is no coincidence that the implosion of the Pac-12 coincided with its inability to secure a new TV deal after the current one expires in 2024, nor that the exiting schools are joining conferences that have secured such multi-year TV deals already.
Ultimately, this lawsuit demonstrates that the mechanics of leaving a conference are just as important as joining one. As schools look to the future of conference realignment, this lawsuit will set important precedents for how they go about it.
 Mitch Harper, Pac-12 Has Two Schools Remaining After ACC Officially Expands, KSL Sports (Sept. 1, 2023), https://kslsports.com/504291/acc-expansion-stanford-cal-smu-pac-12-remaining/ [https://perma.cc/9N5Y-3XL6] [https://web.archive.org/web/20231023201529/https://kslsports.com/504291/acc-expansion-stanford-cal-smu-pac-12-remaining/].
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 Brad Adgate, With No New TV Deal Expected; Five More Schools Have Left the Pac-12, Forbes (Aug. 8. 2023), https://www.forbes.com/sites/bradadgate/2023/08/08/with-no-new-tv-deal-expected-five-more-schools-have-left-the-pac-12/?sh=557f09ee1956 [https://perma.cc/8XNC-DVFA] [https://web.archive.org/web/20230928212135/https://gum.criteo.com/syncframe?origin=publishertag&topUrl=www.forbes.com].