From Pac-12 to Pac-2: College Athletics Conference Realignment

Amanda Wang

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.[1] 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.”[2] 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.[3] 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.’”[4] 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.[5] Judge Libey’s TRO will prevent “the conference from having formal board meetings until the court can rule further in this case.”[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

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.”[9] Here, the significance of conference realignment lies in how financially dependent college athletics programs are on the multi-year TV deals that conferences negotiate.[10] 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.[11]

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.


[1] Mitch Harper, Pac-12 Has Two Schools Remaining After ACC Officially Expands, KSL Sports (Sept. 1, 2023), [] [].

[2] Kyle Bonagura, Washington Attempting To Join Pac-12 Lawsuit in Order To Dismiss It, ESPN (Oct. 9, 2023), [] [].

[3] Pete Thamel, Oregon State, Washington State File Complaint Against Pac-12, ESPN (Sept. 8, 2023), [] [].

[4] Id.

[5] Amanda Sullender, Judge Grants Temporary Restraining Order in Favor of Washington State, OSU Against Pac-12, Spokesman-Rev. (Sept. 11, 2023), [] [].

[6] Pete Martini, Judge Rules in Favor of Oregon State and Washington State in Pac-12 Dispute, Statesman J. (Sept. 11, 2023), [] [Wayback unavailable].

[7] Ralph D. Russo, University of Washington Asks Court To Dismiss Oregon State, Washington State’s Suit Against Pac-12, OPB (Oct. 10, 2023),,a%20three%2Dquarters%20majority%20vote. [] [].

[8] Nicole Auerbach, Washington Pushes To Dismiss Washington State and Oregon State’s Lawsuit vs. Pac-12, The Athletic (Oct. 9, 2023), [] [].

[9] Michelle Brutlag Hosick, NCAA Adopts Interim Name, Image and Likeness Policy, NCAA (June 30, 2021), [] [].

[10] Matthew Dixon, College Football TV Contracts Since 1984: How Much Higher Can They Go?, Sports Enthusiasts (Oct. 22, 2023), [] [].

[11] Brad Adgate, With No New TV Deal Expected; Five More Schools Have Left the Pac-12, Forbes (Aug. 8. 2023), [] [].