Pac-12 chaos: Is commissioner George Kliavkoff siding with the 10 or the two? Court records reveal his strategy

Kliavkoff states that he has no position on board makeup but outbound schools haven’t “withdrawn”

Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, who is named as a defendant in the complaint filed by Oregon State and Washington State against the conference, did not attend the hearing Monday where the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order was granted.

When the defense attorney mentioned Kliavkoff’s “terrible position” in the internal dispute over the composition of the governing board, Whitman County (Wash.) Superior Court judge Gary Libey interrupted.

“He’s in Montana,” said Libey.

Montana, Michigan, Mars — anywhere except the courtroom.

According to documents obtained by the Hotline, Kliavoff is attempting to remain neutral as the ten departing universities and the two remaining schools plot their divergent futures and determine control of the conference.

Kliavkoff stated in a declaration to the court on September 11, the day of the hearing:

“Neither the Conference nor I have an opinion on the appropriate composition of the Pac-12 Board.” This is essentially a disagreement among members. As Commissioner, I will follow the Board’s lawful directives in accordance with the Constitution and Bylaws, and in accordance with my duties in the best interests of the Conference.”

The “dispute among members” is about which schools have voting rights and control over Pac-12 assets.

According to the bylaws, any school that gives “notice of withdrawal” before August 1, 2024 forfeits its position on the board of directors.

Washington State and Oregon State have claimed that the ten outgoing Pac-12 members gave “notice of withdrawal” when they announced their moves to new leagues, even though they did not submit legal documents to the Pac-12 stating their intentions to leave.

As a result, the Cougars and Beavers believe they are the only members of the board still alive.

The stakes are extremely high. If all 12 university presidents and chancellors remain on the board, the ten departing schools could vote to dissolve the conference and divide the assets equally.

If WSU and OSU are the only members of the Pac-12 board, they will have complete control over the Pac-12’s assets, including NCAA Tournament revenue worth tens of millions of dollars over time. That money could be used to fund their athletic departments or to rebuild the conference after the departure of the ten schools next summer.

Where does Kliavkoff stand on the board’s composition?

Is he on the side of the 10 or the two?

With the schools that have a secure future or those who are left behind?

Kliavkoff hasn’t spoken publicly since Aug. 4, Black Friday, when his plans to finalize a media rights deal fell through and five schools pulled out. However, his opinion of the board’s composition is detailed in a letter to Washington State and Oregon State that was included in his court declaration.

The letter is dated September 8, just two days after WSU president Kirk Schulz and OSU president Jayathi Murthy drew their turf battle lines.

The two presidents wrote to Kliavkoff and their colleagues, emphasizing the wording in the bylaws and asking the conference to confirm that the ten outbounds schools had indeed given their “notice of withdrawal.”

Schulz and Murthy asked for a response within two days, by 10 a.m. on Sept. 8. They were prepared to take legal action if they did not receive a satisfactory response.

The Hotline obtained Kliavkoff’s response to their request on Wednesday, which was marked as Exhibit 15 in his declaration.

He disputed the notion that the ten outbound schools had relinquished their board positions in an email to WSU and OSU:

“Your assertion that ten of the Conference’s twelve members have ‘withdrawn’ from the Conference in accordance with the Bylaws is incorrect. No member school has expressed or attempted to withdraw from Conference play prior to the end of the current fiscal year on July 31, 2024, or to reclaim and exploit their media rights.

“We simply cannot accept the idea that only two members — Oregon State University (OSU) and Washington State University (WSU) — now have the authority to decide all issues affecting the Conference and to direct the flow of all revenue coming into the Conference, to the exclusion of the other ten member schools.”

The wording is critical, and it will undoubtedly be discussed in upcoming court hearings to determine the composition of the board.

According to Kliavkoff, the ten departing schools have not “withdrawn” from the Pac-12 “within the meaning of the bylaws.” However, in a letter dated Sept. 6, WSU and OSU requested confirmation that the ten had provided “notice of withdrawal” — the exact phrase used in the bylaws. (Our italics.)

What explains the apparent contradiction between Kliavkoff’s declaration of neutrality — “Neither the Conference nor I have a position with respect to the proper composition of the Pac-12 Board” — and the Sept. 8 letter in which he claims the ten schools have not “withdrawn” and WSU and OSU are “mistaken”?

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, he was stating the position of the outgoing presidents in the letter, who are contesting the notion that they have withdrawn.

(For this story, Kliavkoff declined to comment.)

The bylaws do not define “notice of withdrawal” or require it to be in writing.

Ana Mari Cauce, president of the University of Washington, spoke at a news conference on Aug. 5 about the university’s move to the Big Ten. Is that considered a “notice of withdrawal”?

On July 27, the Big 12 released a video on social media welcoming Colorado to the league. Does this constitute CU’s “notice of withdrawal”?

That is up to the attorneys and the court.

WSU and OSU believe the ten departing schools are conflicted, and that their loyalty has shifted to their new conferences. If they are allowed to remain on the Pac-12 board, the ten could vote as a bloc in a way that financially or otherwise harms the two remaining schools.

Kliavkoff acknowledges the complexities of the situation after explaining that the 10 have not “withdrawn.” The letter goes on to say:

“That said, I believe that some decisions (such as which, if any, schools to invite to join the Conference after July 1, 2024) should be made solely by OSU and WSU, to the exclusion of our ten other members.”

Then he speaks to the middle ground:

“There may also be other decisions that are contested that do not clearly fall within the purview of either all 12 or just the two.” Regardless, the Board should and will determine its governance in accordance with the rules outlined in the Bylaws.”

Finally, he mentions a meeting of presidents and chancellors scheduled for September 13:

“My recommendation is that all 12 Presidents and Chancellors use next week’s Board meeting to see if we can agree on which decisions are decided by all 12, which are decided by only OSU and WSU, and whether the 12 can agree on a process to consider and decide the contested issues.”

“We also plan to distribute, in advance of Wednesday’s Board meeting, a suggested conflict of interest policy that addresses how we might think about the 12 schools agreeing on governance issues in order to avoid conflict.”

That meeting never took place. WSU and OSU both deemed Kliavkoff’s letter unacceptable. On September 8, just after 10 a.m., attorneys for the plaintiffs walked into Whitman County Superior Court and filed the complaint.

The judge issued a temporary restraining order on Monday, preventing Pac-12 presidents and chancellors from meeting until the legal process determines the proper makeup of the board.

A preliminary injunction hearing is expected to be scheduled later this month by the parties.

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