Pac-12 legal affairs: Having trouble following all the lawsuits? Here’s a handy guide

The conference is facing a series of legal challenges

Washington State and Oregon State have filed a lawsuit against the Pac-12 to determine ownership of assets in a conference that will be down to two members by next summer.

However, with assets come liabilities, and the Pac-12 is embroiled in a slew of lawsuits, some of which are the result of its own mistakes, others of which are the result of its status as a Power Five conference.

Here are some of the other legal challenges.

AB 252

Background: Assembly Bill 252, the College Athlete Protection Act, is currently making its way through the California legislature, the same body that enacted the Name, Image, and Likeness law that revolutionized college sports. AB 252, sponsored by Chris Holden, a former San Diego State baseball player who represents the 41st district, seeks to establish a revenue-sharing relationship between schools and athletes, with tens of millions of dollars in athletic department revenue potentially diverted into “degree completion funds” for athletes.

Status: AB 252 passed the assembly in late spring but is on hold until Holden considers amendments until 2024.

Impact: If athletic departments are forced to redirect millions of dollars from their budgets to athletes, much of which will go to football and men’s basketball players, dozens of Olympic sports may be jeopardized. As a result, AB 252 raises serious Title IX concerns.

The Comcast debacle

Background: Former Pac-12 Networks president Mark Shuken and CFO Brent Willman have sued the conference, claiming they were wrongfully terminated (in January) for their roles in the Comcast overpayment scandal. Shuken and Willman were made aware of Comcast’s annual overpayments to the Pac-12 Networks in 2017, but claim they fulfilled their fiduciary responsibility by informing then-Commissioner Larry Scott.

Shuken and Willman filed their complaint in San Francisco Superior Court in April and hired a well-known firm, Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy LLP. The procedure is expected to take several months.

The plaintiffs seek damages “in amounts to be established at trial and believed to be in excess of $2 million,” according to the complaint.

The DISH situation

Background: The conference has filed a lawsuit against DISH Network for failing to make distribution payments and violating the terms of its agreement with the Pac-12 Networks. What is the source of the disagreement? The COVID-shortened 2020 football season, due to the networks’ inability to meet contractual obligations to distributors. DISH, unlike the other partners, is attempting to use COVID to justify deferring payments for an additional year.

The suit was filed in Colorado in October — DISH is headquartered in the Denver suburb of Englewood — and is believed to be ongoing.

The financial details of the lawsuit were redacted in the copy obtained by the Hotline. However, multiple sources indicate that any distribution withholding by DISH will have little impact on Pac-12 revenue. In terms of fiscal impact, this situation isn’t in the same league as the Comcast saga.

Holiday Bowl attire

Background: UCLA backed out of the 2021 Holiday Bowl (against North Carolina State) hours before kickoff due to a string of positive COVID tests. The Holiday Bowl claims that the cancellation cost it approximately $8 million. In response, the San Diego Bowl Game Association withheld payment to the Pac-12 after the 2022 game in an attempt to recoup losses from the previous year. The conference threatened to sue, but the bowl’s governing body arrived first.

The lawsuit was filed on May 31 in California Superior Court in San Diego County, and it names the Pac-12 and the UC Board of Regents as defendants. It is suing for at least $3 million in damages.

The impact would be $250,000 for each campus if the Pac-12 is found guilty and the schools agree to share responsibility for $3 million in damages.

The National Labor Relations Board complaint

Background: The National Labor Relations Board filed an unfair labor practice complaint against USC, the Pac-12, and the NCAA earlier this year. According to the board, the three entities have violated athletes’ right to organize and “improve their working and playing conditions.” Although the NLRB has no jurisdiction over public schools across the country, the complaint attempts to get around that by treating USC, the Pac-12, and the NCAA as joint employers of athletes, potentially involving every school under the NCAA’s umbrella.

Status: A hearing is scheduled for November, but expect this to take years.

Impact: If NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo is successful, the NCAA’s concept of amateurism would be abolished, and players would be able to collectively bargain for wages and health care in the same way that professional athletes do.

Hubbard’s case

Background: The Pac-12 and its Power Five counterparts are named as defendants in the NCAA’s latest class-action lawsuit. The plaintiffs, which include former Oklahoma State tailback Chuba Hubbard (now with the Carolina Panthers), are attempting to expand on a previous lawsuit — the so-called Alston case — in which the Supreme Court ruled against the college sports governing body and determined athletes were entitled to education-related benefits.

The suit was filed in the Northern District of California in April.

The NCAA and its members could lose billions of dollars as a result of Hubbard’s lawsuit and others like it. More than likely, the antitrust suits and NLRB complaint will eventually force the NCAA to abandon its amateurism model.

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