Pac-12 legal affairs: Mediation begins as key court date looms and outbound schools take steps to get lawsuit dismissed

WSU, OSU and the outbound 10 have agreed to mediation in fight for control of splintering conference

According to court filings obtained by the Hotline on Monday, the Pac-12’s two remaining schools and the conference’s ten departing universities have agreed to mediation in an attempt to settle their dispute over conference governance.

“The talks have been productive,” according to a source. “Everyone wishes them well. It simply has to be on fair terms for everyone.”

“Them,” of course, are Washington State and Oregon State, the schools left behind in the realignment game that decimated the conference in early August. One month later, the Beavers and Cougars sued commissioner George Kliavkoff and the ten outbound schools in Whitman County, Washington, to clarify the composition of the conference’s governing board, which controls the conference’s assets.

The mediation began on October 2 and will continue until the end of the month. According to a court declaration filed by Daniel B. Levin, an attorney for UW, the mediator is former U.S. District Judge Layn R. Phillips.

But that isn’t the only development in the Pac-12’s internal battle for supremacy.

Washington filed a motion to intervene on Monday, the first step toward potentially having the lawsuit dismissed, and requested an Oct. 25 hearing on the matter.

The Huskies acted alone because they were the only school in Washington to leave. The remaining nine schools filed an Amicus Brief in support of Washington’s motion, claiming that the Whitman County court lacked jurisdiction.

And the ten of them issued the following joint statement:

“As we embark on another memorable fall season of Pac-12 athletics, we recognize the complex challenges that lie ahead.” Our court filings demonstrate that our schools are fully compliant with the Pac-12 Bylaws, which prohibit a member from leaving the conference before August 2024 but allow schools to announce a withdrawal after that date. We look forward to further candid and constructive discussions that will allow us to reach a fair resolution and position our communities for future success.”

OSU and WSU issued their own joint statement:

“The departing schools continue to undermine our efforts to secure the Pac-12 Conference’s future.” They are using flimsy arguments to avoid accountability for their actions. It will not work. Their decisions directly harmed the Pac-12 and are causing significant harm to the Conference, Oregon State, Washington State, student-athletes, and the people of Oregon and Washington.

“We did not create or seek these circumstances, but OSU and WSU will continue to take whatever actions are necessary to protect our universities, ensure accountability and transparency, protect the Pac-12 Conference, and preserve our options in the future.” The Pac-12’s future should be decided by the schools that stay, not by those that leave.”

Washington State and Oregon State believe the departing universities relinquished their board seats when they agreed to join other leagues beginning next summer, and that if they are allowed to remain on the board, the 10 could vote as a bloc in ways that jeopardize WSU and OSU’s ability to rebuild the conference.

A preliminary injunction hearing in Whitman County Superior Court to determine the composition of the board is scheduled for Nov. 14.

Prior to that, the various legal steps include an expedited discovery process, which could result in sensitive information becoming public.

It is not uncommon for mediation to take place concurrently with litigation. However, the willingness to engage a mediator does not guarantee that the parties will reach an agreement, particularly given the early stage of the legal process.

A trial would most likely be months away.

“We’ll see if the two sides can figure out a path and avoid a trial,” a source close to the situation said.

The conference office did not respond to requests for comment.

When the 108-year-old conference splits next summer, the Cougars and Beavers will have several options:

— In a traditional expansion move, they could join the Mountain West.

— They could carry out a reverse merger in which Mountain West schools disband and compete under the Pac-12 banner.

— They could use an obscure NCAA rule to compete as a two-team conference for two years before joining the Mountain West or completing the reverse merger in the summer of 2026.

(The NCAA requires conferences to have at least eight members but allows a two-year grace period to meet that requirement.)

The Pac-12’s financial assets, which include more than $60 million in NCAA Tournament revenue, are causing concern among the ten outbound schools.

According to the source, if the Beavers and Cougars are deemed the sole members of the governing board, they could keep the Pac-12 alive for up to 24 months before pocketing the assets, closing the conference, and joining the Mountain West.

“That wouldn’t be fair to the other 10,” the source explained.

However, the Pac-10 and Pac-2 have very different definitions of what constitutes fair. Can mediation be effective? Resolution, like everything else in this legal dispute, could take weeks or months.

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