Washington Supreme Court puts OSU, WSU control of Pac-12 on hold

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The Washington state Supreme Court on Tuesday granted a request by the University of Washington and the Pac-12 to put on hold a lower court’s ruling that gave Oregon State and Washington State control of the conference until the high court can make a full review.

Two weeks ago, a judge in Whitman County, Washington, granted Oregon State and Washington State a preliminary injunction, making the Pacific Northwest rivals the only two schools with voting rights in the conference.

They argue the other 10 schools relinquished the right to determine the future of the conference when they announced they would be leaving for other Power Five leagues.

“The decision effectively ensures that all 12 current members will have an equal voice in determining how the revenue our schools earned this year is distributed and utilized while the Court considers our arguments,” the departing schools said in a statement.

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The defendants appealed the ruling the next day and the Supreme Court kept in place a temporary restraining order the lower court had granted Oregon State and Washington State in September when they first took the conference and departing schools to court.

The latest ruling keeps the status quo in place longer — any decisions in the conference must be made by unanimous vote — and gives the Supreme Court more time to make a full review of the lower’s court’s decision.

The court said briefs are to be filed by the parties by Dec. 12.

The case is about an interpretation of the Pac-12’s bylaws that cover schools leaving the conference and what qualifies of notification of withdrawal.

“In my view the provision is poorly written and possibly ambiguous,” Washington Supreme Court Commissioner Michael Johnston wrote in the court’s decision. “It gives no guidance as to what constitutes a formal notice of withdrawal and it seemingly makes it impossible to give notice of withdrawal before its August 1, 2024, expiration date without invoking its penalties; that is, the penalties are triggered even if a school announces that it plans to withdraw but intends the withdrawal to be effective only after that date.”

Oregon State and Washington State claim the conference’s previous actions show that schools have been removed from the board of directors after announcing plans to switch conferences.

“We are disappointed in the Washington Supreme Court Commissioner’s decision to temporarily allow the departing schools to have veto power over Pac-12 board matters while they appeal the superior court’s well-reasoned decision to grant Oregon State’s and Washington State’s request to govern as the Pac-12’s sole remaining members,” the schools said in a statement.

The 10 departing schools are concerned that Oregon State and Washington State, given full control of the conference, would withhold hundreds of millions in revenue the conference will generate this school year.

Meanwhile, Oregon State and Washington State continue to work on a scheduling arrangement with the Mountain West that would allow the schools to operate a two-team Pac-12 for at least one season.

The immediate need is for football scheduling, but the schools and Mountain West also are talking about expanding the arrangement to other sports.

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