Pac-12 commissioner weighs in on Holiday Bowl lawsuit: 'Not the way we expect to be treated'

SAN DIEGO – The Holiday Bowl has filed a lawsuit against the Pac-12 Conference and the regents of the University of California, claiming more than $3 million in damages after UCLA backed out of its scheduled appearance in the game a few hours before kickoff against North Carolina State in 2021.

The San Diego nonprofit association that runs the game said in its complaint filed Tuesday evening that it suffered losses of more than $7.8 million because the game was canceled when UCLA suffered a number of COVID-19 issues after arriving in San Diego that December, including more than $3.6 million in forfeited ticket revenue.

The San Diego County Credit Union also demanded that its $1.4 million title sponsorship be returned or credited against the game in 2022, depriving the game's operator of that revenue, too, according to the complaint filed by the San Diego Bowl Game Association.

"Had UCLA announced its intention not to play other than mere hours before kickoff and, instead, had staked its position days or weeks before the game, SDBGA would have been afforded an opportunity to engage a replacement team to square off against the ACC's representative and prevent cancellation of the 2021 Holiday Bowl in its entirety,” the complaint stated.

The Pac-12 says the lawsuit is without merit and plans to defend against it. Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff also told USA TODAY Sports by phone Wednesday that the league tried to resolve the dispute privately through mediation and offered the Holiday Bowl an interest-free loan to help with its financial troubles.

"It’s not the way we expect to be treated as a partner," Kliavkoff told USA TODAY Sports.

The 2021 Holiday Bowl between NC State and UCLA was never played due to COVID-19 issues in the Bruins' program.
The 2021 Holiday Bowl between NC State and UCLA was never played due to COVID-19 issues in the Bruins' program.

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How did this dispute reach this point?

The Holiday Bowl has been a longtime partner of the Pac-12, which provides a member team to play in the game in exchange for a payout. The 2021 game was the second straight canceled Holiday Bowl after the 2020 game was canceled months in advance, causing its operator deep financial trouble as one of many canceled bowl games amid the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

In this case, the Holiday Bowl has tried to offset what it believes it was owed from the Pac-12 for 2021 by keeping the Pac-12's $2.45 million payout from the Oregon-North Carolina game that was held at Petco Park in 2022.

"This offset was fair, just and equitable, but has not fully compensated SDBGA for its losses, the unpaid balance of which continues to accrue prejudgment interest according to proof at trial," the lawsuit stated.

The Pac-12 has been trying to resolve this dispute amicably behind the scenes since the 2021 cancelation and has claimed its non-performance in that game was excused under the "Force Majeure" provision in its contract, which covers "any unavoidable casualty, which cannot be reasonably forecast or provided against."

"After the '21 game we were deeply engaged in conversations with the Holiday Bowl about how to resolve the issue related to UCLA's not being able to play the game as a result of COVID," Kliavkoff said Wednesday. "We offered mediation and we even offered an interest-free loan to the Holiday Bowl. They seemed interested in that until they disengaged on those conversations more than six months ago. Then we were surprised in April when they decided to not pay us for the '22 game as a claimed offset against the '21 game without any legal basis to withhold that payment."

Mark Neville, the executive director of the San Diego Bowl Game Association, responded with a statement to USA TODAY Sports Wednesday after being made aware of Kliavkoff's comments about an interest-free loan and the timing of their communication.

“We are not inclined to comment on inaccurate, misleading statements or the lawsuit itself," Neville stated.

What are the claims?

The San Diego Bowl Game Association also sued the regents of the UC system, which governs UCLA. It claims breach of contract and contractual indemnity against the defendants in San Diego County Superior Court.

The suit comes at an odd time in relations between the Pac-12 and the community of San Diego, which has long wanted San Diego State to join that league and finally may have a shot at it with the looming departures of UCLA and Southern California for the Big Ten.

It also comes as the game is seeking a new title sponsor for the first time since 2017 after the San Diego County Credit Union opted not to continue in that capacity.

The game has been staged in San Diego since 1978 and was played in Petco Park for the first time in 2022 after the demolition of its former home at Qualcomm Stadium.

Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. Email:

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Holiday Bowl sues Pac-12 for breach of contract over 2021 cancelation