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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

West Virginia files lawsuit against Big East

In this Dec. 6, 2008, file photo, then-West Virginia quarterback Pat White waves farewell to the fans following his last game with the team, a 13-7 West Virginia win over South Florida in Morgantown, W.Va. West Virginia University has filed a lawsuit seeking immediate withdrawal from the Big East Conference so it can join the Big 12.

In this Dec. 6, 2008, file photo, then-West Virginia quarterback Pat White waves farewell to the fans following his last game with the team, a 13-7 West Virginia win over South Florida in Morgantown, W.Va. West Virginia University has filed a lawsuit seeking immediate withdrawal from the Big East Conference so it can join the Big 12.

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— West Virginia University filed a lawsuit Monday seeking an immediate divorce from the Big East so it can become a member of the Big 12 before the 2012 football season.

The Big 12 announced West Virginia’s acceptance Friday, but the Big East said it would hold the Mountaineers to a provision in the conference bylaws that requires notice of 27 months before a school can withdraw.

The lawsuit asks the Monongalia County Circuit Court to declare the bylaws invalid, claiming that the Big East breached its fiduciary duty to West Virginia by failing to maintain a balance between football-playing and non-football members.

The complaint, which asks for a jury trial, also alleges that the Big East agreed to West Virginia’s immediate withdrawal by accepting a $2.5 million down payment on its $5 million exit fee.

“Absent a Court order permanently enjoining the Big East from enforcing the 27-month notice provision against WVU, WVU has no adequate remedy at law to protect its interests and will suffer continuing and irreparable damages and injury,” the lawsuit says.

Big East Commissioner John Marinatto has said West Virginia is not eligible to join the Big 12 until July 1, 2014.

“We are disappointed that West Virginia has adopted this strategy and cannot imagine why it believes it does not have to respect and honor the bylaws it agreed to as a member of the Big East. Based on an initial review of the lawsuit, it is clear that the allegations and claims in it are false and inaccurate. Certainly there is nothing in it that would justify WVU’s not fulfilling its obligations. To put it simply, a contract is a contract,” Marinatto said in a statement.

“Once we have reviewed the filing, we will explore all our legal options and will act vigorously to ensure that WVU lives up to all its obligations to our conference. In the meantime, this lawsuit will not interfere in any way with our ongoing efforts to strengthen and expand the Big East.”

The lawsuit is the latest development in a flurry of conference realignment activity this fall. Syracuse and Pittsburgh withdrew from the Big East in September to join the Atlantic Coast Conference.

TCU accepted an invitation to join the Big East in September but switched to the Big 12 in October and was not required to honor the 27-month notice requirement.

Comments

actorman 10 years, 6 months ago

And the hits just keep on coming. The fun never ends with this realignment crap. Is it too late to switch to Louisville?

Seriously, though, I can't imagine that the Big East has a case. I mean how can WVU be expected to honor its contract when there aren't enough football-playing teams left to even field a real conference?

Jeffrey Nichols 10 years, 6 months ago

I think WVU is simply creating appropriate leverage. Why would we want to switch to Louisville? WVU is working multiple angles to ensure their ability to participate in the Big XII next year. I read the Petition yesterday - it is fairly compelling. I think your second paragraph is largely accurate, but I don't understand the Louisville comment.

actorman 10 years, 6 months ago

I think Louisville is a better choice because they're a lot closer to the Big XII. West Virginia is one heck of a trek for the Big XII teams, and I don't think it's a great fit because of the problems it will cause for the non-revenue sports. Otherwise I think WVU and Louisville are pretty equal, but the location is a big problem.

jgkojak 10 years, 6 months ago

Louisville is in the Big East too - duh - and will have the same exact problem and solution.

jgkojak 10 years, 6 months ago

Louisville is in the Big East too - duh - and will have the same exact problem and solution.

funkitect 10 years, 6 months ago

I think the Big 12 should help things along by bringing in Louisville, therefore collasping the Big East... then the 27 month rule can't be enforced.

Jeff Dean 10 years, 6 months ago

I would love to go to 12, but, as long as UT and OU are happy with 10, we are not going to expand to 12. Neither team wants a Big XII Championship game. With 10, they see their annual rivalry game as the de-facto Big XII Championship game.

Mike Skiles 10 years, 6 months ago

Amen on Louisville. In today's conference world, you're either alive (growing) or dead (collapsing). The Big 12 was nearly in the grave 6 mos ago or less - lets ensure that doesn't happen again, at least for the next 5 to 10 years!

longhawk 10 years, 6 months ago

Amen on your amen. This league should be a 12-team league, but I could live with 11 if it means adding Louisville and then we decide to be patient on a tag-team partner who would do football only, and allow Notre Dame to do the rest of the sports. BYU would be the first option for that football-only school, but truthfully, as big of a joke as their institution is as a whole, I'd have no problem with Boise State for football only.

HawkTronic 10 years, 6 months ago

Wouldn’t a suit like this set a precedent? If schools can sue conferences for relief from contractual obligations, doesn’t that weaken the new B12 contract everyone was so excited about. Ironic.

Jeffrey Nichols 10 years, 6 months ago

No, it wouldn't. Each contract is going to be viewed by a court based on the specifics of each contract and the factual allegations impacting it. And a court ruling in WV has no precedential value in KS or any other state. It probably does set a precedent in the quick response, non-educated, impulsive eyes of the media and average fans, but let's not confuse conference alignment dynamics with the law.

Steve Corder 10 years, 6 months ago

Unless that court decides to use sharia law.

JayDocMD 10 years, 6 months ago

If I'm Chuck Neinas, I'm telling the Big Least: "Either let WV go or we're adding Louisville (and maybe even Cinci or S Florida) too - thereby blowing up whats left of your ragtag conference.

Vernon Riggs 10 years, 6 months ago

Why make the deal if you don't have too. The courts may set WVU free to join the Big12 for next year, along with Louisville, Cincy or S. Florida if we want. It will take the fun out of forcing Mizzou to waiting one year or having them talk to the Big12 head Legal advisor, Ken Starr

LogicMan 10 years, 6 months ago

Unfortunately for MU, WVU, the Big 12, and the ACC, a contract is a contract.

So unless we grab Louisville and Cincinnati early today and prevent them adding six new teams, WVU, Pitt, and the Orangemen are stuck in the Big East for a couple of more years or until they reach a financial settlement.

And MU is stuck with us for another year or two, lest they and the SEC lose a massive lawsuit by the Big 12 looking for lost TV revenue from the new contract that requires fielding 10 teams next year.

If the Big East does add those teams, the Mountain West is in big trouble. I hope the Big 12 looks closely again at New Mexico, Colorado State, and Wyoming -- they'd add huge geography to the conference which would help with public perception when they show those conference maps of the US. Like NU was to the Big 10, they could be brought in with a reduced share of the money for a number of years.

Jeffrey Nichols 10 years, 6 months ago

I love the wealth of legal advice we are seeing from people who have not seen the Petition filed by WVU. If the Big East has failed to uphold their end of the contract, whether through their own fault or otherwise, then they may very well be in breach. The Petition that was filed is called a Declaratory Judgment - it is asking the Court to rule on the validity of the contract. WVU has laid out the reasons they believe the Big East has failed to uphold its end of the bargain, including allowing a disparity of non-football vs. football schools to exist, failure to field enough football teams for a regular conference slate, and the likely loss of having an Automatic Qualifier in a BCS bowl. Read the Petition. A contract is a contract, but if it has been breached, then it is a nullity.

jgkojak 10 years, 6 months ago

But didn't WVU sign the contract knowing all that was happening? Wasn't it obvious there was a disparity in memberships, etc.?

Jeffrey Nichols 10 years, 6 months ago

If I read the Petition accurately, there wasn't a disparity when it was signed. The voting rights among non-football and football schools was equally apportioned and there were sufficient members to get an AQ bid to a BCS bowl. Because the league has proven unable to keep those numbers up, that AQ status is in issue. It frankly dates back to when the Big East lost BC, Miami, etc. They have tried to replace those schools, but it spiraled out of control with Syracuse and Pitt, and UConn's pronouncement it is actively looking. I'm not 100% clear on all of the signature dates, but WVU was one of the early members in the Big East, since early 80's I believe.

crmsnblu 10 years, 6 months ago

does anyone know if syracuse and pitt will be held to 27 months before entering ACC play?

Benjamin Piehler 10 years, 6 months ago

according to the Big East, they will... but I wouldn't be surprised if they followed WVU's lead.

Robert Brock 10 years, 6 months ago

Meh. So UWV has to wait 27 months. Rules are rules. They agreed to it.

Robert Brown 10 years, 6 months ago

I don't know what to make of this but I have read from some of the other postings that this is holding up MU's announced move to the SEC. If WV cannot join until 2014, the conference will only have nine teams next year and could lose money in the FOX contract which specifies the conference needs to be at 10 members. If WV cannot join, that means MU would have to stay to keep membership at 10 members or you will see more lawsuits.

I also understand that the Big 12 is not negotiating with MU regarding exit fees. Hopefully, they make MU and A&M pay the full $30M. They wimped out by not requiring NU and CU to pay the full amount.

kureader 10 years, 6 months ago

As a KU fan, I'm hoping West Virginia joins us next season. But, there way are too many West Virginia politicians and attorneys involved in this thing. West Virginia is doing what people do when they want out of a contract. First they claim there was never a valid contract to begin with. Then (when that doesn't work) they claim they are actually the victim and don't have to honor their side of the deal, because the other side has already breached the agreement. This can lead to an endless and expensive process of legal discovery. Then, they ask for a jury trial. This intimidates the party who thinks they have an enforcable contract, because jury trials are a "crap shoot".

I'm not a Big East supporter, but they have a fiduciary responsibility to promote stability and to protect their conference. That's exactly what exit fees and waiting periods are for. The Big East is doing its job. It has a responsibility to its member institutions to enforce these contracts. Look at it this way. Had Louisville received the Big 12's invitation instead of West Virginia, you can bet that West Virginia would want the Big East to protect the conference by delaying the Louisville's exit until the Big East could replace them.

As for the stability of the Big East conference, their BCS standing is still in place, and there's no evidence that it will disappear any time soon. The departing schools won't be gone for more than two years. And, based upon discussions that have already occurred between the Big East and 8 or 10 other universities, it appears that the Big East will end up with more football schools than they have now. West Virginia can't blame the Big East for damages. And, frankly, they'd be hard pressed to prove there are any. What West Virginia has is an opportunity cost. West Virginia sees Big 12 dollar signs and hopes they can intimidate the Big East into letting them out of their contract. It's a shame they couldn't have been more diplomatic.

Having said that, my guess is that the Big East will give in to some type of compromise, and that the politicians and attorneys in West Virginia will continue to pound their chests and brag about how they saved the day.

kureader 10 years, 6 months ago

The University of West Virginia filed this lawsuit in West Virginia. The courthouse is about 2 miles from the West Virginia football stadium. Haha. The jury pool will come from a town of 29,000 with an average household income of 25,000. 35% of the population lives below the poverty level. West Virginia's legal team will probably know every single juror ... in fact, they're probably all related!!!

Good luck, Big East, winning this case in Morgantown, West Virginia!

(no malice, just marveling at the circus ... will the conference realignment saga ever end?)

kureader 10 years, 6 months ago

West Virginians believe they have the Big East "on the run". A County Prosecutor in an adjacent West Virginia county called the West Virginia lawsuit a "brilliant stroke of the legal imagination".

I could be wrong, but can't the grammar police arrest you for using the words "brilliant" and "West Virginia" in the same sentence?

Just kiddin' about your intellect, West Virginia. (though it does seem that you'll be a suitable replacement for Missouri).

Tony Bandle 10 years, 6 months ago

Suitable!!??.....how about about outstanding. At least the WV's are smart enough to make moonshine, instead of meth!!!

kureader 10 years, 6 months ago

Fair enough, Oakville. "Outstanding" it is!

(though I do think that moonshine is still the preferred crop south of Hwy 50).

Kyle Sybesma 10 years, 6 months ago

We are approaching two weeks and haven't heard anything from Missery. Make a decision already.

kureader 10 years, 6 months ago

ESPN just reported that the Big East will invite Boise State, Houston, SMU, Army, Navy, and South Florida to join the conference. So much for West Virginia's claim that the Big East has somehow "caused irreparable harm" to West Virginia.

The AP Poll has Boise State at #4 and Houston at #13. Somehow, SMU beat TCU this year, so they aren't a pushover. And, Army and Navy bring some prestige and a national following to Big East football. On the other hand, West Virginia is ranked #25, but Pittsburg and Syracuse are't ranked at all. Looks as though the Big East may be getting BETTER in football, but certainly NOT worse.

Quit whining, West Virginia. Pay your bills and honor your agreements. We'll look forward to having you in the Big 12 after that.

Ron Prichard 10 years, 6 months ago

First of all, I would bet the $2.5M payment came at least in part from the Big 12 or at the very least was directed by the Big 12. The lawsuit also is not a surprise and may even be at the direction of the Big 12. They knew this was coming, and it is the reason MU hasn't made an announcement. The Big 12 wants to make sure it has WVU before letting MU go or negotiating with them. I'm guessing MU doesn't have the money to leave next year if the Big 12 won't negotiate. The Big 12 holds several of the cards here, but not all of them. But you can be sure that the SEC does not want to get in the middle of a lawsuit about causing the Big 12 to default on its TV contract. Still, even if it came down to that, I'm not so sure the networks wouldn't just go ahead and honor the deal even if we only had 9 teams. All of this, and I mean all of it, is about leverage.

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