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College Sports, Division I, Education

Conference Realigment Update: West Virginia Files Lawsuit Against the Big East Conference

West Virginia University (WVU) filed a civil lawsuit in state court against the Big East Conference on October 31, 2011. The lawsuit was filed to facilitate WVU’s early exit from the Big East in 2012 to join the Big 12 Conference. WVU bases its legal theory on its contention that Big East commissioner John Marinatto breached his fiduciary duties to the conference’s football schools. A copy of the complaint can be viewed on ESPN.com by clicking here.

The 14-page Complaint for Declaratory Judgment, Breach of Contract and Permanent Injunctive Relief, which was filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court in West Virginia, states WVU should not be held to the 27-month waiting period imposed by the Big East on all schools departing the conference. WVU alleges the “Big East Conference and its commissioner, through their actions, breached their contract to WVU and nullified and voided the bylaws.”

The following includes some of the interesting alllegations from the lawsuit:

  • “The denigration of the Big East football conference is a direct and proximate result of ineffective leadership and breach of fiduciary duties to the football schools by the Big East Conference and its Commissioner.”
  • “The Big East and its Commissioner failed to take proactive measures to maintain, let alone enhance, the level of competition for the Big East football schools.”
  • “Upon information and belief, this breach of fiduciary duty presumably forced member institutions Pittsburgh and Syracuse to withdraw from the Big East and accept an invitation to join the ACC. Upon information and belief, this breach presumably forced member TCU to withdraw from the Big East and join the Big XII.”
  • “The departure of members Pittsburgh, UConn, and TCU created an imbalance and disparity between the football and non-football playing schools that was neither contemplated nor addressed in the Bylaws. The departure of these schools left six football schools and eight non-football playing schools. The sudden withdrawal of thirty-three percent of the football schools resulted in the football schools being subjected to increased governance by the nonfootball schools. This disparity was not considered in the Bylaws, and the departure of the above-mentioned schools has rendered WVU’s performance in the Big East commercially impracticable.”
  • “This unusual arrangement, one in which some member schools competed in NCAA Division I football (“football schools”) and some did not (“non-football schools”), led to instability in the conference.
  • “The Bylaws acknowledge the distinction between its member institutions that compete in NCAA Division I-A football and those that do not. The Bylaws define “Football Action” as “any matter which relates specifically to any participation in NCAA Division I-A football by Division I-A Schools …. Despite the fact that half of the member institutions are non-football schools, the Bylaws allow those non-football schools to vote on football matters. …”

About Michael L. Buckner, Esquire

An attorney who provides clients with internal investigation, civil litigation, estate planning and compliance services.

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