PROVIDENCE (CN) – West Virginia University’s jump from the Big East to the Big 12 sports conference is not a done deal after all, as the Big East Conference claims the move violates bylaws that require Big East members to give 27 months notice and pay a $5 million “withdrawal fee” before disassociating.
The Big East Conference sued West Virginia University in Providence Superior Court, seeking an injunction that will require WVU to stay in the Big East until June 30, 2014 – and to pay the $5 million.
West Virginia U announced on Oct. 28 that it was jumping from the Big East to the Big 12 Conference, beginning July 1, 2012.
But the Big East says WVU was well aware that it had to give 27 months notice and pay the $5 million withdrawal fee, “with $2.5 million due upon the first delivery of the withdrawal notice (although under certain circumstances this amount would increase to $10 million for football-playing members)”. (Parentheses in complaint.)
The Big East says WVU’s premature withdrawal will damage the Big East’s “reputation, the quality of student life, alumni relations and community relations,” and inflict significant monetary damages for games that will have to be canceled or rescheduled.
The Big East Conference, which regulates and supervises sports competitions among 17 colleges, has contracts with CBS and ESPN worth tens of millions of dollars for broadcast rights to Big East football and basketball games.
The Big East says it signed a 6-year contract with ESPN in September 2006, to run through the 2013 basketball season, and that “WVU voted to authorize the Big East to enter into this contract.” The Big East says that contract alone is “worth tens of millions of dollars of revenue for the Big East and its member schools”.
It adds: “The agreement between the Big East and ESPN permits ESPN to negotiate a reduction in the rights fees it owes to the Big East in the event that a member school leaves the Conference for any reason.”
The Big East’s deal with CBS, signed in 1994 and subsequently amended, also runs through the 2013 basketball season, also is worth tens of millions of dollars, and also authorizes CBS to renegotiate the price if a team leaves, according to the complaint.
The Big East wants West Virginia University enjoined from withdrawing before July 1, 2014 and ordered to play all its athletic competitions in the Big East until then.
The Big East is represented by Joseph Cavanagh and Stephen Reid with Blish & Cavanagh.