(CN) – The Big East Conference refuses to let the University of Pittsburgh leave its ranks early, even though it “has never required any school to provide” the full notice time, allowing previous unscheduled departures to hurt other members, the school claims in court.
A member of the conference since 1982, the third year of its existence, the University of Pittsburgh says it is being required to give a full 27 months’ notice before it can withdraw. Since it announced that it wanted to withdraw in September 2011, that means it must stick it out for the 2013-14 conference year, according to the complaint in the Alleghany County Court of Common Pleas.
The school says its preferred departure date at the end of the 2012-13 conference year represents 21 months’ notice, “essentially two full conference years after providing notice of withdrawal.”
But the conference has refused to compromise, even though it let other members pay the $5 million withdrawal fee and leave with insufficient notice, according to the complaint.
Texas Christian University announced it was joining the conference in November 2010, then backed away from the deal in October 2011 to join the Big 12.
“Despite TCU’s agreement to join The Big East, The Big East did not require TCU to provide twenty-seven months’ notice of withdrawal,” according to the complaint.
And the ramifications of that departure spread all the way to the University of Pittsburgh, which was scheduled to play a home game against the Rose Bowl champion in 2012.
The University of Pittsburgh says it paid $250,000 to buy out a previously scheduled opponent to clear a date for the TCU game, then had to settle for a less attractive opponent when TCU dropped out.
“As the Big East knew, Pittsburgh had paid a $250,000 buyout fee to the school it originally was scheduled to play in order to clear the date to play TCU (subject to a $50,000 savings as to the game fee paid to the visiting team),” according to the complaint. “To obtain a replacement game after the Big East waived the requirement that TCU provide twenty-seven months’ notice of withdrawal, Pittsburgh also has to pay a game fee to the replacement opponent that is $320,000 larger than the game fee it would have had to pay to TCU. Thus, just as to buyout fees and game fees, Pittsburgh has lost $520,000 as a result of the Big East’s conduct with respect to TCU.”
Pittsburgh says its new opponent is from a lower division in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and thus less attractive. All these factors have “made it harder for Pitt to sell tickets to the replacement game and season tickets for the 2012 football season,” according to the complaint.
In the same month as the TCU dropout announcement, West Virginia University also said it would withdraw from the Big East to join the Big XII Conference.
“In February 2012, however, as it had with TCU, the Big East allowed WVU to leave the conference without providing twenty-seven months’ notice of withdrawal ,” according to the complaint.
Noting that WVU won the Orange Bowl in 2012, the University of Pittsburgh says the early departure cost it a valuable matchup.
“Pittsburgh and WVU have one of the oldest and most well-known rivalries in college athletics, known around the country as the ‘Backyard Brawl,'” according to the complaint.
The University of Pittsburgh says WVU will pay the Big East millions of dollars this year, and forego millions more in conference revenue distributions, because of the early exit.
Since the Big East already announced the addition of six new members, Pittsburgh says the impact of its withdrawal has been addressed.
“The Big East will have more full members and more football members in the 2013-2014 Conference year that it did when Pittsburgh gave its Withdrawal Notice,” according to the complaint.
And even though Pittsburgh remained a member during the 2011-12 conference year, “the Big East, through its commissioner at that time, also would not commit to pay Pittsburgh its share of the revenue paid by TCU and WVU to the conference during the 2011-2012 conference year.”
Pittsburgh seeks a ruling that it can leave the conference at the end of the 2012-13 season, and is revenue from the previous year.
It is represented by Michael Lowenstein with Reed Smith in Pittsburgh.