Football: WVU files lawsuit against Big East

By Lauren Kirschman

West Virginia University filed suit against the Big East Conference Monday, less than a week… West Virginia University filed suit against the Big East Conference Monday, less than a week after announcing its move to the Big 12 Conference.

In the lawsuit, West Virginia claims that the court should exempt WVU from the Big East’s mandatory 27-month waiting period because the conference “failed to fulfill its fiduciary obligations” toward the university by not maintaining an eight-to-eight ratio between football and non-football schools, not protecting West Virginia’s interests as a member of the conference and not sustaining a high level of competition in the Big East.

The filing comes four days after WVU accepted an invitation to join the Big 12, and the suit could have implications for Pitt’s conference move and the continuance of the decades-old sports rivalry between the two universities.

The complaint, filed in Monongalia County Court in West Virginia, alleges that Big East Commissioner John Marinatto also took a payment from WVU that the university offered in exchange for being allowed to leave the Big East immediately. The lawsuit also states that WVU is seeking monetary damages lost as a result of mismanagement by Big East officials, including Marinatto.

After Tuesday’s annual meeting of Big East Conference presidents, Marinatto issued a statement in response to the suit.

“In light of the lawsuit filed by West Virginia yesterday, the presidents also discussed and confirmed our continuing commitment to enforce the Conference’s 27-month notification period for schools choosing to leave,” he said.

“The Conference believes these claims to be wholly without merit and will explore all its legal options to protect its interests and to ensure that West Virginia lives up to its obligations,” Marinatto added.

Marinatto also said that the presidents “voted unanimously to extend invitations to specific institutions, including both football-only and all-sport members to join the Big East Conference.”

The commissioner said he plans to speak to representatives from the selected schools shortly. It is among the first public moves that the Big East has made to expand since Pittsburgh and Syracuse accepted invitations to the Atlantic Coast Conference in September, causing the Big East’s football membership to drop to six while it’s non-football membership remained at eight.

Pitt Athletics spokesman E.J. Borghetti declined to comment on West Virginia’s suit.

The Big East also previously allowed Texas Christian University to withdrawal from the conference without waiting 27 months, the lawsuit states. TCU accepted an invitation to the Big East in 2010 and, before ever playing a game in the conference, accepted an invite to the Big 12 in October.

Since the Big East failed to hold TCU to the 27-month waiting period, the lawsuit claims that West Virginia shouldn’t be required to delay its move to the Big 12 either.

The lawsuit states that the “lack of leadership, breach of fiduciary duties by the Big East and its commission and voting disparity between the football and non-football schools resulted in the Big East football conference no longer being a viable and competitive football conference.”

West Virginia and other Big East schools as well believe that the Big East Conference will stand to lose its status as an automatic qualifier for the Bowl Championship Series, the suit claims.

West Virginia spokesman John Bolt said that West Virginia does not have any comment on the lawsuit at this time.

“It speaks for itself,” he said of the suit.