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ELLIOTT: Big East to WVU: You Wrote the Laws, Live by Them

November 5, 2011
By JIM ELLIOTT (elliott@theintelligencer.net) , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

As expected, the Big East fired back against West Virginia University on Friday with its own breach-of-contract lawsuit, claiming, among many other things, WVU didn't just agree to the league's bylaws, it helped write them!

Earlier this week, West Virginia drew first blood with its own breach-of-contract suit against the league, claiming its bylaws to be invalid because, among many other things, the league breached its fiduciary duty to West Virginia by failing to maintain a balance between football-playing and non-football members.

When WVU officials signed the deal, there were eight football schools and eight non-football schools, and essentially, the dog was wagging the tail.

Today, they suggest, it's the other way around with a voting disparity favoring the non-football schools and the football conference substantially crumbling under the watch of Commissioner John Marinatto. They say Marinatto's shaky leadership is at the core of the Big East being no longer a viable and competitive football conference, one they suspect will no longer be able to keep its automatic-qualifying Bowl Championship Series status.

On Friday, the presidents of the remaining Big East schools threw their support behind the league, even as many of them have publicly made it known that, if given a chance, they'd beat Usain Bolt out the door.

At the core of this is West Virginia's invitation, and subsequent admission, into the Big 12 conference. WVU officials want that affiliation to begin July 1, 2012. The Big East says go ahead and go, but not until July 1, 2014, as its bylaws say a school must give 27 months notice before leaving.

The Big East ''will vigorously pursue the enforcement of its rights and West Virginia University's obligations," Marinatto said in a statement Friday .

West Virginia wired $2.5 million to the Big East last Friday and claims that because that money was accepted, the Big East agreed to WVU's immediate withdrawal.

According to the league, what it was accepting was WVU admitting it had breached its bylaws and ''has intentionally injured the reputation, goodwill and financial interests of the Big East and its members.''

If WVU were to leave next year, it would trigger television partners to negotiate for reductions and fees payable and cause "an irreparably harmed scheduling conflict" for the league.

In other words, West Virginia is saying if we stay, it'll kill us. The Big East says if you leave, it will kill us.

It's going to be interesting to see how this turns out.

If West Virginia wins - as it fully expects it will - Pitt and Syracuse, already accepted into the ACC, are sure to follow and the Big East will be in a whole lot deeper.

If the league wins, WVU officials will have put themselves - and the Big 12 - in in an embarrassing situation, one that only big checks will cover. WVU athletics director Oliver Luck first wanted a football coach-in-waiting, and then an immediate conference change. He might end up with an immediate football coach, and a conference-in-waiting.

Stay tuned.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: elliott@theintelligencer.net