Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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“I think the Big East has the stronger argument because West Virginia has agreed to the rules and because the other schools that are trying to leave [Syracuse and Pittsburgh] have also agreed to abide by those rules,” Michael McCann, editor in chief of the Sports Law blog and a tenured professor at Vermont Law School, told SNY.tv by phone Monday.
The suit — filed in West Virginia state court — charges Big East Commissioner John Marinatto with “ineffective leadership” because Syracuse and Pittsburgh are leaving for the ACC And and TCU and West Virginia are headed to the Big 12.
Marinatto has said he plans to hold West Virginia — along with Syracuse and Pittsburgh — to the required 27-month exit period as well as pay the $5 million exit fee. West Virginia has already paid the Big East $2.5 million.
“We are disappointed that West Virginia has adopted this strategy and cannot imagine why it believes it does not have to respect and honor the bylaws it agreed to as a member of the Big East,” Marinatto said later Monday in a statement. “Based on an initial review of the lawsuit, it is clear that the allegations and claims in it are false and inaccurate. Certainly there is nothing in it that would justify WVU’s not fulfilling its obligations. To put it simply, a contract is a contract.
“Once we have reviewed the filing, we will explore all our legal options and will act vigorously to ensure that WVU lives up to all its obligations to our conference. In the meantime, this lawsuit will not interfere in any way with our ongoing efforts to strengthen and expand the Big East.”
Marinatto will appear Tuesday at the Big East presidents’ meeting in Philadelphia, where the league is expected to announce that it has extended invitations to six new schools.
The suit takes direct aim at Marinatto for effectively losing control of the football side of the league.
“As the Big East, in less than two months, has denigrated into a non-major football conference whose continued existence is in serious jeopardy, WVU had no choice but to accept the Big XII’s offer,” it reads.
“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 and its Commissioner.”
Still, McCann said that because the lawsuit was filed in West Virginia state court, “The Big East will try to challenge that.”
The Big East is headquartered in Providence, R.I.
As for the timeframe on leaving the Big 12, another attorney thinks the Big East has the upper hand.
“I would think that they [West Virginia] are probably going to be held to the 27 months,” said Brian Porto, deputy director and associate professor of law at Vermont.
“If that was the rule when West Virginia came in, and it came in well informed about the rule, and especially that other teams — Pittsburgh and Syracuse — are not going to be able to leave right away, I would think it would be hard for West Virginia to leave unless circumstances change and the other teams are let go.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.