Pitt files lawsuit against Big East
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The University of Pittsburgh filed suit Friday against The Big East Conference in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas for allowing two members -- Texas Christian University and West Virginia University -- to withdraw early from the conference. Conference rules state that members must give 27 months of notice before leaving the league, but Big East officials allowed TCU and WVU to withdraw without giving that much notice.
As a result, Pitt said in its lawsuit, Big East officials have "knowingly and intentionally waived any right to enforce a twenty-seven month withdrawal period" and should allow Pitt to withdraw early as well.
The Big East has stated that Pitt must remain in the conference through the 2013-14 season, but on Friday a spokesman said that the conference had been working with Pitt football officials to resolve the problem.
"We have stated previously that The Big East would be open to the possibility for Pitt to depart after the [2012-13]season and have reached out to Pitt regarding its issue," Big East spokesman John Paquette said. "Pitt's filing of a lawsuit is a disappointing action."
But those discussions have stalled in recent weeks, especially after former Big East commissioner John Marinatto resigned Monday, Pitt officials said in a statement released Friday.
"A few weeks ago, [Pitt athletic director] Steve Pederson met with [Big East commissioner] John Marinatto to begin the process to work toward an exit after this upcoming academic year," according to the statement. "The commissioner indicated that he was doing this with the authorization of the Chair of the Big East Presidents. However, attempts to contact the Big East in the following weeks to move the process forward have been unsuccessful, leading us to conclude that negotiations would not occur."
Conference officials' decision, the complaint states, has cost Pitt lost ticket sales, buyout fees and game fees for two valuable home football games those opponents scheduled, then abandoned, leaving Pitt scrambling to find replacements at additional cost.
In the complaint, the university asked for a jury trial to rule on its requests, which include allowing Pitt to withdraw from The Big East Conference at the end of the 2012-13 conference year without penalty or interference; sharing revenue received by the conference in the 2011-12 conference year, including money received from TCU and WVU; and reimbursement for damages such as the fees Pitt paid to secure the lost home games with TCU and WVU and to secure replacement games with lesser rivals, the lost ticket sales from disappointed fans, court costs and other financial losses.
Pitt states in its complaint that in addition to the $5 million fee it must pay to withdraw from the conference, it has lost $520,000 in buyout fees and game fees as a result of the Big East's decision to allow TCU to withdraw. TCU also must pay the league's $5 million exit fee.
When WVU severed its ties to the conference in February, it agreed to pay $20 million in fees. About half will be paid by WVU, including television rights money owed to the university by the Big East from football and basketball seasons. The other half will be paid by the Big 12, the conference WVU and TCU are joining, with a portion of that to be repaid to the new conference by the Mountaineers.
First Published May 12, 2012 12:00 am