WVU, Big East cut ties at last

Football schedule out with new look

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West Virginia severed ties Tuesday with the Big East Conference, announcing an agreement with the league that allows the Mountaineers to join the Big 12 July 1.

Terms were not announced, but sources said compensation to the Big East will be $20 million. About half will be paid by West Virginia, 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, and a portion of that will be repaid to their new conference by the Mountaineers.

The settlement will close lawsuits brought by the two parties after the Mountaineers announced the move to the Big 12 in late October. The university sued the Big East in West Virginia and the conference sued the Mountaineers in Rhode Island, where the Big East is based. At issue was a Big East requirement that a member school give 27 months notice when leaving the league.

Along the way, West Virginia officials were adamant that the program would be playing in the Big 12 this year.

West Virginia: A new beginning
  • The 2012 football schedule for West Virginia, which will begin play in the Big 12 this fall:
  • Sep 1: Marshall ??? "Backyard Brawl" is off, but "Friends of Coal" Bowl remains
  • Sep 15: vs. James Madison ??? Pulled upset of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg two seasons ago
  • Sep 22: @ Maryland ??? Terrapins come off a 2-10 season in Randy Edsall's first year
  • Sep 29: Baylor ??? Maybe Robert Griffin III won't turn pro? Yeah, right.
  • Oct 6: @ Texas ??? Austin, Texas: Nice place for your first Big 12 road game
  • Oct 13: @ Texas Tech ??? QB Seth Doege passed for 4,004 yards and 28 TDs
  • Oct 20: Kansas State ??? QB Collin Klein accounted for 40 TDs for Big 12 runners-up
  • Nov 3: TCU ??? New to the conference, just like the Mountaineers
  • Nov 10: @ Oklahoma State ??? Defending conference champions lose a lot from 12-1 team
  • Nov 17: Oklahoma ??? QB Landry Jones' decision to return makes Sooners a threat
  • Nov 24: @ Iowa State ??? Upset of Oklahoma State in '11 cost Cowboys a BCS berth
  • Dec 1: Kansas ??? Charlie Weis brings his new team to Morgantown for finale

"I think we all decided we were not going to waver one bit, we were going to see this through," said athletic director Oliver Luck. "At the end of the day, we think this was a tremendous move for West Virginia University."

The Big East said in a statement Tuesday that the conference Board of Directors had voted to "terminate" the Mountaineers membership, taking into account "the steps that West Virginia University was willing to take to resolve the litigation, including the payment of an exit fee well in excess of that required by the bylaws." Big East bylaws required a $5 million payment by a departing member in October. The fee has been increased since.

Luck stressed the long-term financial benefits of joining the Big 12 as well as those in joining a stable, competitive conference.

The yearly revenue share for each Big 12 member, largely from television rights income, is between $18 million and $19 million, said Luck, nearly $11 million more than what the Big East pays member schools.

West Virginia will get a pro-rated television payout from the Big 12 for three years, starting with a 50 percent share this year, a 67 percent share in 2013-14, an 80 percent share in 2014-15 and a full share starting in the fourth season.

The Big 12 has multiple lucrative TV contracts expected to eclipse a billion dollars over the next 13 years with Fox, ABC and ESPN.

"I think the point here for us [is] it's a very healthy television payout," Luck said. "It's important that we maintain our self-sufficient status."

The West Virginia legal situation was watched closely around college football. The core of the issue was whether a conference had the right to force a team to play a slate of games by way of a court order.

West Virginia's legal team, headed by Thomas Holt of K&L Gates of Boston, was convinced the answer was no.

"From the beginning, I was persuaded that you just can't order a college football team to play in a schedule in a conference against its will," said Holt. "That's what the Big East was looking for. Once everybody realized that, that's when the settlement picked up steam.

"I believe the Big East came to the realization it was not going to be able to force the Mountaineers to play a football schedule against its will. When that sunk in, a settlement was a foregone conclusion."

Holt acknowledged the settlement could impact choices made by other programs. Questions still linger about the immediate future of Pitt and Syracuse, which announced they are leaving the Big East to join the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"I can't speak for what other teams and leagues are going to do, but I do know the concept of forcing a college football team to play a schedule against its will is not going to fly legally," Holt said.

The move will mean a hefty slate of games for the Mountaineers in a conference that had five teams finish the 2011 season ranked in the Top 25 -- six including West Virginia.

The Mountaineers will open their conference schedule against No. 13 Baylor Sept. 29 in Morgantown and play host to Kansas State Oct. 20, TCU Nov. 3, Oklahoma Nov. 17 and Kansas Dec. 1.

West Virginia will travel to Texas Oct. 6, followed by trips to Texas Tech (Oct. 13), Oklahoma State (Nov. 10) and Iowa State (Nov. 24).

That is in addition to three non-conference games against Marshall (Sept. 1) at home, James Madison at Fed Ex Field in Landover, Md. (Sept. 15), and Maryland at home (Sept. 22).

"No need to tell all of you how competitive the Big 12 is," said Luck. "A half-dozen of the football teams ranked in the Top 25? One of the preeminent women's basketball conferences? I'm delighted with the schedule, I think it's very attractive."

Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1959. First Published February 15, 2012 5:00 AM


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