It’s been a rocky few days for the relationship between West Virginia University and the Big East.
On October 27, 2011, WVU was invited by the Big 12 to become a member of the conference. It accepted the Big 12’s invitationthe same day.
In recent months, the Big East has seen two of its member schools, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, defect for the ACC. Additionally, TCU, which was slated to join the conference beginning in 2012, opted out of that opportunity and instead chose to join the Big 12 next year.
The Big East has steadfastly maintained that it will hold Syracuse and Pittsburgh to its bylaws, which require that teams give 27-months’ notice of their intent to leave and pay a $5 million exit fee. Since TCU never joined the conference as a participating member, it was not held to the notice provision but was only required to pay the $5 million exit fee. A copy of the Big East’s bylaws is not publicly available.
Things only got more difficult for the Big East on October 31, 2011, when WVU filed a lawsuit against the conference in an attempt to free itself from the 27-month notice provision and join the Big 12 next season.
WVU’s lawsuit seeks a declaration of its rights and obligations under the Big East’s bylaws, asserts that the bylaws were breached and asks that the court prevent the Big East from holding WVU to the 27-month notice provision so that it can leave the conference next year.
Two factual scenarios make up the factual bulk of WVU’s claims against the Big East:
1. Since 2003, the Big East has consisted of 16 member schools, with 8 participating in football and 8 being considered “non-football” schools. In 2008, the Big East’s bylaws were amended. In the bylaws, “Football Action” is defined as “Any matter which relates specifically to any participation in NCAA Division I-A football by Division I-A schools.” Non-football schools are given an equal vote to the football schools on issues related to football. WVU alleged that, “The non-football schools repeatedly exerted their newfound level of increased governance at the expense and to the detriment of the football schools.”
2. The real crux of WVU’s lawsuit is that the exodus of schools from the conference has left the Big East unstable. As noted, WVU cites Pitt and Syracuse’s departures for the ACC, as well as TCU’s failure to show up for its first day at the conference, choosing instead to join the Big 12. The lawsuit also discusses the fact that UConn has publicly stated that it is pursuing opportunities with other conferences.
WVU uses the factual scenarios related to the departure of Big East member schools to allege that the Big East failed to proactively maintain a level of competition, the remaining six football schools and eight non-football schools creates an imbalance and disparity of power and the current state of the Big East means that it is expected to lose its BCS AQ status.
WVU’s concerns set out in its lawsuit are realistic. Additionally, WVU was in a position to make these claims in an attempt to free itself of the 27-month notice provision because of the fact that the departure of Pitt, Syracuse and TCU arguably adversely impacted the state of the conference. Because Pitt and Syracuse started the defection movement, such arguments are likely unreasonable for them to make. Nonetheless, the merits of the lawsuit will be hashed out between lawyers and ultimately a judge in a courtroom.
In the meantime, though, what is the Big East to do?
The best thing the Big East can do, is to secure as new members football-participating members with proven records on the gridiron and located in strong media markets. And now, more than ever, the Big East must do this fast.
By securing schools which will participate in football who have proven records of recent success on the football field as new members, the Big East will chip away at WVU’s claims and likely secure its participation in the conference for the next 27-months. This is because new football members will restore the balance of power between football and non-football schools, while securing well-performing football schools in strong media markets will likely help the Big East maintain its BCS AQ status.
The Big East will be a BCS conference through 2013. After that, AQ status for all conferences will be redetermined for 2014-2017 and it is unclear the precise criteria that will be used. However, team’s performances between 2010 through 2013 will be used. Likely, the BCS’s television contracts and the bowls themselves will drive the exact criteria used in selecting AQ conferences.
Thus, it’s in the Big East’s best interest to secure schools who have performed well in recent years and also attract media viewership.
Reportedly, the Big East is set to invite six schools to join the conference at a meeting which will be held today. Each of these schools would be a football participating member of the conference. The schools are: UCF, SMU, Houston, Air Force, Boise and Navy.
With respect to the performance data the BCS will rely upon to select 2014-2017’s AQ conferences, only 2010’s data is currently available. The following are rankings from the final 2010 BCS poll.
Boise State: 10
West Virginia: 22
Thus, in terms of maintaining AQ status for 2014-2017, TCU’s decision to join the Big 12 over the Big East was more detrimental than Syracuse and Pitt’s departures. WVU can argue that the loss of the number-three ranked team unduly damaged the Big East’s chances of becoming an AQ conference in 2014-2017. However, by securing two schools ranked in the top-25 during 2010, the Big East can mitigate that argument.
Therefore, long story short, the Big East needs schools with successful football teams to join its conference and it needs them to join fast. Otherwise, WVU may be packing its bags as soon as next season.