- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

The Big East’s last desperate attempt to keep its league intact will come in court.

Five conference schools filed a lawsuit yesterday against Miami, Boston College and the ACC, seeking an injunction to prevent the schools from leaving. The move essentially concedes that Miami, BC and Syracuse will join the ACC unless a court decision forces them to stay in the Big East.

“We will do all we can to make sure these three schools do not leave,” Connecticut Gov. John Rowland said in a news conference after the suit was filed.

The five football schools not involved with ACC expansion filed the suit, saying Miami and Boston College lied to them about their intent to stay in the league. The five claim they made extensive financial investments based on the pair remaining as part of long-term stability in the Big East.

Big East member Syracuse, also an ACC expansion target, was not included because apparently it did not make similar statements of league support. Syracuse effectively has said it will follow Miami’s lead.

“Today’s action is not just about lost revenue but rather the importance of maintaining viable and successful intercollegiate competition and honoring long-standing commitments,” Rowland said.

The suit was filed in state superior court in Hartford, Conn., on behalf of Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Connecticut. It says Miami and BC concocted a “deliberate scheme to destroy the Big East and abscond with the collective value of all that has been invested and created in the Big East.”

The legal action comes as the ACC is finalizing plans to invite the three schools, which are expected to accept immediately. An official announcement that the ACC was becoming a 12-school superconference likely would have come next week, but that could be delayed by the legal situation.

However, the viability of the lawsuit seems questionable. One sports law expert said the five schools face a heavy burden of proof unless they can produce written evidence to support their claims.

“Schools are going to do what is in their best interest,” said Mark Conrad, who teaches at Fordham University’s business school. “They can do that unless there has been a breach of contract. Barring any specifics other than saying they are in it for the long haul, especially for that kind of drastic remedy, I think it’s a tough road to hoe.”

The suit quotes Miami president Donna Shalala on March 6, 2002, as saying “the University of Miami is in the Big East and has no interest in leaving it for any other conference.” BC officials apparently have made similar comments.

The five Big East football schools went ahead with expensive upgrades in athletics because of assurances they would be part of a vibrant conference, the lawsuit contends. Connecticut used public funds to build a $90million stadium that will open this fall as part of its move to Division I-A football and competing in the Big East starting in 2005. A recent renovation of Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium cost $37million.

The Big East’s real motivation is more likely the millions of dollars in revenue it stands to lose if it is dropped, as expected, from the lucrative Bowl Championship Series and from future TV deals.

Miami athletic director Paul Dee noted this is a radical change from negotiations with the Big East, which have been diplomatic in nature. Shalala met with the five presidents now suing her Wednesday in Washington. At that time, the Miami president reiterated she hadn’t made a decision, and several presidents said they felt she was being honest.

“I did want to acknowledge that this has taken a step in a different direction,” Dee said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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