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Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Breaking down WVU, Big East settlement

By Kristi Dosh

The Big East and West Virginia announced a settlement Tuesday that ends ongoing litigation between the parties in both Rhode Island and West Virginia. Citing an anonymous source, the Charleston Daily Mail has reported that West Virginia will pay the Big East a $20 million buyout as part of the settlement, with $10 million covered by the university and another $10 million coming from the Big 12, half of which WVU will have to repay.

How did the parties finally reach an agreement?

An attorney for WVU, Thomas Holt, a partner at K&L Gates, says the Big East out-argued itself.

“WVU was entitled to sovereign immunity in its own courts. What happened in the Rhode Island case was the Big East argued to the judge that they didn’t think they could get fair shake in the courts in West Virginia. Basically, they didn’t think they could get injunction there.”

Holt believes the Big East realized the Rhode Island court wasn’t going to issue an injunction the West Virginia courts might not enforce. “It was fundamentally illogical. Once the reality of that became apparent things moved forward.”

Big East attorney Ben Block, a partner at Covington & Burling, declined to comment specifically on the details of the negotiations, but clearly didn’t agree with Holt’s version of events. “I don’t think I share Tom Holt’s views on the merits of the case."

“We had a very strong case, but at the end of the day parties reach resolution when each one decides that the negotiated resolution on the table is more attractive than the uncertainty, cost and continuing distraction of ongoing litigation,” said Block.

So, what exactly does the settlement mean to the ongoing business of the Big East?

"The bylaws are the foundation of how the conference governs itself," Big East commissioner John Marinatto said Tuesday. "To have the court in West Virginia acknowledge their validity of enforceability obviously reinforces the premise that the conference is viable moving forward, and in a position to do so."

Marinatto’s comment is a bit misleading, however. The West Virginia court only recognized the validity of the bylaws as part of the consent decree it issued as a result of the parties’ settlement. This is not a binding legal decision declaring every provision of the Big East bylaws as valid and enforceable against remaining members.

“In theory it looks good, and I’m sure they would use it for precedential value to show, ‘Look, one other court has already said this,’ but a court in New York or Pennsylvania might see it differently,” said Christian Dennie, a sports law attorney at Barlow Garsek & Simon.

Pittsburgh and Syracuse are subject to the same 27-month waiting period West Virginia just fought and settled over before they can join the ACC. However, Marinatto said in a telephone conference today, “[G]iven the strength and speed of our expansion efforts, I think our board might be open to a discussion about 2013."

Kristi Dosh covers sports business for ESPN.com and can be reached at kristi@kristidosh.com. Follow Dosh on Twitter: @SportsBizMiss.