- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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The University of Maryland has filed a $157 million countersuit against the ACC, raising a new allegation that the conference tried to recruit at least two unidentified Big Ten schools after learning of Maryland's intent to leave the ACC and join the Big Ten on July 1.
According to documents obtained Tuesday from the Maryland attorney general's office, athletic officials from Wake Forest and Pittsburgh tried to recruit at least two Big Ten schools to the ACC.
The Maryland attorney general's office called that move "a competitive reaction" to Maryland's departure. While not necessarily illegal, the argument is that it was hypocritical of the ACC to try to impede Maryland's departure with a $52.3 million exit fee and then turn around and recruit schools from the same conference Maryland is headed to.
According to a representative from the attorney general's office, the sum of the countersuit was derived from three times the exit fee, as damages are tripled in antitrust lawsuits.
ACC officials had no further comment other than to refer to commissioner John Swofford's original statements.
"We continue to extend our best wishes to the University of Maryland," Swofford said in November 2012. "However, there is the expectation that Maryland will fulfill its exit-fee obligation."
Maryland has been tied up in a messy lawsuit with the ACC since that time, when the conference sued the school in an effort to enforce the ACC's increased exit fee. The initial lawsuit, filed in North Carolina court, came after the conference voted to increase the exit penalty to three times its operating budget, which the appeals court calculated at nearly $52.3 million.
Maryland countersued last January, but a judge ruled that the decision should be stayed pending the outcome of the North Carolina case. Last summer, though, the ACC gained a small victory when a Maryland judge ruled that the ACC is not violating any antitrust laws by asking Maryland for its exit fee. In November, a North Carolina Court of Appeals panel rejected Maryland's bid to dismiss the lawsuit.
Monday's countersuit, which was filed in a North Carolina state court, was the latest move in the chess match between the two, but it includes many of the same points that have already been filed.
Maryland's main argument, as documented in the most recent countersuit, has been that the ACC "took steps designed to deny Maryland athletic, academic, and financial benefits that Maryland expected to derive from joining the Big Ten, and to penalize Maryland for its decision to leave the ACC, with the goal of impeding Maryland and deterring other members from leaving the conference." Maryland argues that the ACC "ignored and breached" its constitution in its haste to "punish Maryland."
Maryland also has claimed that the ACC has withheld more than $16 million from the university, and that sum is also included in the countersuit. In addition, Maryland is seeking punitive damages, an amount to be determined by the court.