WVU asks judge to keep lawsuit alive

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia University asked a judge Friday to keep its lawsuit against the Big East alive, calling the conference's motion to dismiss the case in Morgantown a "poorly veiled" effort to escape the proper jurisdiction and pick its own.

WVU sued the Big East in Monongalia County Circuit Court last month, challenging the conference's bylaws in a bid to depart the Big East and join the Big 12 in time for the 2012 football season. The Big East countersued in Rhode Island four days later.

This week, lawyers for the Big East asked Judge Russell Clawges to dismiss the West Virginia case, saying WVU has no legal foundation to challenge the rules it helped draft and repeatedly agreed to. It wants WVU to remain in the Big East for 27 months, arguing that the conference would be irreparably harmed by an early departure.

The Big East contends that if Clawges doesn't dismiss the case, he should put it on hold while the other lawsuit plays out in Rhode Island, where the conference is headquartered and its commissioner resides.

But in response to that motion late Friday, WVU argued that the Big East's claims essentially mirror its own -- breach of contract and fiduciary responsibility.

"The Big East's message is clear: It is not that WVU failed to state a viable cause of action, it is that justice is just a little bit better served in the Superior Court of the state of Rhode Island," WVU said. "The Big East's motion should be denied for what it is -- a poorly veiled attempt to escape this court's proper jurisdiction."

WVU also argues that it has sovereign immunity as an agency of the state of West Virginia and cannot be sued in Rhode Island. A hearing on its motion to dismiss the Big East's case is set for Dec. 16 in that state.

WVU contends the conference violated its fiduciary responsibility to members by failing to balance the number of football-playing and non-football schools. But the Big East says the bylaws have no such responsibility, so WVU can't challenge them on that front.

WVU counters that fiduciary duties work both ways, and if WVU has a responsibility to the conference, the conference has a responsibility to the schools.

If the fiduciary obligations only apply to the member schools, it says, "then the bylaws are unenforceable."

WVU has already sent half of the required $5 million exit fee to the Big East, and it contends that by accepting the down payment, the conference agreed to the immediate withdrawal.

The Big East rejects that argument, too.