WVU settles suit, to join Big 12 in July

Updated: February 15, 2012, 5:54 PM ET
By Andrea Adelson | ESPN.com

West Virginia will join the Big 12 for the 2012 season after a lawsuit settlement was reached with the Big East, the school and league announced Tuesday.

The Big East Conference board of directors voted to terminate West Virginia's membership, effective June 30. The vote is conditioned upon WVU fulfilling its obligations under an agreement that resolves the lawsuits between both parties.

West Virginia accepted an invitation in October 2011 to join the Big 12, and sued the Big East in its home state to get out of the league without waiting the required 27 months. The Big East filed its own suit in Rhode Island, seeking to hold West Virginia to the waiting period.

The Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail, citing an anonymous source, has reported that the Big East will receive $20 million in the settlement, with WVU contributing $11 million, and the Big 12 covering the remaining amount.

WVU already has paid half of the normally required $5 million exit fee to 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."

Continuing to fight West Virginia "would have only made the lawyers happy," he said.

Later Tuesday morning, the Big 12 released its football schedule for the upcoming season, which includes West Virginia. The Mountaineers will play their first Big 12 game Sept. 29 at home against Baylor.

The Big East decided to terminate West Virginia's membership because of accusations made in the school's lawsuit, along with the school's willingness to resolve the legal wrangling, including its settlement payment.

"This closes a chapter and opens a new one filled with exciting possibilities for WVU's future," West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said in a news release. "I've heard from Mountaineer fans across the country who have made it very clear that they are proud and honored to be heading into the Big 12."

Luck also stressed that no state or taxpayer funds, tuition or academic support money will be used to pay the settlement. Any settlement funding will come from private sources and independently generated athletic revenues.

The price to depart the Big East may seem high, but it also will prove lucrative. Luck said WVU should get about $18 million to $19 million a year in television payouts, about double what it gets from the Big East. Payments are being prorated for the first three years at 50 percent, 67 percent and 87 percent, he said, reaching 100 percent in the fourth year.

"It's a very healthy television payout, and it's important we maintain our self-sufficient status," Luck said. "With this move, we'll be in an excellent position to do so."

West Virginia's departure leaves the Big East with seven football schools for 2012.

Syracuse and Pitt announced previously that they were leaving the Big East for the ACC, but have said they were willing to abide by the 27-month waiting period, which means they won't join the ACC until the 2014-15 season.

Whether they decide to jump a year early now, given West Virginia's departure, likely will come up for discussion.

Marinatto said Tuesday he "would not be open to a conversation" with either school about departing this year. "But given the strength and speed of our expansion efforts, I think our board might be open to a discussion about 2013."

With all of the losses, the Big East has added seven members (Boise State, Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, San Diego State, SMU, Navy) to get up to 12 teams by the 2015 season. But the league is down one team for 2012, and it has tried to get one of its new members to join the league a year early to alleviate scheduling concerns. But so far, there has been no progress in that regard.

The conference realignment affects other West Virginia sports. The Mountaineers must find a home for their men's soccer team because the Big 12 doesn't sponsor the sport.

Teams in rifle, wrestling and women's gymnastics at West Virginia compete in other conferences besides the Big East.

Big 12 membership requires WVU to add a men's sport, but Luck said he hasn't determined which it will be or when it will happen.

Andrea Adelson covers the Big East for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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