Big East Conference Expels West Virginia in Mountaineers’ Move to Big 12

The Big East Conference expelled West Virginia University, clearing the way for the Mountaineers to move to the Big 12 beginning with the 2012 college football season.

The move is part of a settlement of a lawsuit that West Virginia filed against the conference to get out of a required 27-month waiting period to exit. The Big East said it will receive a payment “well in excess” of the $5 million required by the conference’s bylaws, according to an e-mail press release. No specific figure was given, although the Charleston, West Virginia, Daily Mail reported that the payment was $20 million.

West Virginia announced in October that it would switch conferences, part of a widespread shuffle at the top of college sports as leagues and schools lined up bigger television deals.

The Big East, which had just lost Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the Atlantic Coast Conference, responded by saying it would hold the Mountaineers to their contract’s exit clause. The Big East today allowed the school to leave earlier.

West Virginia University has acknowledged and agreed that the court in Monongalia County, West Virginia, will enter a judgment that the Big East Conference bylaws are valid and enforceable, and will dismiss with prejudice all of West Virginia’s claims against the conference,” Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said in the release.

The Mountaineers will begin full membership in the Irving, Texas-based Big 12 starting in July, Athletic Director Oliver Luck said on the school’s website. He said no taxpayer funds, tuition or academic-support money will be used to pay the settlement.

“Our membership in the Big 12 offers WVU significant advantages,” Luck said. “We look forward to the potential academic and athletic partnerships and financial opportunities that membership in the Big 12 offers.”

Memphis Welcomed

The expulsion comes one week after the Providence, Rhode Island-based Big East welcomed the University of Memphis for all sports starting with the 2013 academic year. The addition of the Tigers, which moves the league’s football total to 12 schools eventually, allows the Big East to reach more than 31 million homes, almost 28 percent of all U.S. television households, according to its website.

The Big 12 has produced 42 NCAA team national titles and 492 individual champions since its formation in 1996, according to its website. Last year it lost Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten.

In football, Big 12 schools have appeared in seven Bowl Championship Series national title games. The Southeastern Conference is first with nine teams in title games. Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III in December won the Heisman Trophy, awarded annually to college football’s best player.

Fox Sports Contract

In 2011 the conference signed a 13-year contract with News Corp.’s (NWSA) Fox Sports worth about $90 million a year, according to the Associated Press. It also has a deal with Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s ESPN and ABC that pays roughly $65 million a year through the 2015 season.

West Virginia’s decision last year came in the midst of major conference realignment in college athletics. Syracuse and Pittsburgh left the Big East for the ACC, and Texas A&M bolted the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, followed closely by Missouri. The Big East also lost out on Texas Christian, which originally announced its intentions to join the league before moving to the Big 12 instead.

West Virginia president Jim Clements called the school’s move “an investment in WVU’s future.”

“We are in great company in the Big 12, joining a group of world-class research universities -- many of them large public land-grant flagship institutions like WVU,” Clements said on the Mountaineers website. “These schools have quality academics, research, athletic programs, winning traditions and loyal, passionate fans.”

Florida State Canceled

The Mountaineers canceled their Sept. 8 football game against Florida State, the road leg of a home-and-home series, a move that appeared to be aimed at clearing its schedule for a larger slate of conference games in the Big 12, according to the Charleston Gazette. West Virginia will pay the Seminoles a $500,000 buyout should the Tallahassee school be unable to replace the Mountaineers with a comparable opponent, the newspaper said.

The West Virginia football team was 10-3 last season and finished No. 17 in the final AP poll, its seventh year-end top- 25 ranking since 2001. The Mountaineers were 166-88-2 in their 21 years in the Big East, 92-50-1 in league play, with at least a share of seven conference titles.

Before its addition of Memphis, the Big East added Navy, Boise State and San Diego State for football, as well as Southern Methodist, Central Florida and Houston for all sports. The Midshipmen will join the league in 2015, bringing the conference’s football membership to 12.

The Big East’s current TV deals run through the 2013 football season, according to ESPN.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eben Novy-Williams in New York at enovywilliam@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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