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BIG EAST Schools Act to Protect Conference
  • Posted on June 06, 2003 12:00:00 AM
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  • PISCATAWAY, NJ - Today five football playing schools of the BIG EAST Conference filed suit in Connecticut State Court to protect the BIG EAST from the irreparable harm caused by the self-serving, secret dealings of the University of Miami, Boston College and the Atlantic Coast Conference. The BIG EAST universities filed their suit as a last resort to protect the academic and athletic programs placed in profound jeopardy because Miami, B.C. and the ACC have put their own economic self-interest before the broader public interests served by the BIG EAST universities. The suit asserts that Miami and Boston College, secretly and in collusion with the ACC and its member schools, violated their legal obligations and fiduciary duties to their partners, the universities of the BIG EAST. Moreover, the suit alleges that Miami and B.C. – while repeatedly reassuring the public that they were firmly committed to the BIG EAST – were at the very same time actively and secretly planning their defection to the ACC. The suit seeks hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and to prevent Miami and Boston College from defecting to the ACC.

    The Presidents of the five BIG EAST universities – the University of Connecticut, the University of Pittsburgh, Rutgers University, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia University – issued the following statement: “Our universities have brought this lawsuit with great regret and only as a last resort. Unfortunately the actions of Miami and B.C. – in concert with the ACC – simply left us no choice but to act.”

    “ The question raised by the lawsuit is whether two universities – working in secret collaboration with the ACC – will succeed in making closed-door deals and breaking long-standing promises solely because they are seeking even more money from college athletics,” said Jeffrey Mishkin of the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom LLP, lead counsel for the plaintiff universities. “The conduct of Miami, B.C. and the ACC – built on a foundation of furtive dealings, shattered commitments, and violated fiduciary duties – will cause untold damage to the academic and athletic programs of the remaining members of the BIG EAST. That is why the BIG EAST universities had no alternative but to bring this lawsuit.”

    The key points of the lawsuit include:

    - The lawsuit accuses the ACC, Miami and B.C. of breach of fiduciary duty, civil conspiracy, unjust enrichment, unfair competition, and breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

    - The lawsuit complaint details "a conspiracy in which two members of the BIG EAST Conference," Miami and B.C., "have abandoned their contractual and fiduciary obligations to their partner schools in the BIG EAST . . . . based on their desire to make more money irrespective of the cost to their partners."

    - The lawsuit alleges that Miami "made repeated public and private statements and commitments to the other members of the BIG EAST that it intended to remain a member of the BIG EAST and that it had no intention of leaving to join any other conference" even though Miami and B.C. had "been engaged in secret negotiations to leave the BIG EAST to join the ACC."

    - The lawsuit alleges that the actions of the defendants will cause the plaintiffs "to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues, as well as the value of tens of millions of additional dollars spent to improve the facilities and teams in the conference."

    - The lawsuit also addresses the ACC’s conduct: "By raiding the BIG EAST, the ACC plans not only to add Miami, B.C. and Syracuse to its roster, but also to try to destroy the BIG EAST as a viable competitor in major college football" by placing it "at risk of losing its guaranteed berth in one of the four BCS Bowls, which will result in the loss of tens of millions of dollars, plus hundreds of millions more in lost television and radio broadcast contract rights and other harm."

    - The lawsuit details of how the "success and growth of the BIG EAST have stemmed from a shared vision and collaborative effort among its members, including . . . a profound willingness to stick with their partners . . . in even the darkest of times," including the events of "the mid-1990’s, when B.C. and Miami faced separate crises that threatened their continued viability as participants in college athletics."

    - In 1997 "a criminal investigation was commenced into alleged gambling by B.C. athletes, including football players. This scandal had the potential to effectively end B.C.’s ability to continue to participate in college athletics because B.C. had already faced a gambling scandal in its basketball program in the 1980’s."

    - In the mid-1990’s "Miami was placed on probation by the NCAA for various NCAA violations. As part of this probation, the NCAA reduced the number of football scholarships Miami could award and imposed various other sanctions."

    -"Nevertheless, during this time the BIG EAST and every member thereof stood behind these schools. Miami and B.C. continued to receive in full their respective financial and other entitlements" as BIG EAST members. "With this support, Miami and B.C. were able to weather these crises. . . ."

    - The lawsuit complaint details statements made by Defendants’ representatives that they had no intention of defecting from the BIG EAST, including:

    - On March 6, 2002 during a BIG EAST Conference CEO meeting, Miami’s President, Donna Shalala reiterated Miami's commitment "in the strongest terms possible, emphatically stat[ing] that the University of Miami is in the BIG EAST Conference and has no interest in leaving it for any other conference."

    - On November 2, 1999 former Miami President Edward Foote said "We have no plans to change conferences. . . . We are proud to be partners with the fine institutions that comprise the BIG EAST Conference."

    - According to the lawsuit complaint, the Plaintiffs and other members of the BIG EAST relied on these representations that the Defendants were committed to the BIG EAST and as a result invested "tens of millions of dollars" in their respective football programs, including:

    - Virginia Tech invested approximately $37 million in the second phase expansion of its football stadium.

    -"Pittsburgh negotiated for a long term lease to play its games at newly constructed Heinz Field, a $250 million facility . . ., constructed an approximately $100 million events center in which it plays BIG EAST Basketball . . . and negotiated for a long term lease for the use of a multi-million dollar practice and training facility."

    - Connecticut "has just finished construction of a $90 million dollar football stadium as part of its demonstrated commitment to college football."

    - Virginia Tech’s entry into the BIG EAST was "accelerated by a full year" in reliance on Miami’s assurance.

    - The lawsuit seeks damages to compensate the BIG EAST universities for their losses as well as punitive damages to punish Defendants for their behavior. The lawsuit also seeks an injunction to prevent Defendants from reaping the benefits of their unlawful conduct.

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