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So long, Big East

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia University and the Big East have settled their differences. All it took, as expected, was a large amount of cash.

The two sides finally announced Tuesday morning that they have agreed to part ways, ending four months of legal wrangling for what is believed to be a $20 million settlement.

Neither side would talk about specifics of the agreement - even though West Virginia law says any settlement agreement involving a public agency must be released to the public.

WVU is expected to initially be responsible for between $10 million and $11 million of the amount, with the Big 12 Conference footing the rest of the bill in the form of roughly half as a gift and the other half as a loan.

The agreement allows West Virginia to join the Big 12 on July 1 and begin playing full conference schedules -- including football -- this fall. With the WVU-Big East agreement finalized, the Big 12 announced the 2012 football schedule within an hour Tuesday morning.

Oddly, perhaps, but with future legal ramifications otherwise, the Big East's part of Tuesday morning's announcement said that West Virginia's membership in the Big East had been "terminated.''

West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck, however, was not about to argue about semantics.

"We're just delighted to be a member of the Big 12,'' Luck said when asked if he foresaw the amount of angst that developed between his school and the Big East when the decision was made to leave in October. "We're delighted they expressed an interest in us. Today's a very positive day for all Mountaineers.''

The settlement between WVU and the Big East allows the school to avoid the Big East's 27-month waiting period to exit the conference. The school announced in October that it was leaving the Big East for the Big 12 and intended to do so on July 1, 2012.

But Big East rules -- which WVU officials were instrumental in crafting during recent years -- required the school to pay a $5 million exit fee and wait 27 months to leave, which would not allow West Virginia to join the Big 12 until the 2014-15 school year.

The result was dueling lawsuits -- the first filed by WVU in Monongalia Circuit Court and the second filed by the Big East in Rhode Island, where its offices are located. As recently as last Thursday there was a status conference involving the Rhode Island suit while the sides continued to negotiate a settlement. The tentative agreement reached the next day is the one that was finalized Tuesday.

According to WVU sources, the school actually will not have to write much of a check at all to the Big East, although that is just bookkeeping and the money will still come out of the school's athletic budget.

Of the $10 million to $11 million the school will pay the league, $2.5 million was paid in October as half of the required $5 million exit fee. Much of the remainder will be in the form of revenue sharing money owed WVU for the current school year by the league that now will not be paid.

As for the Big 12's portion of the payment, about half of that is expected to be returned to the league by WVU in the form of reduced revenue sharing.

West Virginia is already on a gradual revenue sharing track with the Big 12 as part of its membership agreement. The school will receive a 50 percent share in the first year, rising to 67 percent in the second year, 85 percent in the third year and 100 percent in the fourth year. Any amount that must be repaid to the Big 12 likely won't be deducted until that fourth year.

Still, even the 50 percent share in the first year is expected to be in the same ballpark as the approximate $7 million WVU now receives from the Big East. The Big 12 annually gives about $18-19 million in revenue shares to its members.

"That's well over $10 million [above] what the Big East is paying out,'' Luck said. "Where those [numbers] will move in the next three or four years I'm not sure, but I think the point here for us is that it's a very healthy television payout. It's important that we maintain our self-sufficient status and I think with this move to the Big 12 we'll be in an excellent position to do so.''

Luck said that while the first few years of membership might be a tight financial fit for the school's athletic department, given the reduced Big 12 payouts and the money owed to the Big East, it will not be a significant strain. In fact, the school might still wind up making money at the front end of the Big 12 membership.

"I can't tell you when [membership will become more profitable] because we've not looked at those numbers very closely,'' Luck said. "But we will be in very strong financial shape through the first couple of years, as well as when we get into years three and four and [then] see the full payout.''

Luck also made it a point several times to say that no state or taxpayer funds, tuition or academic support monies will be used to pay the settlement. The money needed to cover any shortfalls due to the Big East withholding its revenue sharing for this year will, he said, come from private donations through the Mountaineer Athletic Club and through normal athletic department revenues.

As for the Big East, its statement on the matter was that the league's board of directors "has voted to terminate West Virginia University's membership in the conference, effective June 30, 2012. This vote is conditioned on WVU fulfilling its obligations under a settlement agreement with the conference that resolves the litigation between the parties.''

Additionally, as part of the settlement, the suit WVU filed in Monongalia County will be dismissed and a judgment is to be entered that the Big East's bylaws are valid and enforceable. Without that judgment the league would presumably open itself to other schools simply buying their way out of the conference as did West Virginia.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.


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