Big East plays 'Terminator,' Mountaineers gladly depart
MORGANTOWN - Cleaning out a crowded notebook and a cluttered mind while trying to digest all that happened in rapid-fire succession Tuesday morning with the West Virginia-Big East settlement, the release of the long-awaited Big 12 football schedule and everything it entails:
Back in 1991 when West Virginia was allowed to enter a poor man's version of the Big East known then as the Big East Football Conference ...
Or in 1995 when the school was finally granted full access to the league and the basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden and all that went with it ...
When the school was making NCAA tournament runs as early as 1998 and as late as 2010 while proudly flying the flag of the Big East ...
At almost any of those points, would anyone on the planet have dared to guess that roughly two decades after WVU's Big East membership was granted it would be "terminated,'' as the conference so awkwardly put it Tuesday ...
And that it would be treated, as Tony Caridi likes to say, as "a great day to be a Mountaineer, wherever you may be?''
Funny how things work out, isn't it?
To wit: The league said right up front that its 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.''
It's kind of like your boss saying, "You can't quit! You're fired!''
Keep in mind, though, that the way the Big East announced the split was not surprising at all to WVU. In fact, it was an integral part of the agreement.
The Big East can't just accept money from West Virginia and call it even. To do so would be to admit defeat. And while there is absolutely no question that the Big East was defeated in this process (it lost its pre-eminent football program over the last seven years and is left with a makeshift football league and schedule for 2012), legally it had to come away with something.
That something was the very rule that WVU skirted. The suit that West Virginia filed in Monongalia County won't simply be dismissed, it will be dismissed with prejudice. The league's 27-month waiting period and the rest of its bylaws will be deemed legal and enforceable. That was imperative to the Big East so that down the road another school would not have carte blanche to just pay its way out of the conference.
Sure, West Virginia wound up doing it, and another school could probably do the same. But to admit defeat on the legal issue would be to simply lay down the sword and give up.
For West Virginia, allowing the Big East to somehow trumpet a small victory like that was a small price to pay. Much smaller, in fact, than $20 million.
Pitt and Syracuse, though, have not yet attempted to skirt the Big East's 27-month rule and will remain in the Big East for at least the 2012-13 school year. It seems a certainty, though, that both schools will attempt to make the jump in 2013-14, a year early.
Those schools are likely to have far less trouble doing so because the Big East is adding six new schools in 2013-14 and will have no reason to keep Pitt and Syracuse. The Big East needed to try to keep West Virginia because without the Mountaineers only seven football-playing members remain in the conference and the other league teams are now a game short for this fall.
The difference is that WVU never, ever tried to make Rodriguez live up to his contract, which is what the whole WVU-Big East mess was about. West Virginia simply said to Rodriguez, fine, you leave, you pay what's in the contract. And after a few ugly months of bickering, Rodriguez did exactly that. No one ever suggested he stick around and coach.
Granted, WVU's contract with the Big East stipulated a 27-month waiting period to get out - in addition to a $5 million exit fee - but circumstances often change. Rodriguez tried to argue that WVU was not living up to its end of their contract in many ways, and as a result he shouldn't have to pay his $4 million buyout. In the end he realized that was a fruitless argument and paid the full amount.
West Virginia made a similar argument that the Big East wasn't living up to what WVU expected from its conference by allowing wholesale defections. Despite that, the school was perfectly willing to pay the exit fee, plus additional damages, to forego the 27-month waiting period. Just as Rodriguez eventually saw the futility in pressing the issue and settled, so did the Big East.
I still don't like the way West Virginia went about its exit in a scorched-earth manner, attacking the Big East in a venomous suit rather than taking a more diplomatic approach. I understand the urgency, but it merely made the Big East more resolved to fight to the end as well as further sullying WVU's reputation as overly litigious.
In the end, though, the Big East got what it always pretty much knew would be its best resolution (a big check) and WVU got what it needed (off of a sinking football ship).
Only in that way are the Rodriguez and Big East messes the same: WVU got its check and Rich got out. But like WVU, he had to pay to do it.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.