Second lawsuit filed in Big East-ACC turf war

Updated: October 14, 2003, 7:15 PM ET

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Four Big East football schools filed a second lawsuit Tuesday over the Atlantic Coast Conference expansion, adding Boston College, its athletic director and four ACC officers to the list of defendants.

Connecticut, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Rutgers allege in the lawsuit that the ACC and Boston College conspired to weaken the Big East and ultimately reap a larger share of television broadcast revenue. Boston College announced Sunday that it would follow football powers Miami and Virginia Tech, which accepted the ACC's invitation in June to join the conference.

Boston College officials called the allegations "unfounded and irresponsible" and struck back with legal action of their own Tuesday, filing a complaint in Massachusetts Superior Court over the Big East's withdrawal provision.

Big East bylaws require 27 months notice to leave the conference, or colleges face a reported $5 million exit fee. BC officials say the conference tried to change the policy through an invalid procedure and said the latest complaint against it smacked of politics.

"Some observers suggest this complaint stems from political agendas and ambitions in the state of Connecticut," BC spokesman Jack Dunn said in a prepared statement. "In any event, Boston College will vigorously defend itself and its employees against these claims."

ACC officials have already had one such lawsuit thrown out in their favor and say the latest complaint also has no merit.

"It is a sad day for higher education and intercollegiate athletics when universities initiate this kind of unwarranted action -- suing faculty members and conference officials over an institution's freedom to associate itself with whatever conference it chooses," ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in a written statement.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed an 82-page complaint on behalf of the four schools Tuesday in Vernon Superior Court. The schools claim they spent millions of dollars to upgrade their football programs based on the promises from BC and Miami that they would be longtime members of the conference.

"It is now clear that such promises were not then true and that Miami was simply readying itself for the day that it would walk away and sell to the ACC the value that Miami was encouraging others to develop as `partners," the lawsuit states.

The suit names Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo, Swofford, ACC President Carolyn Callahan, ACC Vice President Donn Ward and ACC Treasurer Cecil Huey.

The four Big East schools are already suing Miami. A judge last week threw out a case against the ACC on jurisdictional grounds because the plaintiffs could not prove the conference did enough business in Connecticut to warrant a state suit.

Tuesday's lawsuit makes several tort claims, including unfair trade practices, civil conspiracy and breach of contract, Blumenthal said. As in the suit against Miami, the Big East schools seek unspecified damages.

The lawsuit cites instances of alleged "back-room" talks among the ACC and the defendant schools, including confidential e-mails.

The suit singles out DeFilippo for allegedly using his role as a conference director with the Big East to manipulate discussions between BC, Miami and the ACC.

Miami and Virginia Tech will join the ACC next year. Boston College may not change conferences until 2006, expanding the ACC to 12 football schools -- enough for a lucrative televised conference championship game. The departures pare the Big East Division I-A football schools down to five -- the plaintiff schools and Syracuse.

The expansion has prompted the Big East to look elsewhere to rebuild its ranks, with Conference USA schools Cincinnati and Louisville the prime targets. The conference will need to add another school to maintain its NCAA certification, with South Florida and Central Florida as possibilities.

No court date was immediately set for a hearing on the new complaint.

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