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Thursday, June 12
Updated: June 15, 3:12 PM ET
 
ACC lawyer: Lawsuit will not distract from expansion

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal made another attempt on Thursday to thwart the ACC's expansion by filing a motion in Hartford (Conn.) Superior Court to expedite discovery in the lawsuit filed by the University of Connecticut and four other Big East schools.

"Our objective is to keep the Big East intact and protect Connecticut's interests,'' Blumenthal told ESPN.com.

Thursday, June 12
The motion filed by the University of Connecticut and the Attorney General requests that the Court grant expedited discovery, which simply means that the plaintiff wants to get all requested documents and discovery much faster than the normal course.

Generally, discovery can be a slow process, and can take months and suffer from significant delays. In this matter, the plaintiff would like to speed things up to find a "smoking gun" in the documents and communications so that the process of Syracuse, Miami and Boston College leaving the Big East can be derailed.

While it may seem like a desperate attempt to slow the ACC's forward progress in expansion, the Big East is hoping it can delay things long enough to make a last-ditch effort to keep the league together, or to frustrate and embarrass ACC institutions into backing off of the expansion plan. This tactic could wind up having the opposite effect, galvanizing viewpoints among ACC members.

This lawsuit is an unfortunate happening in college athletics, but reflective of the changing marketplace as institutions position themselves to compete for financial rewards.

Also on Thursday, Virginia attorney general Jerry Kilgore added his name to the Big East lawsuit seeking to stop the expansion plans.

Kilgore's addition to the lawsuit -- filed last Friday by Connecticut, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Rutgers and Virginia Tech to prevent the ACC from adding conference members Miami, Boston College and Syracuse -- is key because it puts him squarely on the side of Virginia Tech in a legal battle between two state universities.

Leaders at Duke and North Carolina are opposed to the expansion and Virginia president John T. Casteen III is a crucial swing vote. Seven of the nine ACC schools must approve expansion.

Pro-expansionists are definitely worried. Miami president Donna Shalala has been lobbying for support, according to the Miami Herald. The newspaper quote a source as saying Shalala and Hurricanes athletic director Paul Dee are "nervous" about the outcome.

The Big East plaintiffs claim their defection will ruin the Big East and force the league to lose its Bowl Championship Series spot. Connecticut spent $90 million to build a new football stadium.

Erik Albright of Smith Moore LLP, outside legal counsel to the ACC, issued a statement Friday that his firm has reviewed the claims in the lawsuit and "believe they are without merit."

"The lawsuit has not and will not distract from or disrupt the ACC's thoughtful consideration of its expansion options," Albright said. "No matter how many press conferences are called, press releases issued, transparent actions taken or motions filed, plaintiffs' litigation tactics will not affect the final decision by the Council of Presidents.

"Regardless of whether the ACC elects to expand or whether any institution elects to associate itself with the ACC, this lawsuit will have no bearing on that process or its timing."

Blumenthal's motion was filed against Miami, Boston College and the ACC, but not Syracuse. In the motions of discovery, however, information from Syracuse was requested.

"The cost of the stadium and the upgrading of the football team was done on false promises,'' Blumenthal said. "The other schools have similar damages and each upgraded their facilities. West Virginia, Rutgers and Pittsburgh spent a lot of money to improve them.

"We say in our lawsuit that these defendants deliberately schemed to destroy the Big East and take for themselves the value of what has been created if the Big East loses its stature in the BCS or disbands,'' Blumenthal said. "The Big East would be less competitive for TV revenue. I can't speculate on what will happen in the future. We want these schools and the ACC to pay for false statements that they knowingly made that we would rely on.''

The ACC held conference calls Tuesday and Wednesday without taking a vote to formally extend invitations to the three schools. The league needs seven of nine votes for expansion. Duke and North Carolina are reportedly against expansion; Virginia is on the fence.

Blumenthal's motion is pursuing depositions from key personnel in the suit, including Shalala on July 1, Dee on July 2, Miami chancellor Edward Foote II on July 3, ACC commissioner John Swofford on July 7, BC president Rev. William Leahy on July 8 and BC athletic director Gene DeFillipo on July 9.

Blumenthal said the defendants had two chances to "voluntarily cooperate with a discovery request but didn't respond."

The motion wants documents dating back from Jan. 1, 1997 from Miami, BC, Syracuse and the ACC. Those documents would involve:

  • ACC expansion plans

  • Plans by the defecting schools to leave the Big East, or their intentions to leave or stay in the Big East.

  • Any attempts to induce members to leave the Big East

  • Future composition of the BCS and impact of realignment on the BCS and television contracts and/or rights

  • Studies of financial impact on the ACC, Big East or any other member school

  • Any direct communication between the ACC and the Big East or any television or broadcast network regarding any potential impact of any conference realignment on the ACC or the Big East.

    Blumenthal said he hoped the court would hear the motion next week, but no date has been set. "We can't emphasize the importance of time in this matter,'' Blumenthal said. "Essentially, we want to know what they did as part of their secret conspiracy. They failed to disclose to us the actions and statements that were done privately.''

    If the lawsuit drags on beyond June 30, then it could affect the departure schedule of the three Big East schools. To play in the ACC by the 2004-05 season and pay a one-year's notice penalty of $1 million, the schools would need to notify the Big East by June 30 of their intentions to leave. Otherwise, they could suffer an additional financial penalty.

    Television and BCS contracts expire after the 2005 season. If the three schools leave before 2005-06, they would likely forfeit their revenue in the Big East and not participate in the financial rewards in the ACC until a new contract is signed.

    The longer the process drags on for the ACC and the Big East, the harder it could be for the Big East to grab teams from Conference USA or the Atlantic 10 to replace them for the 2004-05 season.

    Blumenthal said the lawsuit would still stand even if the ACC votes against expansion.

    "Those issues could affect the amount of damages but they don't eliminate the fact that BC and Miami lied knowingly that UConn and other schools would rely on those false statements (about staying in the Big East),'' Blumenthal said. "They remain legally responsible as well as morally for the explicit and repeated and false reassurances that they would remain in the Big East.''

    The Big East could easily poach other schools and still survive, but Blumenthal said "we will still hold accountable BC and Miami and the ACC for the costs (of rebuilding the conference).''

    He reiterated that the lawsuit is about Division I-A football and the promises these schools made to remain in the Big East. He said he views the delay in the ACC vote as second-guessing on their part because it appeared to be a done deal earlier in the week.

    "We need to continue to fight,'' Blumenthal said. "There is no assurances as to what they will do at this point.''

    He said that the schools could remain together and coexist and that rivalries in this suit could be put aside in the Big East.

    Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.




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