Big East lawsuit seeks more than money

The Big East sure didn’t waste any time telling West Virginia what it thought of its Nov. 1 lawsuit that asks a court to rule that the conference breached its contract with the school and that WVU should be allowed to move to the Big 12 immediately.

The Big East lawsuit filed Friday in a Providence, R.I., court focuses on the 27-month notification required for conference members withdrawing from the Big East and asks for what the law calls “specific performance,” which would require West Virginia to complete its obligations under the conference bylaws. That would mean a court would order the university to compete in the Big East for the next 27 months.

As we know, millions of dollars are at stake when it comes to the timing of WVU’s Big East departure.

“Specific performance” is generally only awarded when monetary damages are insufficient. It’s used in cases where there are unique goods or other unusual benefits, most often in disputes involving real estate. The Big East’s argument will likely include scheduling issues and perhaps the BCS automatic qualification period that could be negatively affected by an early West Virginia departure.

West Virginia will argue that a $5 million payout required for leaving the conference and any conference distributions the school foregoes would be adequate remedies for the Big East. If the Big East were to lose revenue from television contracts as a result of ESPN or CBS lowering rights fees with the subtraction of WVU from the conference, money damages could be awarded to compensate for this as well.

Even the Big East’s filing in the conference’s hometown of Providence will likely be a sticking point -- West Virginia likely will argue the conference’s response should have been filed with the court where the school sued.

But it appears the Big East case really will boil down to whether a judge believes each individual school is a unique component of a conference, and so compensating the conference with only money damages for a breach of contract would be insufficient. If so, it would be a ground-breaking ruling that could impact the entire landscape of college athletics.