Marshall sues Conference USA to push up departure for Sun Belt

Marshall has filed a lawsuit against Conference USA to expedite its exit from the league so it can join the Sun Belt this summer, according to a copy of the case filed Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss announced their plans to terminate their memberships in Conference USA on June 30 to become members of the Sun Belt. In mid-February, Conference USA released its 2022 football schedule, which included all three schools, and pledged to "exhaust all necessary legal actions" to ensure the outgoing members would participate this fall.

"For more than two months, Marshall University has attempted to reach a resolution with Conference USA regarding our decision not to participate in the league after this academic year; however, no progress has been made," a Marshall athletics spokesman said in a statement to ESPN. "The action we brought yesterday is the beginning of litigation intended to protect our rights, help us reach an agreement in a timely manner and clear the way for our shift in conference affiliation. We look forward to a successful resolution of this matter and a bright future with the Sun Belt Conference."

A spokesman for Conference USA said the league has no comment at this time.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Cabell County Circuit Court in Huntington, West Virginia, is seeking jurisdiction in West Virginia and aims to avoid arbitration. In mid-February, Conference USA filed a demand for arbitration against Marshall, seeking to compel the university to arbitrate its dispute with the league in Dallas.

Conference USA bylaws state that members must give the league 14 months' notice before departing. According to the lawsuit, Marshall informed C-USA of its intent to withdraw from the league three times: first on Nov. 1 and again on Jan. 12, when it told the league it would end its membership effective July 1. On Jan. 20, according to the lawsuit, Marshall again notified the conference that it would end its membership July 1 "and requested not to be placed on any C-USA athletic schedule going forward." Five days later, it sent the same note.

On Feb. 11, Conference USA released its 2022 football schedule, which included Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss.

Marshall argues in the lawsuit that when it signed its new member agreement to join Conference USA on Oct. 24, 2003, a copy of the bylaws that existed at that time was not attached to the agreement. The school also states that the bylaws "did not include language requiring arbitration as to disputes regarding the termination of a school's membership of the conference" and that the current bylaws don't have an effective date or a signature page.

According to the lawsuit, Marshall is an arm of the state of West Virginia, which gives it "immunity from C-USA's Demand for Arbitration."

The document asks for injunctive relief, stating that "there is a strong likelihood that Marshall will suffer actual, imminent, immediate, and irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, and the balance of hardships weighs in the Plaintiff's favor."

Marshall has competed in Conference USA since July 1, 2005.