Big East to seek dismissal of WVU suit

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The Big East will seek dismissal of a West Virginia University lawsuit aimed at invalidating conference bylaws and speeding up the Mountaineers' departure for the Big 12.

At a scheduling conference in Morgantown, Big East attorneys said they plan to file a motion Monday in Monongalia County Circuit Court, asking Circuit Judge Russell Clawges to either dismiss the case or put it on hold while a parallel lawsuit plays out in Rhode Island, where the Big East is based.

Attorney Benjamin Block said the Big East believes WVU has failed to lay a foundation for its claim that the bylaws are invalid. But if the judge believes there are grounds to move forward, he said, the case should be heard in Rhode Island.

WVU is trying to have the Big East's breach-of-contract lawsuit tossed from the Rhode Island court, arguing it has sovereign immunity as an agency of the state of West Virginia. A hearing on that motion to dismiss is set for Dec. 16, the lawyers said Thursday. In it, WVU also notes that it filed the lawsuit in Morgantown four days before the conference countersued.

The Mountaineers are making plans to join the Big 12 in 2012. WVU argues it should be allowed to leave now because the Big East breached its fiduciary duty by failing to maintain a balance between football-playing and non-football members.

But the Big East is seeking unspecified damages and an order that West Virginia stay in the conference for 27 months. Commissioner John Marinatto says West Virginia helped construct the bylaws and agreed to abide by them.

WVU has already sent half of the required $5 million exit fee to the Big East. The university contends that by accepting the down payment, the Big East agreed to the immediate withdrawal.

WVU attorneys pressed Clawges to fast-track the West Virginia lawsuit, saying the university needs a resolution by June 30.

"We need to know whether we're going to stay or go," said WVU lawyer Stephen LaCagnin.

However, Clawges was doubtful such a timeline can be met.

"My immediate reaction is ... it ain't gonna happen," the judge said.

Clawges agreed to an aggressive schedule for the West Virginia case, but told the attorneys it will be up to them to make it happen. He also noted it could end with a settlement before ever getting to a jury.

"This is probably going to be worked out -- as opposed to a jury room -- in a conference room," he said.

WVU said it will reply to the Big East's motion to dismiss by Dec. 9, and Clawges has scheduled a hearing on the motions for 1 p.m. Dec. 19 in Morgantown. He may rule from the bench that day.

The trial is tentatively set for June 25, 2012.