Monday, September 26th, 2011...12:40 pm

Conference Realignment

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By Sam Mann

Obviously there has been a lot of movement amongst conferences in major college football, including my university of choice moving from the Big East to the ACC (In case you haven’t noticed, and judging from attendance figures, you haven’t, Syracuse is 3-1 in football. Just saying.) As always, these moves are motivated by money, mostly from television contracts. But there are legal issues hanging over all these moves as well.

For instance, Texas A&M announced its intention to move from the Big 12 to the SEC months ago (construcitvely at least), but the official announcement was not made until yesterday. The holdup was that the SEC would not take A&M with any pending legal issues, and sources had indicated that as many as four Big 12 schools were threatening litigation. This not new either; when Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College left the ACC in 2003, four Big East schools filed a lawsuit (actually two suits) trying to enjoin the schools from leaving the conference. Ultimately neither was successful, but the situation did end with an extremely awkward “lame-duck” year when BC had one foot out the door but still had to play out the season in the Big East.

Speaking of the Big East, an interesting by-product of all this movement has been the media’s focus on the “hypocrisy” of it all. Pittsburgh, now bound for ACC country, was a party in the aforementioned Big East lawsuits, yet that did not stop the school from making its move and “abandoning” the conference. I put all these “words” in quotes because the premise for these arguments is fairly ridiculous. Hypocrisy is not illegal, nor are institutions forced to be loyal to its counterparts. In the end, college sports are a business, a very unique business that purports to be not-for-profit, but a business nonetheless. Schools like A&M, Pitt and Syracuse must make moves when they feel it is necessary. As long as they abide by their contractual obligations, there is nothing inherently “wrong” or illegal about switching conferences. In fact, it happens all the time.

The most interesting thing left to see, now that it appears the Big 12 will stay together, is whether the Big East conference waives its notification period, reported to be 27 months. Yet the scope of these conference agreements seems unclear from the reports. What are the terms of these contracts? Do they automatically renew? Is there proper consideration? What are the legal rights upon breach? Are there any? Can this even be considered a valid contract, or is it some sort of loose confederation of independent schools just agreeing to agree?

Assuming that the agreements are enforceable, and the provisions are as reported, that would leave Pitt and Syracuse in the Big East through the 2013-2014 school year, but waiver seems likely because it is unclear how two more years in the conference would benefit any of the parties. But, if that is in fact the applicable provision, then the two schools might be forced to remain in the conference. Meanwhile, the Big East will probably be forced to expand by raiding other conference for new members, continuing the cycle of “hypocrisy” and “disloyalty.” Instead of using those words, maybe we should call it what it is:

“Higher Education”

Sam Mann can be reached at

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