By Ralph Russo & Vicki Smith
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University announced Tuesday it has settled a lawsuit with the Big East for an unspecified amount, clearing the way for the conference power Mountaineers to join the Big 12 in July in time for the fall football season.
Athletic Director Oliver Luck said the terms of the deal were confidential and WVU wouldn’t release details. But Luck said no state, taxpayer, tuition or other academic dollars will be used in the settlement.
A person familiar with the agreement said the settlement totaled $20 million but did not know how much money would come from the university and how much the Big 12 may contribute. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because financial terms were not announced with the agreement.
Luck said the funding will come only from private sources and money that athletics raised independently. WVU has already paid half of the required $5 million exit fee.
Luck said the new relationship puts WVU among peers that are also large, public, flagship institutions for their states and have strong academic and research programs.
Athletically, it’s a “challenging and competitive” group, he said, populated by schools with “tremendous legacies, passionate fan bases.”
It’s also lucrative: Luck said WVU should get about $18 million to $19 million a year in television payouts, about double what it gets from the Big East.
Payments are being prorated for the first three years at 50 percent, 67 percent and 87 percent, he said, reaching 100 percent in the fourth year.
“It’s a very healthy television payout, and it’s important we maintain our self-sufficient status,” Luck said. “With this move, we’ll be in an excellent position to do so.”
A spokesman for the Big 12 didn’t immediately comment, but the conference released its football schedule about an hour after the announcement.
West Virginia makes its Big 12 debut Sept. 29 at home against Baylor.
“We’re very excited to have them join,” Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw told the Baylor Lariat. “They will make a very formidable member for the conference. They join with a top-10 football team, a top-20 basketball team, top sports all across the board.
The Mountaineers and their explosive offense went 10-3 last season and finished ranked in the Top 25.
West Virginia capped off the season with a record-setting 70-33 victory over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
West Virginia’s traditional rivalry game with Pittsburgh will be put on hold.
“It’s pretty obvious there will be no Backyard Brawl” in 2012, Luck said.
He didn’t rule out the possibility of a nonconference game against Pitt after 2012 but said it could be “difficult to schedule” with West Virginia playing nine conference games in the Big 12.
WVU sued the Big East in Monongalia County Circuit Court in Morgantown in November, challenging its bylaws in a bid to join the Big 12 in time for the 2012 season.
The Big East countersued in Rhode Island four days later, arguing that WVU had breached its contract with the conference and should remain in the Big East for another two years as required in the bylaws. In late December, the judge there denied WVU’s motion to dismiss.
Big East Commissioner John Marinatto had repeatedly said West Virginia would not be allowed to leave until the 2014 football season.
But in a statement Tuesday, Marinatto said the board of directors voted to terminate WVU’s membership in the conference as of June 30.
The board agreed to the deal because WVU was willing to drop its lawsuit and pay an exit fee “well in excess of that required by the bylaws,” he said.
WVU also has agreed to have the West Virginia court enter a judgment that declares the Big East’s bylaws “valid and enforceable,” which Marinatto told The Associated Press was the most important thing to his board.
“The bylaws are the foundation of how the conference governs itself,” he said. “To have the court in West Virginia acknowledge their validity of enforceability obviously reinforces the premise that the conference is viable moving forward, and in a position to do so.”
Continuing to fight West Virginia “would have only made the lawyers happy,” he said.
The urgency of the WVU and Big East lawsuits and the eventual settlement was driven by football, but the conference realignment affects other West Virginia sports. The Mountaineers must find a home for their men’s soccer team because the Big 12 doesn’t sponsor the sport.
Teams in rifle, wrestling and women’s gymnastics at West Virginia compete in other conferences besides the Big East.
Big 12 membership requires WVU to add a men’s sport, but Luck said he hasn’t determined which it will be or when it will happen.