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WVU faces Big East in first hearing

CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- West Virginia University and Big East Conference attorneys will have their first of two hearings to dismiss their breach-of-contract lawsuits against one another this morning in a Rhode Island court.

WVU attorneys will ask Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein to dismiss the Big East's lawsuit during a 9:30 a.m. hearing in Providence.

At 1 p.m. Monday, Big East attorneys will do the same regarding WVU's lawsuit before Judge Russell Clawges in Monongalia County Circuit Court in Morgantown.

The legal tit-for-tat comes as university and conference officials remain at loggerheads over when WVU can make its exit from the Big East to join the Big 12 Conference.

On Oct. 28, WVU accepted an offer to join the Big 12 Conference effective July 1, 2012. That move conflicted with Big East bylaws requiring schools to give 27 months' notice before leaving the conference.

Following the announcement, it became apparent that WVU and the Big East were heading for a legal showdown to determine when the school can leave, and at what cost.

WVU hit first with its breach-of-contract lawsuit filed against the Big East on Oct. 31 in Monongalia County Circuit Court.

The basis of the school's claim is that administrative incompetence and conference instability over the years has caused the Big East to degrade to the point where it was no longer a viable football conference — leaving schools with no choice but to leave.

The lawsuit asks that, because of that fact, the Big East bylaws be voided, which would allow WVU to exit the conference in 2012.

The Big East responded four days later by filing its own breach-of-contract lawsuit in Providence, where the conference is headquartered. That lawsuit essentially argues that a contract is a contract and asks a judge to hold WVU to the 27-month notification period.

Each side then responded to the other's lawsuits by filling motions to dismiss the other's case. The Big East's motion said WVU's lawsuit has no legal foundation for voiding the conference rules.

WVU's motion said West Virginia laws require civil actions involving the university to be filed in West Virginia court. It also said that the Rhode Island court has no compelling interest in the case and having dueling lawsuits in separate states would be an essential waste of judicial and taxpayer resources.

Attorneys for both sides will debate the specifics of their arguments in the hearings on Friday and Monday. The judges could either make a ruling from the bench at each hearing, or take time to consider the arguments and issue a decision at a later date.  

Should either motion to dismiss be denied, it would push the case into the discovery phase where officials would be required to turn over information and give depositions. That discovery information would then be added to the case's public record.

Given the sensitive nature of the information this phase could entail — involving both financial disclosures and private contract information — it could force a settlement in the case.

 A trial date of June 25, 2012 has been set for the Monongalia County case.

The Associated Press reported that WVU attorneys said in court they would like to have the matter settled by June 30, to which Clawges responded, ""My immediate reaction is . . . it ain't gonna happen."

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148. Follow him at www.twitter.com/jaredwv.


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