According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ray Fittipaldo, the University of Pittsburgh has filed a lawsuit against the Big East. The suit is based on a demand that they be allowed to exit the conference a year early in time for the 2013 football season, as John Marinatto had previously indicated.
According to the University of Pittsburgh, their athletic director had begun discussing a 2013 exit with Marinatto, but when the commissioner resigned, the conference offices stopped responding on the issue. The Panthers' program had been scheduled to leave the conference a year later on July 1, 2014, based on conference bylaws, but West Virginia's early release and the conference's new additions have encouraged Pittsburgh and Syracuse to seek an early exit as well.
The lawsuit surprises many because it was widely believed that the early exit of the two schools heading to the ACC would be granted by the conference.
On the suit, Pitt released the following statement:
"Since the University of Pittsburgh made the decision to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, we have done everything possible to move through a smooth transition with the Big East. Though we have been excluded from governance activities, meetings, decision-making and operational functions of the conference, we have been positive and respectful of the Big East.
"On September 26, 2011, when we notified the Big East that we were withdrawing from the conference, we paid the first half of the exit fee of $5 million. When the 2012-13 season is complete, we will have competed in the Big East for two seasons, thus providing ample time to re-form the Big East Conference for the future. Beginning with the 2013-14 season, the Big East will actually have four more football playing schools and more schools overall than when we gave notice that we were moving to a different conference.
"Although the Big East's stated position is that we must stay through the 2013-14 season, the Big East acknowledged publicly that a discussion of our departure after the 2012-13 season was appropriate. A few weeks ago, Steve Pederson met with John Marinatto to begin the process to work toward an exit after this upcoming academic year. The Commissioner indicated that he was doing this with the authorization of the Chair of the Big East Presidents. However, attempts to contact the Big East in the following weeks to move the process forward have been unsuccessful, leading us to conclude that negotiations would not occur. Given the change in leadership of the Big East and the lack of response to our attempted contacts, on Friday, May 11, 2012, we filed a law suit in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, seeking resolution of this matter. We are confident in our position as stated in the complaint, but believe that this matter is best resolved between the parties. We have notified the Big East of this action, and continue to hope that our departure can be accommodated through private negotiations."
The Panthers claim to be concerned that the conference may try to hold them and Syracuse to their full withdrawal period, causing them to file the lawsuit. The suit was filed in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, but don't count on another parallel suit in the Providence courthouse (the conference could file a motion to transfer the case to a Philadelphia courthouse, but that may be denied). The Big East will most likely prioritize exit negotiations with Pitt and Syracuse and settle this suit out of court. Like West Virginia, the Panthers will have to pay money in excess of the $5 million withdrawal fee, but their early release is likely to be granted.