First, a disclaimer. I'm not an expert in this stuff by any means. But I have watched A Few Good Men several thousand times, so I think I'm qualified to render an opinion about the legal dumpster fire between West Virginia University and the Big East Conference. Let's get everyone caught up to speed, shall we?
- October 28, 2011 - WVU accepts an invitation to join the Big XII Conference.
- October 31, 2011 - WVU files a declaratory judgment action against the Big East Conference in Monongalia County, West Virginia, asking that the Big East bylaws be voided, which would allow WVU to move immediately into the Big XII without paying the $5 million exit fee or waiting the full 27 months required by the bylaws.
- November 4, 2011 - The Big East Conference files a breach-of-contract suit against WVU in Providence, Rhode Island, asking that WVU be required to abide by the terms of the bylaws, including the $5 million exit fee and the 27-month wait.
- November 28, 2011 - WVU files a motion to dismiss the Rhode Island case, arguing that because WVU is an agency of the state of West Virginia, it is entitled to Sovereign Immunity and can only be sued in West Virginia.
- December 5, 2011 - The Big East Conference files a motion to dismiss the West Virginia case, arguing that the case has no legal merit and that the case should be decided in Rhode Island, where the conference is located.
- December 16, 2011 - The Rhode Island court conducts a hearing on WVU's motion to dismiss. The judge says he will likely have a ruling on the motion by January 1, 2012.
- December 19, 2011 - The West Virginia court conducts a hearing on the Big East's motion to dismiss. The judge denied the motion, but said he would take more time to consider a second Big East motion seeking to put the West Virginia case on hold while the Rhode Island case plays out.
Got all that? Good. So, where do we go from here?
My guess is that the West Virginia judge is waiting to see what happens with the Rhode Island case before he rules on the Big East's motion to put the case on hold. And really, who likes to be put on hold? I was put on hold last week when I called Verizon to contest a curious charge on my bill and was serenaded by a playlist of the worst Christmas music imaginable. It's not a fate I'd wish on anyone. If the Rhode Island judge decides to throw out that case, then there would be no reason to put the West Virginia case on hold. But if the Rhode Island judge decides not to dismiss that case, the West Virginia judge would have to decide whether it would be appropriate for the parties to have two cases going at the same time in two different states. Because, like, it's fun to do the same thing twice...the attorneys would love the cutting and pasting. I can't see him putting the case on hold for any reason, but if his Magic Eight Ball says put the case on hold, then he's gonna put the case on hold, dammit!
Once a motion to dismiss is denied, a case will proceed to a period of discovery, where each side will get a chance to bicker back and forth about which one has the hotter girlfriend, fastest 40 time, and loudest yodel. Then they will sit around a giant conference table in an exquisite building in downtown Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, over some Evian and Starbucks and talk about either settling, taking the case to trial, or asking the judge to rule in their favor based on the law. If both cases proceed to discovery (because the West Virginia judge was a big meanie-face and denied the Big East's second motion), then it becomes a matter of which one gets resolved first. That's where the 40 times come in. Once one party comes out a winner in one case, they can take that result to the other court, yell "neener! neener! neener!" and prevent the other side from winning there. In other words, once once side wins, it's over. There is no chance that, for example, WVU wins in West Virginia, the Big East wins in Rhode Island, the cases result in a stalemate, and we have to resort to some barbaric manner of settling disputes, like thumb-wrestling or farkling. It simply can't happen. Which is a relief, because nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to see John Marinatto farkle.
One thing that WVU has going in its favor with the Rhode Island case is that the Big East is asking the court to order WVU to remain in the Big East for the duration of the 27-month period. Courts are reluctant to order parties to perform specific duties unless there is no other remedy---such as in a case involving real estate or another unique item, like Marshall championship trophies. Which makes sense, because would you really want some nerdy judge who probably was in the chess club in high school to order you to stay with some skanky band geek when the hot cheerleader is ready, willing and able to welcome you into her life? Yeah, me neither. The only thing the Big East would be out by WVU moving to the Big XII ahead of schedule would be money, and money, like blood debts, can be repaid.
I don't think WVU has a great argument to get out of the contract entirely as they are attempting to argue in the West Virginia case. They agreed to the bylaws and actually proposed the $5 million exit fee and 27-month wait and, well, dammit, you said it first so screw you for being a hypocrite. The situation may be different now than it was when WVU signed up for all this, but the fact of the matter is they signed up for it. All that being said, a West Virginia judge should be a complete homer because he freaking graduated from WVU, lives in Morgantown, and would really like to not have his house repossessed by a Molotov cocktail-yielding mob. Plus, he doesn't want to be chained to his old bag either when the 34 year old economics professor who just divorced her husband wants to go to Dragonfly on Wednesday night, so he should be understanding about why WVU would rather not sit around looking at its watch and drinking all the Knob Creek for the next 27 months.
To be honest, I really don't have a good feeling for how the Rhode Island judge will rule on WVU's motion to dismiss the case. I mean, he lives in Rhode Island and I've really never actually met someone from Rhode Island, so he probably doesn't even exist. Or if he does, he probably went to Brown and doesn't like people who drink beer out of cans like we do in West Virginia. If the case proceeds only in West Virginia, you could see everything come to a head sooner as the parties try to settle their differences with WVU paying the GDP of a small island nation to get out in 2012 (and settlement was the main goal of the lawsuit all along). If not, I don't think you'll see a court order WVU to stick around for the duration of the 27 months because, well, judges are people too and they really don't want the picture of them and their mistress to be anonymously posted on The Smoking Musket. Unfortunately, that process could take so long that WVU is stuck in the Big East for 2012 anyway and to hell with John Marinatto for being lame sauce. It's OK to keep your fingers crossed that WVU is playing in the Big XII next year...but don't hold your breath or, like, invest anything valuable in making plans to see us play at Texas next fall.