SBD/January 15, 2014/Colleges

Maryland Files $157M Counterclaim Against ACC, Claims ESPN Sought Further Realignment

Maryland claims ACC members helped in an attempt to recruit Big Ten schools
The state of Maryland, on behalf of the Univ. of Maryland, on Monday filed a $157M counterclaim against the ACC in a North Carolina court, alleging that the conference "broke its own rules when it increased the conference’s exit fee to $52 million and that it 'ignored and breached the ACC Constitution in its urgency to punish Maryland and deter further withdrawals from the conference,'" according to Alex Prewitt of the WASHINGTON POST. The countersuit also alleges that Wake Forest and Pittsburgh -- "prompted by ESPN and motivated by the desire for more lucrative television contracts -- attempted to persuade several Big Ten schools to switch conferences." UM is also seeking "punitive damages to be determined by the court." The ACC in November '12 sued UM, "asking the same North Carolina court to enforce" the conference’s $52M exit fee as the school departs for the Big Ten after this academic year. Maryland's countersuit claims reps from Wake Forest and Pittsburgh "each contacted a Big Ten university in an attempt by the ACC to recruit at least two Big Ten schools to leave the Big Ten and join the ACC." The specific Big Ten schools "were not named." Maryland's claim also alleges that the ACC "has withheld NCAA money, through the organization’s Grants in Aid, Sports Sponsorship and Student Assistance Funds." UM President Wallace Loh "was one of two ACC school presidents to vote against" the increased exit fee, citing 'legal and philosophical' grounds." Maryland in its countersuit alleges that, "according to the ACC Constitution, the increased exit fee should not have gone into effect until July 1, 2013, and thus the conference should not have been allowed to withhold funds from the school" starting in December '12 (WASHINGTON POST, 1/15).

CRYING FOUL: USA TODAY's Steve Berkowitz cites the suit as claiming that although UM in '12 announced that it "intended to leave for the Big Ten in 2014, it did not provide its 'official notice of withdrawal,' as described by ACC rules, until June 27, 2013." The school claims that therefore, the ACC "should not have retained Maryland's $3.1 million share of ACC revenues that were distributed in December 2012 and should not have retained 'in excess of $16 million' from distributions to member schools that occurred" from January 2013 through the date of the withdrawal notice. Maryland claims that the withholdings "were 'retaliatory, tortious and anticompetitive' and caused financial problems for Maryland's athletics department that weakened the school's ability to compete in the ACC and in the Big Ten" (USATODAY.com, 1/14).
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