For many decades, fans and officials at the University of Maryland have seemed paranoid about the fact that the ACC was geographically centered, and thus dominated by schools in North Carolina. Absurd as this is, given that it is simply a byproduct of happenstance – and considering fans in North Carolina don’t agree with each other on anything anyway – there has been this palpable tension nonetheless. It was even rumored that Terp coach Lefty Driesell, upon winning his first ACC championship, threatened to drive his Cadillac convertable across North Carolina flaunting the trophy with the top down.
While that probably didn’t happen, Lefty was striking a chord with the Terp faithful. Now comes some thick irony, and it involves a lawsuit that might redefine conference alignment legalities going forward for everybody.
For the first time ever, the geography of the ACC might actually impact Maryland in reality, and not just in the minds of those in College Park. This startling paradox is occurring as a result of Maryland’s escaping the clutches of Greensboro for a massive conference, The Big Ten, where they will certainly be but a geographic asterisk. The ACC is charging Maryland, under rather new league rules, $52 million as an exit fee for their jump to the Big Ten. Maryland is suing to get out of that fee. Thanks to a ruling yesterday, the ACC will have home court advantage in the lawsuit.
According to The Raleigh News and Observer, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled – in a case involving rich athletic and political footnotes – that the North Carolina courts are the proper place for the suit. ACC attorneys contended that the state, which is the birthplace and 60-year home of the conference, is the proper place for sorting out contract disputes. This is a standard venue argument.
Maryland is arguing that the fee, which they voted against at the time, is excessive. They were probably already contemplating a jump. Naturally, Maryland officials were hoping for a trial in Maryland. Earlier this summer, according to the paper, a Maryland judge had put the lawsuit on hold until the ruling on the venue was settled.
Now that the venue issue has been settled, Maryland will perhaps for the first time face a real home-court advantage on the part of the conference. As an historical sidebar, one of the judges ruling on the venue is Sam Ervin IV, the grandson of “Senator Sam” Ervin, of the televised Watergate hearings fame. Senator Sam was famous for claiming that he was but “a country lawyah from Nawth Kahlina” – the very last kind of lawyer Maryland wants for this kind of hearing.
Meanwhile, the real story is that this case could go a long way towards stabilizing, or destabilizing, current conference alignments. If the ACC wins, the current conference make-up nationwide is what we can probably count on for at least a number of years, since most conferences now have mega exit fees. If Maryland wins, all exit fees might become moot … and watch out.