In the same week that the University of Maryland announced a decision to contemplate covering gender re-assignment surgery for their students, the school has filed a 157 million dollar counterclaim lawsuit against the Atlantic Coast Conference related to their conference re-assignment.
The university is jumping to the Big Ten after this school year, and is not only bottoming out in regards to their athletic performance, but is making sure the break up is one filled with acrimony and attorneys’ fees.
The suit, 53 pages in length, was filed in a Raleigh, North Carolina court eariler this week by Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler. The measure was in response to the ACC filing suit to collect the 52 million dollar exit fee conference members are subject to. That trial is currently scheduled for Greensboro, N.C., a venue that the U. of Maryland fears is a big homecourt advantage for the ACC. Maryland lost a bid in November to get that suit thrown out, and also lost on a venue ruling. This is their third legal maneuver to prevent that trial from going foward.
“Our lawuist calls the ACC’s exit fee what it really is – an antritrust violation and an illegal activity” said Gansler, adding “our motion in North Carolina will ensure that a Maryland court will rule on the case.” The university contends that representatives 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,” but does not name the two schools allegedly targeted by the ACC. The claim seems bizarre, given that tiny Wake Forest and newbie Pitt would seemingly be the last two teams the ACC office would dispatch to Big Ten territory to raid large schools from that conference, and does not speak to the issue of Maryland’s withdrawal fees in any event.
Adding to the drama is the poor performance by the Terps, who lost their bowl game to Marshall, lost 34-10 to lowly Wake and 63-0 to Florida State–and have been blown out twice in conference basketball games this week by 20 and 24.
The bigger issue, however, is one that will rock all of college athletics. The ACC’s 52 million dollar exit penalty, and other similar measures taken later by other leagues, were considered stabilizing forces that would put an end to the rapid and massive conference realignment taking place. Such realignments impact long-standing rivalries, recruiting, and the very culture of college athletics itself. If Maryland prevails, either in the main suit over the withdrawal fee, or in this counter suit, then conference contracts will become almost meaningless, and the landscape of conference memberships will be opened up to more potential upheaval.
At issue is which right is paramount: the right of a league to have stability and visibility down the road, including the ability to govern themselves, or the right of schools to make instant moves to accomodate their particular situations. A case can be made for either scenario, but without a doubt, anyone who favors some stability in college sports and the ability of smaller schools like Rice, Baylor, Duke, Stanford, to find safe harbor in major leagues, will be hoping for Maryland’s legal gambits to fail.
In the meantime, the Terps seem to be determined to leave the ACC on the lowest possible road.