The ACC scored an expected win yesterday when a North Carolina judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the league against the University of Maryland. The school had argued that that a court in the Tarheel State — which happens to be the home state of the ACC’s league office — held no jurisdiction over a school in the state of Maryland, meaning the league’s $52 million lawsuit/exit fee should be tossed.
Yesterday’s ruling simply sets the stage for another court case. Planning an escape to the Big Ten, the University of Maryland has no intention of paying the $52 million exit fee the ACC agreed upon last year. A spokesman for Terrapins’ lawyer Douglas Gansler said last night that “the state is going to be considering its options in light of this ruling.”
Gansler had stated when filing his motion to dismiss that the ACC’s enormous exit fee was “an antitrust violation and an illegal penalty.” He had also said that his motion “in North Carolina will insure that a Maryland court will rule on the case.”
Multiple sources have told MrSEC.com that Virginia and Georgia Tech have had conversations with the Big Ten, but all parties involved are waiting to see the outcome of the ACC/Maryland battle before deciding to wed. There have been other reports that the Big Ten has had contact with North Carolina and Duke as well.
Jim Delany’s league and any ACC schools on its wish list could announce plans to wed before Maryland’s case is settled, but at this point that seems unlikely. So this not-so-unexpected delay in the courts might slow down — for a bit — the inevitable expansion/realignment shuffle to come.
To date, conference exit fees have been negotiated down as schools have found legal loopholes. But keep in mind, they’ve been negotiated down. They’ve not been thrown out altogether. Schools have found enough reason for leagues to believe they could lose a court battle… so rather than risk a court defeat, force schools that want out to stick around, and slow their own re-growth plans, conferences have been willing to negotiate lower settlements. But the ACC’s exit clause might be more ironclad than other leagues’ contracts. Again, the exit clause was re-worked last year after the ACC saw school after school talk their own settlements’ down with other conferences. It’s possible the ACC learned something by watching those other leagues buckle.
Also, seeing as most believe Maryland’s departure could be the first domino to fall in a potential ACC collapse, John Swofford’s league might be more willing to fight this thing in court than other conferences would be.
The irony is that representatives from ACC schools are talking to other conferences about exiting at the exact same time those schools are trying to prevent Maryland from exiting.
(CORRECTION — The original headlines said the “NCAA” won’t dismiss the ACC’s lawsuit. Total bungle on my part. Had just been reading up on the NCAA/Miami case and my brain did its typical early morning flub thing. Apologies.)