West Virginia University has formally notified the Big East Conference that it plans to leave the conference and will begin competing in the Big 12 in Fall 2012. The problem, however, is that the exit clause for the Big East Conference requires that any school leaving the conference must give a 27-month notice, plus pay a $5 million exit fee. West Virginia, which paid $2.5 million already as required on notification, and will pay the other $2.5 million when they leave, would like to waive the 27 months. The Big East, however, is refusing to waive the waiting period and claims it will hold West Virginia and two members leaving for the ACC, Syracuse and Pitt, for the entire 27 months.
Since the 2012 Big 12 Football season is only 10 months away, the question is: What happens now?
If you look at the problem in simple legal terms, the answer becomes clear.
West Virginia and the Big East Conference have a contract. In most cases, when one party breaches a contract, the non-breaching party seeks monetary damages. The three types of damages are: 1) Expectation interests, the money the Big East expected from the contract; 2) Reliance interest, the money the Big East spent in reliance on the contract; and 3) Restitution interest, and money/value the Big East provided West Virginia.
In this case, the Big East expected certain monetary benefits, such as continued BCS standing in football, from having West Virginia in the conference and the financial benefit that comes with being a BCS conference.
The Big East, however, is seeking non-monetary damages. In particular, they are asking the courts for "specific performance." Specific performance is awarded at a court's discretion and is an equitable remedy developed to provide relief when an action for monetary damages is inadequate. In other words, the Big East is claiming that no amount of money can make the conference whole if West Virginia leaves before the 27-month waiting period.
It is clear West Virginia is in breach of the contract. What will the damages be, and what will make the Big East whole again? Since the Big East is already set to announce a replacement for West Virginia, it is difficult to see how a court will require West Virginia to wait the 27 months. Clearly, as in most cases involving college sports, the Big East will be made whole with a large check.