By WILL GRAVES, Associated Press
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The University of Pittsburgh is going to court in hopes of expediting its exit from the Big East.
The school filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County on Friday claiming the Big East has waived its right to enforce a 27-month withdrawal notice and the Panthers should be allowed move to the ACC without further penalty by the 2013-14 conference year.
Pitt and Syracuse announced last September they were jumping to the ACC. Pitt paid half of its $5 million exit fee at the time of the announcement and agreed to remain in the conference until July 1, 2014.
The stunning move set off a chain reaction that included West Virginia and TCU — which had agreed to join the Big East in 2012 — leaving for the Big 12 instead and the Big East extending membership offers to Boise State and San Diego State among others.
Pitt argues since the Big East allowed West Virginia and TCU to exit the conference immediately that Pitt is no longer required to abide by the 27-month waiting period. The school and the Big East appeared to be making inroads for a resolution earlier this year, with then-commissioner John Marinatto hinting the conference was open to letting Pitt leave a year early.
Marinatto and Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson met recently to discuss the matter. School officials said subsequent attempts by the school to begin more detailed talks were unsuccessful, leading them to believe they would not occur.
Big East spokesman John Paquette called the legal maneuver "disappointing" and said the conference had reached out to Pitt.
Pitt spokesman E.J. Borghetti said the goal is to get a resolution through private negotiations but extensively laid out its argument in court papers.
The central issue is the way the Big East handled West Virginia's and TCU's departure. West Virginia notified the Big East it was leaving for the Big 12 last October, then sued the conference to force the issue. The Big East countersued. A settlement was reached in which the school agreed to pay conference $20 million dollars in return for setting aside the notification period laid out in the league's bylaws.
"By failing to require WVU to provide 27 months' notice of withdrawal, the Big East knowingly and intentionally waived any right to enforce a 27-month withdrawal period," Pitt wrote in court papers.
Pitt argues the loss of West Virginia and TCU from its 2012 football schedule caused the football program significant harm and cost the school nearly $600,000. The losses included $250,000 to buy out the contract of a 2012 opponent to get TCU on the schedule, then another $320,000 to find a replacement once TCU announced it was joining the Big 12 instead.
The Big East scrambled to reconstitute itself after losing three of its core members. Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, SMU and Temple will join the league for all sports and Boise State, San Diego State and Navy are scheduled to become football-only members by 2013.
Pitt argues that because the Big East's membership will increase by 2013, there's no need for the Panthers to stick around.
"Beginning with the 2013-14 season, the Big East will actually have four more football playing schools and more schools overall than when we gave notice that we were moving to a different conference," Borghetti said.
The school is also concerned about the Big East's unsettled leadership. Marinatto resigned on Monday, replaced by Joseph Bailey III on an interim basis.
Regardless of who is in charge, the Panthers want out.
AP College Football Writer Ralph Russo in New York contributed to this report.
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