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Savran: Big East suit lacks merit, but works

Saturday, June 14, 2003

If you or your child are enrolled in pre-law at Pitt or any of the football-playing schools in the Big East Conference that would be orphaned by the defection of Syracuse. Boston College and Miami to the Atlantic Coast Conference, you are a student at the right school. Because the men and women in charge of those five schools are teaching by example. As we see every day in this society, if you can't beat 'em, sue 'em.

Obviously, I'm not a lawyer. It's enough of a struggle trying to be a media multitasker. But what little sense I have is of the common variety, and that tells me this lawsuit against Boston College, Miami, and the Atlantic Coast Conference has little merit. And, even though it appears to be working, that still doesn't mean it has merit.

Have the defendants broken any laws? Have they violated any contracts? As I understand it, the constitution and bylaws of the conference provide for an exit through the form of a buyout clause. To my knowledge, nowhere in those bylaws is it written that you're prohibited from talking to another league. Nowhere does it say that if approached by another conference it is incumbent upon the school to report such conversations to Mother Tranghese. And nowhere is it written or implied that speaking out of both sides of a school's mouth is against the law.

It might be unethical, but it's not illegal.

If working both ends against the middle was illegal in this country, the wheels of commerce would grind to a halt and then fall off. Unfortunately, it's done every day. Like it or not, that's the way it works.

If Miami President Donna Shalala expressed undying loyalty at the same time her university was being wooed by the ACC, she too was teaching her students by example. In life, it's a lesson better learned sooner than later.

The University of Connecticut claims to be the most aggrieved of the five parties. School officials contend the Huskies have been the most significantly injured because of the move to DivisionI football and the subsequent upgrading of facilities.

That's as big a load of half-truths as anything Shalala did or said.

The hard facts are these: Connecticut began raising money for the expansion of its facilities as far back as 1997. Groundbreaking for their new and improved football facilities took place in 1999. The alleged "commitment" to the Big East by Shalala came in 2002. So Connecticut's commitment to an upgraded football program and facilities was well on its way long before any alleged pledge by Miami.

Speaking of loyalty, commitment and all other admirable traits that aren't synonymous with the seamy world of college athletics, Virginia Tech sought entry into the ACC not long ago. And had the ACC decided it was a better fit than Boston College or Syracuse, would that have turned Virginia Tech from a good guy into an enemy of the state?

As for Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, his motives are purely provincial and political. His only concern is that both major universities in his state are protected. If Virginia Tech had been absorbed into the ACC, he wouldn't have cared if the Big East imploded into a thousand pieces.

Finally, let's examine the pot calling the kettle black. How did the Big East become bigger? It solicited schools such as Villanova, Pitt, West Virginia and Rutgers from established conferences. And those were excellent moves for the Big East and the schools. But they were pirated away, just like the ACC is attempting to do now.

West Virginia President David Hardesty says, "Well that was different." How?

Again, there was no moral dilemma on the part of the original conference members in those circumstances. Why now that the hunter has become the hunted?

Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg has suggested that the two conferences work in concert with one another. Presumably, that would mean the remaining football five, plus Boston College, Syracuse and Miami would form one half of a mega-conference, the other side being the existing members of the ACC.

But what would that mean for Seton Hall, Villanova, Georgetown and St. John's? Left to fend for themselves, I imagine. How hypocritical would that be? Would any of the five plaintiffs filing this lawsuit be grief-stricken about abandoning their former brethren then? I doubt it.

But then, the abandoned basketball schools could always file a lawsuit to set things right.

This lawsuit is working, primarily because the chancellors/presidents of the ACC don't have the stomach for a nasty court battle. And the Big East is certainly worth saving. But even a great end doesn't always justify the means by which it was accomplished.

Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970).

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