Rutgers Sues Big East, Will Expedite the League's Need to Save Itself

Andrew Burton

It's not the claim for relief for fees that's important for lacrosse purposes, it's the claim on waiving the waiting period to depart the conference.

I didn't realize it yesterday when the story broke, but after thinking about it last night a little bit -- nerd! -- there's an aspect to Rutgers' suit against the Big East that has potentially serious ramifications to the conference's lacrosse offerings: It may (1) expedite the league's lacrosse demise, (2) push the conference to look for an affiliated member on an accelerated basis, or (3) require a currently non-playing Big East member (or future Big East member) to hasten plans to pursue varsity men's lacrosse. The underlying focus here isn't the Scarlet Knights demand for relief for unpaid collections or from the league's exit fee, but rather on the claim that Rutgers wants relief over the Big East's "mandatory" 27-month waiting period to exit the conference.

As Brian Bennett at ESPN.com succinctly notes:

The Scarlet Knights are trying to get out of the Big East's more manageable but still pricey $10 million buyout, along with its mandated 27-month waiting period, so they can join the Big Ten by 2014.

Rutgers says in its law suit that the Big East fee "arbitrarily applies to some, but not all, of the Big East football schools, and the effect is to penalize certain members if they seek to withdraw." The league allowed Syracuse, Pittsburgh, TCU and West Virginia to leave for other conferences without waiting the required 27 months, and the lawsuit alleges that the Big East has failed to collect $39.5 million in withdrawal fees from those departing schools.

If Rutgers were not able to get out of the waiting period, it could not become a full Big Ten member until the summer of 2015. The school's athletic department also is dealing with some financial problems, so $10 million is not chump change to the Scarlet Knights right now.

Fun! Where are my emergency cyanide pills?

It's not likely that this suit actually goes to trial -- courts tend to work slower than Maryland's offense over the last few seasons -- but it is decidedly a move designed to create some leverage for Rutgers to depart, sooner than later, to the Big Ten and its dump truck full of money. (Isn't America great? Barf.) In short, it's a strategy to create an atmosphere of negotiation that would otherwise not exist had the Scarlet Knights not filed suit to create a little momentum on their own end. Whether Rutgers actually succeeds in this tactic isn't the pressing issue to the potential survival of Big East lacrosse right now; the issue is that the survival of Big East lacrosse now has its timeline moved up from the end of the 2015 season to, potentially, sometime earlier.

Jim Siedliski, the Big East's Associate Commissioner for Olympic Sports, has already gone on the record that it is not his or the league's intention that the conference will shudder its men's lacrosse offerings; the league will try to identify new membership or associate membership to keep the conference at the mandatory six playing members to ensure an automatic qualification to the NCAA Tournament. Given how the Big East has reacted to conference realignment over the years, though, skepticism around whether the league can actually fulfill this desire is -- how should I put it? -- "questionable" at the moment (especially with a potentially truncated timeline to get this all done). The easy move for the league would be to somehow bring Johns Hopkins into the fold as an affiliated member -- Dave Pietramala has recently given some juicy quotes to The Washington Post that the Blue Jays would consider abandoning independence should the need arise -- but it's unclear what Johns Hopkins' intentions are right now and whether they'd want to join a league that is continually under metamorphosis.

If new confederation with schools that already sponsor men's lacrosse isn't an option for the league, that leaves trying to get a current non-playing member (or members) to put men's varsity lacrosse on their offerings list. There have been rumblings about a school or two that are or will be under the umbrella of the Big East as potential Division I newbies, but there hasn't been any serious movement on this front to push a newspaper, magazine, or something other than idle Internet chatter to report that a school is on-board to make Division I lacrosse a real thing. Given the climate of where things stand currently, the situation is far too opaque to assume that the Big East can save itself from within at this moment in time (especially under a potentially compressed timeline).

Big East lacrosse has existed for all of three seasons; it may not even get to experience a half-decade of competition if Rutgers is able to bolt for the Big Ten after the 2014 competition year. (Which means that Marquette, which created a program partly to join the Big East for a sense of security, will have played only one season as a full member of an automatic qualifying conference should the Big East be unable to save itself.) These are crazy times down at Costello music.

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