Marshall, Conference USA in Spat Over Conference Realignment
Conference USA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Marshall is seeking to resolve the lawsuit in court in its home county in West Virginia rather than in arbitration, the preferred forum of the league. The university said in its lawsuit that when Marshall signed its agreement to become a member of Conference USA in 2003, there was no language in the bylaws that required arbitration if a member school decided to leave the conference.
When asked why Marshall was trying to expedite its departure from Conference USA, Jason Corriher, the university’s assistant athletic director for media relations, provided a statement citing “the best interests of Marshall’s student-athletes and its loyal fans.” The statement added that the university wanted to find an amicable resolution but the conference has refused attempts at discussion.
The lawsuit, Marshall said in a second statement, is “the beginning of litigation intended to protect our rights, help us reach an agreement in a timely manner and clear the way for our shift in conference affiliation.” Corriher said the school has no desire to speak further about the lawsuit.
The Sun Belt declined to comment, referring instead to Marshall’s public statements.
Stony Brook (America East Conference), the University of Illinois at Chicago (Horizon League), and James Madison (Colonial Athletic Conference) all decided to leave their respective leagues beginning in the 2022-23 academic year.
In response, the conferences prohibited the universities’ teams from participating in all conference team championships, invoking existing league bylaws that make a school’s sports teams ineligible to participate in the postseason once a member institution intends to withdraw from the conference.
It is the latest example of the bitterness of conference realignment, one in which the student-athletes that have been barred from competing feel the most severe consequences of the contractual disputes.
Last week, Stony Brook, the University of Illinois at Chicago and James Madison released a joint statement asking that the conferences eliminate membership transition provisions that directly impact student athletes.
“Student-athletes around the country have admirably navigated the physical and mental toll of the past two, pandemic-impacted years,” the statement said. “No conferences should impose participation penalties that inflict additional, unnecessary harm.”