UPPER MARLBORO — A lawyer for the University of Maryland told a judge Thursday that a $52 million payment the Atlantic Coast Conference says the school owes in order to withdraw from the conference is “crippling” and “outrageous.”
The school announced in November that it will leave the ACC for the Big Ten in 2014. Shortly after, the ACC sued the school to make it pay the multi-million dollar fee for exiting the conference. The ACC filed its lawsuit in North Carolina, where the conference is headquartered. Maryland responded by suing the ACC in Maryland in January, calling the amount an illegal penalty.
Lawyers for the ACC on Thursday asked a judge in Maryland’s Prince George’s County to dismiss the school’s lawsuit or at least halt it until the lawsuit in North Carolina ends. Lawyers argued the North Carolina lawsuit covers the same issues and that court is in control. They said Maryland’s attempt to bring a lawsuit in its home state was a tactical move.
“The bottom line is they don’t want to pay $52 million,” said ACC attorney J.D. Smeallie during the hours-long hearing.
A lawyer for the University of Maryland, meanwhile, asked Prince George’s County Circuit Judge John Paul Davey to let the lawsuit go forward in the state and said the two lawsuits are different.
The lawyer, John Kuchno of the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, said the ACC is trying to get a North Carolina judge to be the “ref” in the dispute, which he said concerns the highest penalty ever assessed on a school for leaving an athletic conference. Kuchno said there might be some cost associated with leaving the conference, but he called the $52 million amount “outrageous.”
Maryland says the withdrawal penalty is illegal under state antitrust law and says paying it would wipe out nearly all of the school’s athletic budget. Maryland argues the exit payment, which was adopted about two months before it announced it is leaving, was not adopted in accordance with the ACC constitution.
In addition, Maryland says that after the school announced it was leaving, the conference illegally withheld the school’s share of conference revenues totaling more than $3 million. The ACC said that money was being applied toward Maryland’s exit payment.
Before the new fee amount was voted on last year, the cost of leaving the ACC was about $20 million, lawyers said during the hearing.
The judge hearing the case did not give a date by which he would rule.