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Marshall University files lawsuit against Conference USA

Universities face stalemates while changing conferences, says sports editor Callie Hummel.

As schools all over the country seem to be leaving their previous conference to join a new one, the transition has majorly affected Conference USA. Their numbers slowly diminishing and joining the Sun Belt Conference, C-USA is trying desperately to reverse the trend.

Marshall University, a West Virginia school that’s currently listed as C-USA, is one of the schools attempting to move to the Sun Belt Conference. Marshall hopes to be playing in the Sun Belt by fall 2022, but they haven’t heard anything back from C-USA about an exit date. As a last effort, C-USA is trying anything they can to hold onto their teams, since they aren’t signing any new ones.

After a year full of no response from C-USA about how Marshall can go about leaving the conference, Marshall decided to file a lawsuit against C-USA to get their athletes out. The lawsuit covered three main issues Marshall and other schools trying to leave C-USA had been facing.

The main issue is that C-USA is demanding arbitration, to which Marshall explains they are immune due to their entitlement to sovereign immunity in the West Virginia Constitution. C-USA’s ability to demand arbitration is something they wrote into their new contracts, however, when Marshall first signed with C-USA in 2003, this was not a clause included. Therefore Marshall does not have to abide by the arbitration demands. The lawsuit also ends by explaining that the university knows its student athletes and the best thing for those athletes is to transition to the Sun Belt Conference.

Marshall isn’t the only university struggling with conference conflicts in the 2021-2022 school year. Stony Brook University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and James Madison University all announced to their respective conferences that they would be joining a different conference beginning in the 2022-2023 season. In response to hearing this all three of the conferences — American East, Horizon League and Colonial Athletic — prohibited the teams from participating in conference team championships for spring sports. There are laws in place that allow conferences to rule university sports teams ineligible in participating in the postseason once they declare intent to withdraw from the conference, but they have rarely been used in the past.

Specifically, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, they announced their departure from the Horizon League in January, saying they would be joining the Missouri Valley Conference on July 1. Not even a month later, the Horizon League announced UIC athletes would not be allowed to compete in winter or spring conference championships. UIC announced they were trying everything to hash out the problems with Horizon League without hurting the student athletes, but with no prevail.

Michael Lipitz, a director of athletics at the University of Illinois at Chicago says, “None of this has to happen. This is a conscious decision on the Horizon League to inflict pain against our student athletes and it does feel like retribution.”

With the year full of universities moving around conferences, it’s surprising that so many would enact such strict rules upon their athletes — a group of people who simply want to continue playing a sport they love for a few more years.

Post Author: Callie Hummel