Maryland, ACC reach settlement in lawsuits

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Maryland and the Atlantic Coast Conference reached a settlement Friday in litigation over the school’s departure for the Big Ten. The deal allows the ACC to keep about $31 million in exit fees  previously withheld in order to resolve litigation in the case, the school and conference announced.

[Updated story: Settlement could sent precedent for future conference moves.]

Maryland agreed that the conference could keep a sum of $31,361,788, while the ACC agreed that Maryland make no future payments to the conference.

The ACC filed suit against Maryland in November 2012, shortly after the school announced it was joining the Big Ten, seeking enforcement of a withdrawal payment of approximately $52 million. Maryland filed a counterclaim this January seeking $157 million plus punitive damages. The lawsuits will be dismissed and are considered closed.

“Our student-athletes, coaches, staff, fans and alumni will forever hold dear the memories of six outstanding decades in the Atlantic Coast Conference,” Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson said in a joint statement.  “Today marks the next chapter in the history of Maryland Athletics, and we look forward to creating new memories in the decades to come.”

The ACC’s suit, which was filed in Guilford County Superior Court in North Carolina, sparked a contentious two-year legal battle between the league and one of its founding members.

Maryland President Wallace D. Loh had publicly questioned the legality of the increase of the ACC’s exit fee prior to the school leaving the conference. The Maryland state’s attorney general office filed a counterclaim on behalf of the school in January, alleging the conference violated its own constitution by increasing the exit fee from about $20 million to $52 million.

Maryland was seeking $157 million from the ACC in the countersuit, which alleged antitrust violations by the ACC. The suit also alleged that two league schools were prompted by ESPN and lucrative television opportunities when it attempted to sway other Big Ten schools to leave and join its conference.

Both sides agreed to mediation in April, and Judge John R. Jolly Jr. assigned Bethesda-based arbiter Jonathan A. Marks to meet with the parties. But the suit dragged on even as Maryland celebrated its inclusion into the Big Ten on July 1 and the ACC welcomed Louisville into the fold.

“I commend our Council of Presidents and specifically President Donna Shalala for steering us to this resolution,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in the statement. “This agreement allows everyone to fully focus their energy and efforts on prioritizing the student-athletes, especially in this significant time of change within the NCAA restructuring. We wish the University of Maryland well and appreciate their past contributions as we collectively look toward the future.”

The ACC and the University of Maryland said in the joint statement that they consider the matter closed and would have no further comment.

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