The Ohio Valley Conference has filed a lawsuit against Eastern Kentucky University seeking to force the school to pay a $1 million exit fee for leaving the league to join the ASUN Conference, the OVC announced Tuesday in a news release.
The OVC said the suit was filed in Franklin County Circuit Court.
According to the release, the OVC is suing Jacksonville State University in the circuit court of Calhoun County in Alabama, also seeking payment of the exit fee for that school leaving to join the ASUN.
In a June interview, OVC Commissioner Beth DeBauche said that a conference bylaw that had been unanimously approved by league presidents in 2017 required schools that leave the Ohio Valley Conference while also giving less than two full years notice of their intention to depart to pay a $1 million exit fee.
According to the OVC, EKU informed the OVC on January 26, 2021, of its intention to leave the league as of June 30 of this year. Jacksonville State conveyed the same message to the Ohio Valley Conference on February 16, 2021.
On June 30, DeBauche told the Herald-Leader that both EKU and JSU had notified the OVC that they did not plan to pay the exit fee.
In the OVC release, DeBauche said the conference’s Board of Presidents regrets having to sue former members of the league.
“The contract for all our members regarding exit fees is clear,” DeBauche said. “Eastern Kentucky University and Jacksonville State University agreed with the exit fees as part of the contract, and they voted in favor of those fees on multiple occasions. We expect them to honor their agreed-upon OVC commitments.”
Two of the remaining OVC members are Morehead State and Murray State. The Ohio Valley Conference’s lawsuit against Eastern means, in effect, that two Kentucky universities are now part of a legal action against a third.
In the OVC release, DeBauche said, “EKU has been a member of the OVC since the conference’s founding in 1948 and JSU since 2003. They have benefited from their association with the OVC and with its fellow member institutions. To decide now that they don’t have to pay the fee not only violates their contract, it is unfair to the OVC’s member institutions, with whom these schools enjoyed long and mutually beneficial relationships.”
As of late Tuesday morning, phone messages left with EKU Athletics Director Matt Roan and an Eastern Kentucky University sports publicist had not been returned.