EKU officials plotted move to ASUN in 2020, according to court records

Jan. 11—On Aug. 21, 2020 — in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — Eastern Kentucky University Athletic Director Matt Roan announced the school would reject the Ohio Valley Conference's plan for a spring football season and instead play a non-league schedule in the fall.

"For us, we have to make the right decision for the institution, the student-athletes, the alumni and our campus community," Roan said at a press conference.

That decision, though, may have been motivated by other factors, as well.

An email introduced earlier this month as evidence in the lawsuit filed by the OVC against EKU indicates the school already had plans to leave the league and that EKU officials suspected the OVC may remove them from the conference.

"Whether we depart or are dismissed, here is what is on my mind," Roan said an email titled "OVC to ASUN narrative thoughts." That email was sent to EKU President David McFaddin and EKU Board of Regents Chair Lewis Diaz on Aug. 16, 2020.

The Gmail message goes on to detail a long list of well-thought out "talking points" about a potential move to the ASUN Conference, including: — Excited to be part of a "new dawn" of the ASUN — It's time to grow and seek to control our own destiny (Gary Ransdell said this when WKU went to CUSA) — We can forge something special with the support of dynamic leadership from (ASUN Commissioner) Ted Gumbert and our association with a progressive conference consisting of high-quality private and large public academic institutions with high-caliber athletics programs, creating new opportunities for our student-athletes and campus community — Have been privately ambitious for quite some time, this is a culmination — Places us on the path to realize our vision and goals — Front porch — new and increases awareness of the institution and introduction to prospective students — Bolsters recruiting by placing us in fertile territory — Strong football partnership with the Big South (potentially, or at least initially) — Together, puts us in and around several growing metropolitan areas and overall southeast, mid-Atlantic regions, including the Commonwealth's largest metro area, and draws us nearer to alumni base

In the first line of the email, Roan states, "Will keep info related to any other league on personal e-mail, away from open records requests."

In a statement released by EKU on Tuesday in response to a request by The Richmond Register, officials state, "Matt Roan has a personal relationship with Ted Gumbart, and Lewis Diaz, that long predates his role as athletic director. Any use of personal email accounts in this case was an isolated use to discuss the possibility of conference moves, due to the nature of the relationships and the nature of the business of the athletic conferences. Much of the use of a personal email account involves many preliminary 'draft' or brainstorming sessions of what could be, which are not subject to production under open records laws."

It's unclear when these "brainstorming sessions" started or when the parties involved began discussing a potential move by EKU from the OVC to the ASUN.

In the discovery of OVC's lawsuit, EKU admitted that at least four high-ranking officials used private e-mails to discuss school business — Roan, McFaddin, Diaz and university counsel Dana Fohl.

The OVC is seeking a $1 million exit fee from the school.

The OVC constitution states that any league member which does not give two years notice before leaving will be penalized.

The league also sued Jacksonville State, which left with EKU. That suit was dismissed by a judge in Alabama.

EKU originally sought to have the OVC's lawsuit dismissed on the grounds the league's constitution was not legally binding.

The judge quickly rejected that assumption.

EKU then filed a countersuit, claiming the OVC had broken the contract with the school by, in part, not conducting a football season in the fall of 2020.

EKU's intent to move to ASUN became public in early 2021 when a part of the school's athletic web site contains information about the new league inadvertently went live.

On Jan. 29, 2021, school officials held a press conference announcing their departure from the OVC after more than seven decades.

EKU officially joined the ASUN on July 1, 2021.