Kent State University (“Kent State”) sued former men’s basketball coach Geno Ford, alleging that he breached his contract with the university by accepting the head job at Bradley University (“Bradley”). Kent State has also named Bradley as a defendant, alleging that the school interfered with its contract with Coach Ford.
Nathanial Grow of the Sports Law Blog has posted a good analysis of the case. One of the primary issues is whether the court will find the liquidated damages clause contained in Ford’s contract enforceable:
…Kent State has a favorable judicial precedent it can rely on in support of its claim against Ford. Specifically, in Vanderbilt University v. DiNardo, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the liquidated damages clause in former Vanderbilt head football coach Gerry DiNardo’s contract was enforceable, after DiNardo left Vanderbilt to become the head coach at Louisiana State University. Like Ford, DiNardo had argued that the provision was unconscionable, insofar as it required him to pay Vanderbilt his net salary for each remaining year under the contract. The Sixth Circuit rejected DiNardo’s argument, holding that the provision was not an unlawful penalty given the difficulty in measuring Vanderbilt’s actual damages from DiNardo’s breach.
This case is also very similar to Marist v. Brady, another case in which a jilted mid-major took the extreme measure of suing its former coach and his new employer. That case ended strangely with a judgment of default against James Madison University (appeals may still be pending, although information has been scarce). Nevertheless, I wrote about the precedential value of the case:
From a legal perspective, the precedential value of the case may be limited. But Marist’s actions may demonstrate to other colleges and universities the benefits of enforcing their coaching contracts. In fact, shortly after the judgment of default was entered against JMU in this case, a much higher profile dispute surfaced. The parent company of the Tennessee Titans, Tennessee Football Inc., brought suit against the University of Southern California (USC) and its new coach, Lane Kiffin, stemming from USC’s hiring of Titans’ running backs coach Kennedy Pola on the eve of training camp. The Titans allege that USC and Kiffin interfered with the team’s contract with Pola, which required that he receive permission from the team before speaking to other potential employers.
Although the Titans dispute with USC and Kiffin is in its infancy, numerous media outlets have made the connection between the legal action taken by the Titans and Marist. That begs the question of whether a mid-major in Poughkeepsie, New York has triggered the transformation of the virtual free agent system in collegiate coaching contracts or whether this case will be considered a rare exception to the rule? The answer likely lies somewhere in between. Marist’s stand may not have transformative effects, but it has shone a light upon the business of collegiate coaching. Taken in concert with the legal action brought by the Titans, there is evidence that colleges and universities are more willing to enforce their contracts, and take legal action against competing employers.
Click on the following link to read this post in its entirety:A Beacon in Poughkeepsie: Marist Claims Victory Over James Madison in Coaching Contract Suit.
Although this case of Kent State v. Ford is likley to end quietly with a settlement, similar to Tennessee Football, Inc. v. USC, it provides a window into the business of collegiate coaching and begs the question of whether more schools will be willing to seek the court’s intervention when a coach departs while under contract.
For more on this topic, see my post Virtual Free Agency in College Coaching.