Another Coach Breaks the Rules, Receives Golden Parachute

Following the post “Three Million Reasons to Carefully Draft Coaching Contracts,” I came across an excellent article by John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus, concerning the firing of the Indiana University Basketball Coach Kelvin Sampson.  Sampson, of course, was fired for essentially violating the same NCAA rules that he violated while head basketball coach at the University of Oklahoma a few years ago.   Gasaway compares Sampson’s situation to that of Jim O’Brien, and includes some interesting insights regarding the discussion of coaching contracts:

  • Despite the fact that Sampson arrived at Indiana fresh off NCAA violations for improperly making telephone calls to recruits, Indiana apparently did not feel comfortable firing Sampson without a buyout.  Thus, Indiana paid Sampson $750,000 ($550,000 of which was paid by a booster) in exchange for a release of any potential wrongful termination claims. 
  • Ohio State University’s overly generous contract with O’Brien was premised on the notion that losing O’Brien would have disastrous consequences for the basketball program.  In fact, the program flourished under new coach Thad Matta.  The lesson, according to Gasaway, is that athletic directors at colleges and universities negotiate from superior positions of strength, as there are more superior coaches than top coaching jobs.
  • Coaching contracts should include a provision for paid suspension in the event that a potential NCAA violation is revealed.  Indiana’s failure to include such a clause required them to employ Sampson for two games longer than it should have.

Indiana was on full notice of Sampson’s prior transgressions.  Therefore, it is difficult to accept that Indiana failed to negotiate adequate protection against a wrongful termination suit and a costly buyout.  In fact, Indiana’s concern may not have been legal, but practical.  By quickly resolving the situation, Indiana may have mitigated damage to recruiting and the search for a new head coach (Marquette’s Tom Crean was hired) caused by this fiasco.  However, the appearance is no different than with O’Brien – a coach broke NCAA rules, and the university was unable to terminate the coach’s employment without a substantial financial expenditure.


  1. It’s cool!

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