A More Detailed Look at Marist v. Brady

istock_000003767744small1.jpgSports Litigation Alert recently featured my article on the case of Marist v. Brady, in its July 31, 2009 issue.  This article provides a more detailed analysis of the breach of contract case that Marist College brought against Matt Brady, its former basketball coach, which Connecticut Sports Law covered here.  My thanks to Holt Hackney, publisher of Sports Litigation Alert.

Marist College Sues Former Basketball Coach and James Madison University

Marist College has sued its former basketball coach, Matt Brady, and his new employer, James Madison University (JMU), in the latest example of a university fighting to restore the seemingly lost concept of a binding contract in collegiate coaching.

In its Complaint, Marist alleges that it entered into a contract with Brady on July 1, 2007, to coach the men’s basketball team through the 2010-2011 season.  The contract allegedly contained two key terms.  First, Brady was precluded from discussing employment opportunities and accepting another head coaching position without the written consent of Marist.  Second, if the contract was terminated, Brady agreed to “end any and all contact with all Marist basketball program recruits” and to refrain from offering scholarships to Marist players, or anyone Brady or his staff recruited to play at Marist.

In March 2008, Brady is alleged to have advised Marist Athletic Director Tim Murray that he sought the head coaching position at JMU.  Shortly thereafter, Murray was contacted by JMU’s Athletic Director, Jeff Bourne. Murray allegedly advised Bourne that Marist would grant Brady permission to leave Marist only if Brady adhered to the terms in his contract relating to the solicitation of current Marist players and recruits. Brady subsequently accepted the position at JMU, and allegedly contacted Marist’s recruits.  Four of those recruits were offered, and accepted, scholarships to attend JMU and play for Brady.

Marist’s attempts to settle its dispute with Brady and JMU proved unproductive, and Marist filed suit against both Brady and JMU.  In the Supreme Court of the State of New York (New York’s trial level court) Marist has brought claims of breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty against Brady, and claims of tortious interference with contract and tortious interference with a fiduciary duty against JMU.  Brady and JMU have yet to file their response, or assert their defenses, to Marist’s allegations.

At the highest level of Division I athletics schools have attempted to negotiate provisions, such as buyout clauses, intended to stop coaches departing before their contract has expired.  In West Virginia v. Rodriguez, West Virginia University brought suit against former football coach Rich Rodriguez who left the University to accept the same position at the University of Michigan.  The departure of Rodriguez was significant not only because he sought to escape his contract early, but because the contract contained a $4 million buyout clause.

Marist v. Brady presents a much different set of facts. There was no multi-million dollar buyout provision in Brady’s contract.  In fact, an expensive buyout clause may not be feasible at a small Division I school such as Marist. But Marist nevertheless took a proactive, protectionist approach to the Brady contract.  Marist apparently made the calculation that losing Brady was palatable; but losing recruits was not.  The contract was drafted accordingly and will now be tested during the course of this litigation.

In fact, Marist v. Brady more closely resembles the dispute between Boston College and its former football coach, Jeff Jagodzinski.  Jagodzinski was fired for speaking to the New York Jets regarding the team’s coaching vacancy without the permission of Boston College, as required by his contract.  That case appeared to be rooted in Boston College’s unwillingness to allow its coaching job to be regarded as a mere stepping stone, but rather a long-term commitment. Marist may have a similar view, as the coach that preceded Brady, Dave Magarity, coached at Marist for 18 seasons

Marist’s filing of this lawsuit could have far-reaching implications. Litigation arising from coaching contracts may expand beyond those cases in which millions of dollars are at stake. Smaller schools may consider litigation to emphasize to prospective coaches that contracts will be enforced and long-term commitments are sought.  Accordingly, litigation over coaching contracts may trickle down from the highest levels of collegiate athletics to smaller Division I schools, and possibly to Division II and III schools as well.

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Trackbacks

  1. […] of collegiate athletics unless the NCAA steps in or more schools are willing to follow the lead of Marist University, and enforce their contracts in the courts. Possibly related posts: (automatically […]

  2. […] It’s hard to believe that legal action taken by a mid-major in Poughkeepsie, New York influenced the Tennessee Titans.  However, the Marist case may have planted the seed for tortious interference claims in the world of college coaching.  The previously accepted norms in college coaching are shifting, as shown by West Virginia v. Rodriguez, the BC-Jagodzinski situation, and Marist v. JMU.  […]

  3. […] When basketball coach Matt Brady left Marist for the head coaching job at James Madison, Marist sued both Brady and JMU.  While the lawsuit cannot force Brady to return to Marist, it draws a line in the sand.  Future […]

  4. […] 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 […]

  5. […] When basketball coach Matt Brady left Marist for the head coaching job at James Madison, Marist sued both Brady and JMU.  While the lawsuit cannot force Brady to return to Marist, it draws a line in the sand.  Future […]

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