The top financial supporter of the University of Connecticut football program has demanded that the university return $3 million after he was not consulted in the hiring of new head coach Paul Pasqualoni. Robert G. Burton, who provided the lead gift for the Burton Family Football Complex, has outlined a number of issues and his intent to withdraw his support from the university in a letter to UConn Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway.
Mr. Burton’s legal rights will likely be determined by the terms of any written agreements, such as a donor agreement, that he has with UConn. It would be interesting to learn whether his donation was conditional, and under what circumstances he could receive a refund.
Although athletic directors have an interest in keeping major boosters involved in the program, it is unlikely that an athletic director would give a booster an official role in the hiring of the head coach. Rather, a university and a booster might informally agree to communicate concerning important matters. Proving that such an arrangement constitutes an oral agreement, however, could be both legally and factually challenging.
Nevertheless, this is less a legal matter than a donor-relations issue for UConn. Universities have a strong interest in keeping their boosters satisfied to fuel the business of collegiate athletics – especially top donors such as Mr. Burton. Accordingly, UConn may look to mend fences with Mr. Burton rather than formulate a legal defense.