The recent Notice of Allegations issued by the NCAA against Ohio State University (OSU) head football coach Jim Tressel are uniquely personal. He is alleged to have withheld information from OSU to keep his players, who received improper benefits and otherwise violated NCAA rules, eligible. The case presents a clear situation of a coach needing personal counsel in dealing with the NCAA.
Conflict of Interest
Generally, it appears that the interests of the university and its coaches would be aligned. But often times, that’s not the case. First and foremost, a university will protect its own interests. Universities typically deal with NCAA violations through self-imposed penalties. These penalties, similar to a plea bargain, allow the university to minimize the risk of unknown NCAA sanctions and also may allow for a more expedient resolution. However, a coach’s interests may not be served. Admitting to NCAA violations, especially if the coach has a reasonable defense, may not make sense for a coach.
The conflict of interest between Coach Tressel’s interests and those of OSU is apparent. OSU has an interest in claiming that it had no knowledge of the potential violations. This argument essentially proves the NCAA’s case against Coach Tressel – that he withheld information from OSU that would have resulted in NCAA violations and players being declared ineligible. Therefore, it appears that OSU and its coach have different interests to protect and Coach Tressel will likely need separate counsel to defend against the NCAA allegations.
Many coaches have provisions in their contracts that allow the university to fire the coach for cause, without paying the remaining years on the contract, if the coach and/or program is found to have committed violations of NCAA rules (typically major violations). Although a university may choose not to exercise this clause, a coach must be careful not to give the university an opportunity to escape from the terms of a contract. Therefore, a strong defense to NCAA allegations may be in the best interest of a coach from a contractual perspective.
Coach Tressel likely has a a clause in his contract that allows OSU to terminate him based on certain NCAA violations. Accordingly, Coach Tressel’s counsel must craft a strategy to minimize any NCAA penalty while also being mindful of what type of penalty could give OSU cause to terminate Coach Tressel’s contract.