3 Contractual Provisions to Help College Coaches Avoid Lawsuits

“As long as schools stay quick on the trigger to show coaches the door when they are cold, coaches will continue to look for better opportunities when they are hot.” -Russ Campbell, to the San Jose Mercury Times

The recent lawsuit brought by Kent State University against its former basketball coach, Geno Ford, demonstrates some of the risk that a coach takes when he or she leaves a school while under contract to accept a job at another school.  The early lessons from Kent State case along with a very similar case brought by Marist University are important to heed, although these cases are unlikely to change the system of virtual free agency in collegiate coaching.  The coaching carousel will continue to spin.  Nevertheless, coaches can protect themselves from breach of contract lawsuits by negotiating a few key provisions into their contracts.

1.  Dream Job Provision

Coaches should consider a contractual provision that would allow the coach to escape from his or her contract if the coach is offered a head coaching position at a specific school or list of schools.  Lou Holtz exercised a similar provision in his contract with the University of Minnesota when he left to coach Notre Dame.

2.  Performance-based Exit

A clause allowing a coach to leave only if he or she reaches a predetermined number of wins, national ranking, or reaches a post-season milestone provides the coach with the opportunity to escape from his or her contract, while leaving the school with a successful program.  This clause is perhaps best-suited for a rebuilding project.  Once the coach has fulfilled the contract by turning around the program, he or she is free to leave for another opportunity.

3.  Retention Bonus

Similar to a roster bonus in professional sports, a retention clause rewards a coach for remaining at the school on a given date (after the hiring season has come and gone).  A retention bonus would ideally replace a buyout clause.  Unlike buyout clauses, enforceability is not an issue for the school.  Moreover, some schools prefer the concept of rewarding a coach for staying put rather than punishing the coach for leaving while under contract.

These provisions may not prevent a school from alleging that a coach breached his or her contract.  However, these provisions can provide a more realistic understanding of the relationship between the coach and the school and lessen the school’s incentive to seek the court’s intervention when a coach leaves for another school.

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  1. […] 3 Contractual Provisions to Help College Coaches Avoid Lawsuits […]

  2. […] with the necessary flexibility to take advantage of new opportunities.  Last summer I wrote that coaches should consider dream job provisions, performance-based exits and retention bonuses to avoid…  Also, when leaving a school, coaches should look to negotiate the terms of their […]

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