Marist v. Brady: Lessons and Takeaways

The case of Marist College v. Matt Brady concluded last week, with a jury finding that Brady, Marist’s former men’s basketball coach, breached his contract with the college when he accepted the same position at James Madison University (JMU) without Marist’s permission.  In addition, Brady and/or his staff recruited players to JMU that they had previously recruited to attend Marist, in contravention of one of the clauses in Brady’s contract.  Nevertheless, the jury awarded no damages.  Here are some lessons and takeaways from the case:

1. Principle

Marist and its attorneys have long-stated that this case is about the principle of honoring agreements, not about money.  In that regard, Marist was unquestionably successful.  A jury agreed that Brady breached the contract.  Although Brady won’t have to satisfy an award of damages, he likely has incurred significant attorney’s fees and has spent valuable time dealing with  this matter instead of recruiting and coaching.  In addition, JMU settled Marist’s tortious interference claim for $100,000.

2. Precedent

The precedential value of this case is debatable.  This case was never about whether a coaching contracts are enforceable under the law (typically they are); rather, it was about whether a school would be willing to enforce such a contract as a business decision.  The payout was relatively small and is unlikely to deter schools and coaches from continuing to operate the system of virtual free agency.  Marist, however, may have set precedent for its own coaches and prospective coaches, who will know that Marist expects its coaches to honor their agreements.  Time will tell whether this case emboldens other schools to enforce their coaching contracts. 

3.  Lessons for Schools

When hiring a new coach who is under contract with his or her present employer, schools would be wise to review the coach’s contract to determine what permission is required and what restrictions are contained in the contract.  The school should also insist upon a standard clause in the coach’s contract stating that he or she is not violating any existing contracts to which he or she is a party by entering into the new contract.  Moreover, a reasonable liquidated damages clause or a buyout clause can avoid the situation that Marist encountered by winning their case only to be awarded no damages.

4.  Lessons for Coaches

Coaches should ensure that their contracts provide them 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 litigation.  Also, when leaving a school, coaches should look to negotiate the terms of their departure.

5. Difficulty with Damages

Damages in these cases can be very difficult to prove.  Marist claimed damages including lost ticket sales, loss of the recruiting class, and the cost of hiring new assistant coaches.  The recruiting element appeared to be the most clear-cut, but apparently the jury found the claim speculative.  For more on the difficulties proving damages in these cases, see Rick Karcher’s outstanding law review article entitled The Coaching Carousel in Big-Time Intercollegiate Athletics: Economic Implications and Legal Considerations.

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