College Coaching Contracts in the News, Again

chalkboardcroppedI was quoted in a story that ran in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review on Saturday entitled “Can anything be done to stop college football coaches from jumping ship?”  The story, by John Grupp and Scott Brown, addresses a familiar topic this time of year: the coaching carousel in college football.

Here’s an excerpt of the article:

In college football, coaches’ contracts might as well  be written in pencil.

“[Colleges] have taken the position that a coaching  contract is like a prenuptial agreement,” said Dan Fitzgerald, a noted  Connecticut-based sports attorney. “It spells out the terms of the breakup,  nothing more.”

I first heard the analogy between coaching contracts and prenuptial agreements from Cal Athletic Director Sandy Barbour, who was quoted in another article on this topic. 

Richard Karcher, who authored an excellent law review article on the topic a few years ago, was also quoted:

They want to be able to steal each other’s coaches,” said Rich Karcher, a professor at Florida Coastal School of Law who in 2009  wrote a 93-page paper titled, “The Coaching Carousel in Big-Time Intercollegiate  Athletics: Economic Implications and Legal Considerations.”  

“The top schools that have the money,” he said, “want  to be able to keep grabbing head coaches from the Arkansas States and Louisiana  Techs of the world.”

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

The article also quotes me as follows:

No buyout amount has ever been overturned in court, Fitzgerald said, mainly due to unwillingness by the affected schools to sue.

As as point of clarification, although I am not aware of a case in which a buyout clause in a coaching contract was held to be unenforceable, I can’t say for a fact that it hasn’t happened.  The unwillingness of schools to sue has prevented a large body of law on this issue.  However, coaches may use the argument that their buyout clause is unenforceable to negotiate a lesser payment on their way out the door.   The seminal case on the enforceability of a buyout clause is Dinardo v. Vanderbilt, which I discussed in an article concerning one school that did sue a coach over his departure, Marist College.

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