More lawsuits probable in college sports

Posted Nov. 16, 2010, at 8:46 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 16, 2010, at 10:38 p.m.

The “vs.” in sports contests is no longer confined to team names surrounding the term. Now the battles are showing up in court and there will be more to come.

Just when sports fans thought the steroid thing might be winding down and we might actually get back to the games, think again.

For one thing, HGH testing is on the way— and how has football avoided the steroid issue? Plenty more there, but we digress.

For lawyers the lucrative new field of coaches’ lawsuits is opening up.

An October article in the ABA Journal on fired coaches heading to the courts should give schools at all levels, especially colleges, pause.

In a suit that began in 2004 and was decided in 2007, former Ohio State basketball coach Jim O’Brien won his claim that he was improperly dismissed after admitting to lending money to a recruit.

The court’s decision was long and complicated and revolved around interpreting the contract between the coach and the school — a contract that was “highly favorable” to the coach.

It wasn’t that O’Brien hadn’t committed some violation, but the loan was ruled not a “material breach” as required under the contract for a dismissal.

The university had bargained away its right to fire the coach for any violation and placed in the contract a much higher level of transgression necessary for a firing.

Such contracts have become common in college sports for the big-time and big-paid coaches.

Those coaches have hired the best lawyers available in the contact field, and the schools now have to do the same or find out later they have turned the house over to the coach.

Mike Leach, the former Texas Tech football coach, is awaiting a court decision on his claim the university improperly fired him for his treatment of a player.

Jim Leavitt, the former South Florida coach is waiting a court decision on a claim for some $7 million in wages he claims are still owed after he was fired for actions he took against a player.

Leavitt just a couple of years ago was the darling of college football coaches with stories to be found everywhere on his work at creating a major football program at South Florida.

Times change and the legal claims that can result from those changes can go on forever.

The coaching dollars are enormous these days. Universities want big names to coach, sell and build their programs.

What schools are finding is this grab for glory comes with a price. That contract you gave to the coach you just loved can take a big bite out of you.

There are some things that don’t change. As the line goes from Jerry Maguire: “Show me the money.” To be added to that is “and I’ll show you a lawsuit.”

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