Sports Law Blog
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Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Texas Tech coach fired: Updated and moved to top
Texas Tech has suspended football coach Mike Leach for its bowl game, because of Leach's alleged treatment of a player (receiver Adam James, the son of ESPN college football analyst Craig James) who had suffered a concussion and was unable to practice. The James family alleges that Leach ordered the player to sit in an equipment closet or equipment bin (reports conflict) and was told that if he came out, he would be kicked off the team. Leach's attorney insists that Leach had James sit in a cooler, darker area than the practice field because it would be better for the player, given his sensitivity to light. The school has begun an internal investigation.
Two questions, not really going to the substance of anything.
First, is it me, or are we beginning to hear more complaints about, and challenges to, barbaric coaching methods? Are players (themselves or through their parents) beginning to stand up to what often can best be described as hazing, if not outright brutality by the adults in charge? Are players less fearful of complaining, knowing that the school might somewhat have their back? And are schools beginning to take player complaints seriously, perhaps out of fear of liability? Kansas' Mark Mangino lost his job amid reports of being verbally and physically abusive towards players. There was the initial story of South Florida Coach Jim Leavitt slapping a player (reported by the player's father), although that story quickly petered out. And now this. Maybe it's just a blip, but maybe it marks a sea change in the relative power relationships in college sports.
Second, an interesting twist in the Texas Tech story is that Craig James no longer will work the game for ESPN, because there now is a personal issue between James and the school that implicates his objectivity in announcing. But why was he scheduled to work the game in the first place? Didn't James already have a personal issue with Texas Tech simply because his son plays on the team? Was he really expected to be objective in a game his son (or his son's team) is playing in? I know sports broadcasters are not held to similar ethical standards as news journalists. But if ESPN is aware enough to make a change when there is a unique conflict (as now), why not when there is a unique affinity (as when a close family member is in the game)?
Leach has been fired "with cause effective immediately." Leach had filed suit in Texas state court seeking a TRO permitting him to coach in the bowl game and a hearing was scheduled for his morning. Texas Tech's lawyer handed Leach's lawyer the termination letter right before the beginning of the hearing; the hearing then was canceled, since the request for reinstatement had become moot. Expect Leach to file some sort of wrongful termination/breach-of-contract lawsuit soon, if for no other reason than to make sure he gets paid the balance of his contract (last February, Leach signed a contract extension through 2013). The whole issue of the "with cause" finding is to relieve the university of having to pay the balance due under the contract.