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Saturday, April 19, 2008
Long-Term Contracts and the Coaching Carousel

Rick is right that the college coaching carousel flies in the face of everything we think we know about contract law. On the other hand, job mobility is an element of many white-collar professions, including within a university setting. If another law school needs someone to teach civil procedure, the administration might contact me about moving or visiting there and I might at least consider leaving my current school and making that move. See here for a sense of how much law faculty move around, including out own Michael McCann. There is an expectation that a faculty member will leave School A for School B and that School A will replace her with someone recruited from School Z. This is how job markets work.

The difference, it seems to me, is that coaches sign long-term contracts and the carousel renders these contracts farcical. As Rick notes, Travis Ford signed a seven-year contract extension, then left for a new school one week later--in other words, he performed one week of a 364-week contract. This movement arguably would be less troubling, at a visceral level, if we drop the pretense that either coach or school truly is making a long-term commitment and put coaches on one-year renewable contracts. Bring the legal landscape in line with reality--Coach Smith will be the coach at Enormous State University this year; whether he will be the coach at ESU next year depends on how the team does on the court and whether a better coaching offer comes along.


Good post, and I like how you refer to these coaches contracts as a farce. I prefer the term "one-sided": While on paper it's a legally two-sided mutual obligation, in practice the school is the only party bound when in fact the coach's long term obligation isn't being enforced (either by seeking damages or injunctive relief).

I see a variety of material distinctions between professors and coaches under contract. For starters, professors aren't breaching their contracts because they are only bound for one year, and they are leaving after the completion of that one year term.

Also, as much as we professors like to tout our stellar credentials, we don't have the same impact on our schools when we leave. [Keeping in mind, again, that we're not even in breach when we leave.]

Furthermore, it's not tortious interference for another school to talk to us about joining them AFTER the expiration of the one year term. But when another school lures away a coach prior to the expiration of the term, which is what's happening in this industry, that's tortious interference all day long.

I think there's a sentiment that coaches shouldn't be restricted from mobility in a free job market because "most" workers in society are not. With the exception of CEOs and other key executives, most workers are at will employees and not on long term contracts.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 4/20/2008 6:45 AM  

Two observations --

1. Schools don't enforce coaching contracts because the supply of qualified coaches far exceeds the number of head coaching jobs. Most schools are confident they can get a replacement who's at least equally skilled as the departing coach.

2. Long-term contracts are less about binding coaches to a school and more about signaling the stability of the program to potential recruits. The difference between a coach and a professor is that potential students/athletes don't choose a school on the belief that a particular professor will be there all four years. Even if it's a farce, the appearance of long-term coaching stability is believed necessary for recruiting.

Anonymous Skip Oliva -- 4/20/2008 10:49 AM  

I agree that Skip's point is the theory behind long-term contracts. But it is illusory in practice--a 10-year contract is no guarantee that a coach is going to stay at the school through next week, much less four years.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 4/20/2008 1:35 PM  


I'm with Howard. Doesn't your point support the argument that schools should actually be enforcing coaches contracts to ensure stability? Recruits have no idea which coach is coming or going due to the fact that contracts are not being enforced.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 4/20/2008 8:46 PM  

I don't think you'll find too many cases of an AD interviewing another school's coach without permission. Once permission is granted, there can be no tortious interference.

The only way Rick's model would ever work would be if coaches routinely coached into the last year of their contract without an extension. That's just not going to happen, for the recruiting reasons Skip notes. Accordingly, without a stable of qualified coaches with soon-to-be-expiring contracts sitting around, schools will continually be forced to poach other school's coaches.

It's just the way the world of college athletics works...

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/21/2008 8:47 AM  

Rick --

I wasn't addressing the question of "should" schools enforce contracts. I was merely offering a theory as to why they don't. Of course the long-term contract is illusory. But it's about a short-term gain: A school just needs to get the prized recruit in the door. If a coach leaves, NCAA rules discourage the player from transferring through the mandatory year-out rule. Get rid of *that* rule and I suspect you'd see greater enforcement of coaching contracts (since coaches could more easily bring top recruits with them.)

Perhaps the core problem you're trying to address is that most schools simply don't think in the long term. They're worried about the next season or "winning" the next press conference.

Anonymous Skip Oliva -- 4/21/2008 4:49 PM  

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