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Monday, November 24, 2008
Can Letters of Intent have Opt-Out Clauses Should Coach Quit?

Over on Truth on the Market, George Mason Law Professor Joshua Wright (who's visiting at the University of Texas Law School this year) has an outstanding post on prep basketball star DeMarcus Cousins, who is seeking an opt-out clause in his letter of intent with University of Alabama Birmingham for the possiblity of UAB head coach Mike Davis jumping ship.

Here's an excerpt from Josh's post:

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For those unfamiliar, college recruits in football, basketball and some other sports sign National Letters of Intent (NLI) committing themselves to spend at least one full year at the college. The NLI gives the school the option of allowing a player who wishes to leave to do so without penalty. The default, however, is that the school does not release the player. The student-athlete can still transfer of course, but must incur the penalty of sitting out a full year at his next school plus losing a year of eligibility. In these days of the coaching carousel, one reason that players commonly switch schools is because a coach is fired or leaves for greener pastures. However, [SI's Seth] Davis reports that the NLI explicitly states that a coaching change is not grounds for nullifying the agreement.

Which brings us to DeMarcus Cousins, a heavily recruited basketball prep star who wants to stay near home and play for University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB). Here’s the contract twist. Cousins has choices further up the college basketball food chain and is going to UAB largely because of the coach, Mike Davis (formerly of Indiana University). As such, Cousins figured out that he wants some insurance that UAB will release him without penalty if Davis leaves and wants language representing as much in the NLI. Here’s another twist. Davis may have made a promise to Cousins to do exactly that. . . .

Assuming Davis has apparent or actual authority to make such a promise on behalf of UAB, this puts the school in a tough spot from a practical if not legal perspective. I’m guessing that UAB caves here.

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For the rest of this must-read post, click here. For the referenced Sports Illustrated column by Seth Davis, click here


So as I understand it, once the NLI is signed the only way a player can switch schools is to get permission from the school he/she signed with or transfer.

Assuming UAB doesn't allow Cousins to leave, could he assert frustration of purpose to have the NLI set aside? A court may not buy the argument b/c the main purpose of most NLIs is to play college basketball. But here, Cousins could argue the main purpose is to play college basketball for Davis. In addition, it sounds like Davis and UAB know that Cousins is going to UAB mainly b/c of Cousins.

Anonymous Ryan Ballard -- 11/25/2008 10:27 AM  

Thad Matta made a similar promise to Greg Oden and Mike Conley that OSU would release them if after they signed the letter of intent with the Buckeyes the NCAA ruled Ohio State would not be eligible for the tournament in their freshman season. Not sure if the promise was in writing but it was certainly discussed publicly.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 11/25/2008 2:34 PM  

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