Marist Wins Legal Battle Over Ex-Coach Matt Brady; What Will It Mean Going Forward?

One of the many reasons college athletes are often considered powerless is the logistical hoops they have to jump through in order to change schools. That process stands in stark contrast with the ability of any coach to just pick up and leave when something better comes along. But will that continue to be the case going forward? ↵

↵New York State Supreme Court Justice Charles D. Wood made a ruling on Monday that could impact many coaching changes going forward, but before we get into the specifics, here is some background on the parties involved: ↵

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↵-- Marist College, the plaintiff in this civil lawsuit, which lost basketball coach Matt Brady to James Madison University in 2008. ↵

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↵-- James Madison University, which hired Matt Brady away from Marist in the first year of a newly negotiated four-year deal. ↵

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↵-- Matt Brady, who coached at Marist for four seasons, leaving prior to the 2008-09 season for James Madison University. Brady was 73-50 in four seasons and made the second round of the NIT in 2007. ↵

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↵Eventually, in July 2009, Marist filed suit saying Brady breached his deal by doing two things: 1. He did not get written consent to negotiate with JMU. 2. He continued to contact players he recruited while at Marist after accepting the JMU job. ↵

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↵That all turned into this ruling: ↵

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↵⇥Director of Athletics Tim Murray and President Dennis Murray brought this breach of Brady's contract to JMU's attention and expected JMU to negotiate an amicable separation. Their attempts were ignored by JMU, which considered Brady's Marist contract as unenforceable. ↵⇥

↵⇥Judge Wood found that Marist had properly stated the existence of a valid contract with a third party, (the) defendant's knowledge of that contract, defendant's intentional and improper procuring of a breach, and damages. The judge noted Marist's claims that Brady had an enforceable contract in effect when he discussed leaving Marist to coach at JMU, that JMU knew of the contract's existence, that JMU intentionally induced Brady to violate his fiduciary obligations under the contract, and that Marist suffered damages as a result of the breach of those obligations. ↵⇥

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↵⇥Judge Wood ordered that "damages against JMU and the Commonwealth of Virginia be assessed," and that attorneys for Marist, JMU and the Commonwealth of Virginia appear before the Court on July 26. ↵⇥

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↵When evaluating the ruling, both prongs of the suit have to be noted here. It seems that the judge ruled in Marist's favor because of a breach of contract. Nowhere in the release from Marist does the judge (or the college) mention the ramifications of Brady continuing to contact players. ↵

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↵Perhaps we'll have a greater understanding about the specific role player contact played in the ruling next week, but for now the focus seems to be purely on the breach of contract. If the judge makes it a point to note the player contact when assessing damages, it would be a landmark ruling in college basketball. The practice of recruits following a coach from one school to another during a change is anything but new. ↵

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↵If the ruling is purely focused on the fact that Brady went to JMU without written permission to negotiate and that JMU blew off Marist for some sort of buyout, it would have an entirely different impact, not only for coaches, but for schools. It could mean buyouts become more prevalent or it could mean they disappear all together, depending on the tact schools decide to take. ↵

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↵Buyouts are often seen as an adversarial move by the school against a coach, and it sets the same kind of vibe in a relationship that a pre-nup does in a celebrity marriage: this thing isn't going to last. But, as Mike DeCourcy pointed out to me by phone, what this lawsuit could also do is negate the need for buyouts and open up the world of post-hiring lawsuits. Why set a buyout if the precedent has been set that you can sue after the fact? You get to keep the coach happy while he's at your university and then get your money anyway. It's a win-win for the school. ↵

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↵This will all really depend on the damages assessed by the judge next week. If it's a substantial figure, this ruling will hold great significance. It could slow the coaching carousel by forcing both coaches and schools to honor contracts. If it's one of those symbolic gestures -- as DeCourcy mentioned in our conversation, something like the $1 USFL/NFL ruling -- then it will be business as usual in the future. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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