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Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Marist wins coaching suit against JMU

By Eamonn Brennan

About a year ago -- in other words, a long enough time for my short attention span to completely forget this was happening -- Marist brought an unusually quirky lawsuit to court. The suit involved coach Matt Brady, who Marist signed to be its new head coach before Brady signed a similar contract with James Madison. Marist alleged that JMU had violated an arcane agreement in Brady's deal that prevented the coach from recruiting any of his former Marist players or prospects to JMU. (Brady eventually signed several of his former prospects to play at JMU.)

The suit was unique enough at the time that few legal experts seemed to know what to do with it. Last month, New York Supreme Court Justice Charles B. Wood was less confused. In a decision released Monday, Wood ruled that Marist had "adequately articulated the elements for a claim of [wrongful] interference with a contract" against JMU and the state. Marist's case, quirky though it may have been, won.

By this point, it's probably fair to ask that timeless question: "Who cares?" After all, the Marist-JMU decision is just a petty grievance between two hoops lightweights over a young coach and a few prospects, right?

Sort of, yes. But it could also have wider implications for college hoops contracts in general. CBS' Gary Parrish explains:
So let this be a lesson for all coaches and every school that will spend next March and April pursuing other schools' coaches. Sports contracts have details about what can and cannot be done that are ignored annually, but, turns out, those details do not have to be ignored. What Marist has shown is that if a strong president and athletic director want to seek damages for a breach of contract by a coach, they can seek damages for a breach of contract by a coach. What Marist has also shown is that the case can be won.

The notion that coaches can routinely break their contracts and strong-arm universities into letting them go -- taking top recruits with them, even if that violates a line or two of previously ignored fine print -- is one that now faces some scrutiny. Whether that's a good or a bad thing, it's a thing. Coaches and the schools that hire them might actually have to honor the conditions of their contracts, lest they face legal repercussions. Radical concept, huh?