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Should Tubby Smith And Minnesota Be On The Line For Tubby’s Offer?

Because so much of my day currently consists of studying for the Bar Exam and doing Dynasty-related work, I often find myself having just enough time to read the headline of an interesting story, clicking “Read Later”, and eventually getting to actually reading the full story later that week.  By the way, a great tool for organizing stories to read later while minimizing the number of tabs you have open is a website called Instapaper.

Anyway, last week, I saw an interesting title scroll by.  Assistant coach gets $1.25M in lawsuit against Tubby Smith. Usually, when ESPN (or Yahoo! for that matter) picks up on a Sports Law story, it is worth a read.

Basically, Tubby told someone that he had authority to hire an assistant coach and offered that person the job. That person then relied on that statement and quit his job, which was giving him $200,000 per year.  The University of Minnesota thereafter found that the person had committed NCAA recruiting violations in the past and said it would not hire him.

Minnesota is considering appealing.  Should it?  Let’s take this step-by-step.

If Tubby offered the job, then he made an oral expression of his and the university’s commitment to that person.  Did he signal that the person’s acceptance would conclude the deal?  This is a necessary component of any offer.  If so, Tubby and Minnesota are free to revoke the outstanding offer, terminating the person’s power of acceptance, but the revocation must occur prior to acceptance and be effectively communicated.  Was quitting his job enough to prove acceptance by the hopeful future assistant coach?

This is not clear-cut, and more facts would be needed to make a better assessment.  If this person had the opportunity to expressly accept and didn’t, why didn’t he?  Why did he quit his job before accepting?  If he accepted, then the contract is formed, and the damages make sense.

If the court awarded him with damages based on promissory estoppel, I have a small problem with it.  My problem has nothing to do with the amount that he received, as the court could decide between expectancy and reliance damages.  The issue is that he didn’t rely on any type of gratuitous promise.  Tubby wasn’t offering him money as a gift, it was being offer in return for his services to be rendered at the University of Minnesota.  Sure, there was a promise made by Tubby, this guy actually relied on the promise when he quit his job, which was also reasonably foreseeable, and there would be injustice if this guy would just be left on the street now that Minnesota doesn’t want him.  But does promissory estoppel really fit in this case?  Perhaps it does.

One thing is certain – Minnesota won’t get out of its obligation by saying that Tubby made a unilateral mistake of making the offer in the first place.  Even though he might have been under a faulty assumption that he had the authority to hire assistant coaches, he and Minnesota will not be excused from contractual performance, unless this other guy knew that Tubby didn’t have authority, which is highly unlikely.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.