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Don’t Touch My Recruits…or I’ll Sue

The New York Supreme Court (which for all of our non-law school readers, is actually the lowest court in the New York state court system) recently ruled in one part of Marist University’s lawsuit against Matt Brady, former men’s basketball coach at Marist, and his new employer James Madison University.  Brady left Marist to coach JMU in 2008, with a 73-50 record in four years of coaching.  Marist claimed that JMU had tortuously interfered with Brady’s Marist contract (another interference with contract case!), which included a “new recruitment” clause, under which Brady could not contact players being recruited by Marist if he left during the terms of his contract.  At the time that Brady departed for James Madison, Marist provided JMU with a list of 19 basketball players that Brady had been recruiting, and thus fell under the clause.  Four of the players on Marist’s list ended up signing on with JMU.  The court ruled in favor of Marist, Judge Wood writing in the opinion that JMU “raided” Marist’s prospective recruits.

Originally scheduled for July 26, the court will meet again on August 5 to decide the more puzzling part of the case – the damages to be awarded to Marist.  According to Gabe Feldman of Sports Law Blog, this is the first time a school has successfully sued another school for violating a “no recruitment” clause in a coach’s contract.  In addition, the ruling does not look good for Matt Brady, who awaits his own decision in Marist’s lawsuit against him for breach of contract.  Marist finished with a pitiful 1-29 during the 2009-2010 season after Brady left, only one of two teams in all of Division I basketball that only had one win all season (the other team was Bryant University).  One of the recruits that signed with James Madison, Julius Wells, averaged 16.3 points-per-game and 5.1 rebounds-per-game, second on the team in both of those categories.  Will the success of these lost players have any effect on the damages awarded to Marist?  It is unknown exactly how Judge Wood will determine the damages award to Marist.  This decision will not automatically help Marist revive its basketball program, but it may have a drastic effect on Marist’s and other teams’ future recruiting.

I’m assuming the court’s decision will go up on appeal if it hasn’t already.  But what will be the effect it has on coaching contracts in college sports?  This case was decided under New York contract law, and other state and federal courts will not be bound by the ruling.  However, one can likely speculate that more schools will begin to include recruitment restriction clauses in their coach contracts, especially if lawsuits are brought and ruled in the same manner in other state courts.  I’ll be back to report on the case when the court hands down its damages on James Madison University.