Friday, February 22, 2008

Kelvin Sampson: Stellar Human Being

A loyal reader and erstwhile fan of Indiana University has asked me to analyze the Kelvin Sampson situation from a contract law perspective. As someone who only watches NCAA basketball at tourney time, I don't have a dog in this fight. But since I love a good douchebag investigation as much as the next guy, and since I'm one of the foremost contract law/douchebag experts on the planet...

The story in a nutshell is as follows:

1. IU fires Bob Knight (or simply "Knight" as he is known to certain IU fans).

2. IU hires some other guy, who doesn't perform to the level at which IU is accustomed; he is fired.

3. IU hires Kelvin Sampson, a coach known for winning many basketball games at a number of NCAA programs, including 11 straight 20-win seasons.

4. When hired at IU "Sampson was already on NCAA probation when he took the Indiana job for making 577 improper phone calls between 2000 and 2004 while the coach at Oklahoma." These were prohibited phone calls to potential recruits.

5. In addition to those violations, Sampson had engaged in a litany of other activities of questionable legality.

6. While at IU, Sampson wasted no time in returning to his illicit ways. He quickly began making improper phone calls to recruits, including many in which he had his assistant call the player, and then conference him in on the call, apparently in an effort to avoid detection.

7. Of course, Sampson, being a bungling criminal with a penchant for being caught, did not, in fact, avoid detection, but rather attracted the attention of IU compliance authorities and, of course, NCAA investigators.

8. Which resulted in an IU investigation last fall in which Sampson was implicated in making more than 100 improper calls, and in an NCAA report a few days ago implicating Sampson in 5 "major" rules violations, including lying to NCAA and IU investigators.

9. According to press accounts, following IU's 2007 investigation the University and Sampson agreed that Sampson would be punished by waiving his right to collect a $500,000 bonus. (Sampson's base salary is $500k/yr and runs until 2013.

10. Since the recent release of the NCAA's findings, IU has been pressured to get rid of Sampson.

So that's the story. Apparently IU has been reluctant to fire Sampson outright because of a recent precedent where Ohio State fired coach Jim O'Brien for engaging in conduct prohibited by the NCAA. O'Brien sued OSU and won a multi-million dollar judgment for wrongful termination, apparently because OSU had not followed contractually mandated procedures for termination.

Lawyers have been quoted in news reports as saying that IU may have similar issues with Sampson: " Indiana apparently feels that the way Sampson's contract is worded that they are at a similar risk." Here, as another example, a former IU trustee who "works in contractual law" (sic) opines that IU may be liable for paying Sampson the remaining money on his contract. The story also quotes another "attorney" who states that IU's failure to fire Sampson back in the fall (rather than take away his bonus) might operate as a waiver of their right to fire him at all.

Not to put too fine a point on it: I think these lawyers must be high. Or perhaps they have not read the contract, which is available online. And any lawyer "working in contractual law" who opines on a contract matter without having read the contract... well, they had better keep their malpractice insurance paid up.

The contract clearly states that Sampson may be fired for many many reasons. In fact, almost any possible reason you can think of. There's a laundry list which, if you include the "duties" sections referenced, runs more than 3 pages long. Included, of course, are provisions which allow termination by the University in the event that Sampson engages in a "significant, intentional, or repeated" violation of NCAA rules, or if he allows one of his coaches to do the same (one of his coaches was fired 3 months ago for this very reason). Additionally, he can be fired if he does anything that could prejudice or bring disrepute upon the University.

In sum, these termination provisions are essentially ironclad. IU knew damn well they were hiring a douchebag. And to their credit, they protected themselves well in this contract.

There is, by the way, a provision outlining the procedures for firing him. These must be followed, but basically all that is required is a determination by the athletic director that the employee has committed a terminable violation, which determination results in a suspension pending a determination by the President of the University. There is a 10 day period during which the employee can object, but the President's determination is final. If this procedure is followed, Sampson is owed nothing; basically, it's pack your shit and get the hell out.

The one and only caveat here is the "waiver of bonus" thing last fall. If IU signed an amendment to the contract at that time which waived any and all actions of the employee in connection with all of his misdeeds, known or unknown, then it is possible that they would not have the right to use these misdeeds as a basis for terminating the contract.

However, this is highly unlikely. First, the University would have to be monumentally stupid to release Sampson from every conceivable thing he could have done. At the time, they had maximum bargaining power, and could dictate whatever terms they liked. If I were representing them, I would have advised that they not sign any release at all, much less a very unfavorable release. And unless they waived their right of termination in writing, there's no waiver.

But in any event, Sampson apparently lied to NCAA investigators after this point in time. Which is, of course, a violation of his contract giving rise to a right of termination on the part of the University. This kind of thing violates at least 4 separate provisions.

HipHopLawyer Opinion: Sampson is royally screwed. But so is Indiana, who never should have hired such a scumbag.
UPDATE: Apparently IU "fired" Sampson and paid him $750,000. In my view, they could have easily told him to fuck off without paying him a dime, but they probably figured it would cost them at least that much to litigate the matter, so to them it is probably money well spent, avoids the headaches, allows them to move on, etc.


Anonymous said...

Awesome! Thanks for sifting through this and giving the hip hop lawyer perspective. To any doubters, this proves you've gone to law school!

Bobby Rulez!

Gleemonex said...

Righteous! This guy, such a fuckin douche ... I hope that $750K will be enough to live on for life, cause ain't NOBODY hiring him after this.

HHL said...

i hope he chokes on his $750k. but don't be so quick to relegate him to the dustbin of NCAA hoops history. somebody, somewhere (yeah, i'm lookin' at you Texas A&M) is gonna look at his record of 11 straight 20 win seasons and go, "aww, how bad can the guy be, really? i bet he could really kickstart our program!" and hire him.

Kingfish said...

I read somewhere that IU has never been on NCAA double secret probation. I could never figure out why the IU powers would hire such a crook. Then again, one of the 'powers' that fired Bobby is Myles Brand. He is the resident big shot at the NCAA now.

So many things are wrong with the NCAA. BCS....OU cheating, getting caught, punished, and then the ultimate insult of getting wins re-instated? The patsy 19 year old Bomar did not act alone. Fucking shit and damn. Big Red Motors...21-17 Tech...didn't get that one back land theives! Ha!

Hip Hop...the Aggies had a nice run recently. Of course my favorite thing about that program is they printed NIT t-shirts a few years back. Plus, I love it that last season Bobby beat them twice while they were ranked in the top my recollection Bobby only beat UT once, beyond that would be a surprise. Fuckers!

Who gives a rip anyway. Only two weeks til Spring practice kicks off. 18 starters coming back plus some big help coming in on the d-line. We just might have the guns to get 10 wins.