Michael McCann, who writes about sports legal issues, analyzes in Sportico the latest filings in the federal court lawsuit over the Razorback Foundation’s refusal to pay fired Razorback football coach Bret Bielema more than $4 million already paid on a $12-million severance agreement.
The Foundation argues that Bielema didn’t try hard enough to get a high-enough paying job, working for a time as a low-six-figures assistant for the New England Patriots NFL team. It also contends any disputes are supposed to be settled in Washington Circuit Court. The UA prefers using locally elected judges. They are viewed as more likely to serve up home cooking than a lifetime-tenured federal judge.
Tom Mars, one of Bielema’s attorneys, argues that if the agreement required Bielema to seek a certain type of job or a certain pay, it should have said so. He also notes a revised contract specifically eliminated Washington Circuit Court as the venue for court contests, changing it to say only “Washington County.” There is a federal court division in Fayetteville.
Somebody’s gotta lose. In state court, where the Arkansas Supreme Court is particularly ticky about following the plain text of agreements, I’d like Bielema’s chances. Federal courts have their textualists, too.
McCann makes two points.
The case bears watching for several reasons.
First, it could provide important precedent on how courts interpret coaches’ duty to mitigate. Bielema was obligated to undertake “best efforts” in his job search. Such a standard is very subjective and could be shaped by this litigation.
Second, if Bielema’s case advances, it could lead to testimony by Belichick and other Patriots officials about their workplace arrangements with Bielema and other assistant coaches. The Patriots have long operated in a “tight-lipped” manner. Team officials would presumably prefer the case is resolved before their involvement—and sworn testimony—is compelled by subpoena.
I’d add a third consideration: A full trial might unearth internal information from the UA-Foundation corner that some would prefer to remain buried.