Sunday, 8 April 2012

Bobby Petrino's Morals Clause

I have been following with interest this week's developments in the Bobby Petrino matter. I've written in the past about morals clauses in athlete playing, coaching and endorsement contracts (as have other Sports Law Blog contributors). These are clauses that enable the team, university or company to terminate a relationship with an athlete or coach because of "immoral" conduct. I've been able to write about morals clauses a few times because there are consistently scandals, like the Bobby Petrino matter, involving a famous coach or athlete.

Morals clauses can vary widely in the conduct they cover and the remedies they provide. A broad morals clause may allow termination of a contract simply for conduct that the employer determines to be "disreputable." A more restrictive morals clause may allow for termination based only on conviction of a felony. In addition to termination, a morals clause may give the employer other remedies, such as reducing the compensation or length of an agreement, or the extent to which an athlete will be a featured endorser.

Petrino's contract allows the University of Arkansas to terminate him for "engaging in conduct, as solely determined by the university, which is clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of head football coach or which adversely affects the reputation of the (university's) athletics programs in any way." On the face of it, this morals clause would appear to give Arkansas ample basis to terminate Petrino's contract. Even so, it remains to be seen whether it will exercise its termination right. In fact, one of the interesting aspects of morals clauses is that, despite the fact that they can be highly negotiated provisions, employers do not always invoke their rights under such clauses. Even after coaches or athletes have engaged in conduct violating a morals clause, employers make economic decisions whether to continue their association with the coach or athlete engulfed in scandal.

Rick Pitino is just one recent example who survived a scandal, and not all of Tiger Woods's endorsers ended their relationship with him. Because of Petrino's success at Arkansas, and the revenue its football program generates, Arkansas' exercise of its morals clause rights is hardly a certainty. The content of this communication is intended to provide information on recent legal developments. Your use of this information does not create or continue an attorney-client relationship nor should the information herein be construed as legal advise. This communication may constitute "Attorney Advertising" under the New York Rules of Professional Conduct and under the law of other jurisdictions.

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