Marist University lost 29 of 30 basketball games last season, but the Red Foxes managed to earn a landmark victory away from the court.
In a decision released Monday, New York Supreme Court Justice Charles D. Wood ruled that former coach Matt Brady breached his contract by contacting players he'd recruited at Marist after he left for James Madison in March 2008. A clause in the four-year contract Brady signed at Marist in 2007 forbade him from contacting any prospects he'd previously recruited if he left for another university without written permission.
Lawyers from both schools will return to court next Monday to determine the monetary damages Marist will receive, but what makes this case nationally relevant is the legal precedent it sets for college athletics. If other schools insert similar clauses into the contracts of their coaches, it may become difficult for current or prospective players to follow a coach who leaves their program for another.
Marist initially pushed for the clause to be inserted in Brady's contract in hopes it might help prevent him from using the Red Foxes as a stepping stone to a better gig. Dave Magarity had just retired after a successful 18-year tenure, so Marist officials wanted his replacement to be committed for the long haul.
Brady, who spent the previous 11 years as an assistant at St. Joseph's, parlayed one pedestrian 18-14 season at Marist into a job offer from James Madison. In his first year at James Madison, he landed a five-man recruiting class that included four kids he'd recruited while at Marist, one of whom, 6-foot-7 small forward Andrey Semenov, had previously verbally committed to the Red Foxes.
It's very common for coaches to capitalize on previous relationships with players to lure them to their new school, but the presence of the clause in Brady's contract should have made him and James Madison more cautious. The breach of contract was egregious enough that Marist officials felt they had a chance to win a lawsuit against James Madison.
If the idea of Marist collecting reparations for recruiting failures seems ridiculous, consider the depths the Red Foxes sank to in the wake of Brady's sudden departure.
Three of the players in question cracked 13-win James Madison's rotation last season including forward Julius Wells, who averaged 16.6 points per game as a sophomore. It's probably safe to assume the presence of Wells alone would have helped the Red Foxes improve on their disastrous 1-29 record.
Regardless of the damages Marist collects, however, the long-lasting legacy of this case will be that the Red Foxes won it at all.
When John Calipari left Memphis for Kentucky in spring 2009, Tigers signee DeMarcus Cousins sought a release from his letter of intent so he could follow his hand-picked coach to Lexington.
If clauses like the one in Brady's contract become popular, future players in the position that Cousins was in may no longer have that option.