On Nov. 26, the University of Tennessee hired Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano to be its next football coach. Within a matter of hours, the school experienced a case of buyer’s remorse, a decision that will cost the university millions of dollars.
Tennessee director of athletics John Currie and Schiano signed a Memorandum of Understanding setting forth the basic terms of their agreement. Schiano would have been paid $27.7 million over six years. The memorandum further stated that it “constitutes a binding agreement between coach and the university...”
UT backed out of the deal after fans, former players, elected officials, students and alumni created a firestorm on social media claiming Schiano covered up child rape while coaching at Penn State at the same time as convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky. The allegations stem from a deposition given by former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary, the star witness for the prosecution in a criminal case against Sandusky that led to convictions on 45 counts of sexual abuse.
The August 2015 deposition, taken in a civil suit between Penn State and its insurance company to determine liability for payouts to Sandusky’s victims, came three years after Sandusky was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.
In his deposition, McQueary said Tom Bradley, another Penn State assistant coach, had told him that sometime “in the early ‘90s…Greg had come into his office white as a ghost and said he just saw Jerry doing something to a boy in the shower.”
Schiano has denied the allegation, as has Bradley. McQueary’s statement was double hearsay, which is probably why law enforcement never followed up on it. Yet the Tennessee faithful didn’t hesitate to light up social media and sully Schiano’s reputation, killing his chances of coaching the Volunteers. So much for due process. Currie was fired for failing to conduct sufficient due diligence on Schiano.
Two other clauses in the MOU are relevant here. Although Currie and Schiano signed the MOU, signature lines for UT’s chancellor and chief financial officer were blank. The university says without those signatures, the MOU isn’t binding. However, the last sentence of the MOU reads, “until such time that the Employment Agreement is executed, this MOU shall constitute a binding employment contract between the parties.”
Sounds like a contract to me.
If Schiano’s attorneys can overcome the lack of signatures, the damages to their client are clear. Paragraph 4 of the MOU states Tennessee may, in its sole discretion, terminate the MOU without cause. If the university takes such action, it must pay Schiano 75 percent of the base pay set forth in the document. If you’re counting, that’s $20.625 million. It’s unlikely Schiano will receive that amount, at least not without going to court, but you can be sure representatives of the parties are currently engaged in settlement talks that will result in Schiano being paid a significant sum.
Did Schiano see something 25 years ago that he should have reported? Perhaps. But whether he did or not, his trial and conviction by social media will cost UT dearly.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a Professor in and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.