West Virginia University President Mike Garrison made some comments about WVU’s lawsuit against former head football coach Rich Rodriguez, which were reported in Saturday’s edition of The (Morgantown, WV) Dominion Post (subscription required).   As I wrote last week, WVU sued Rodriguez last Thursday in West Virginia state court, seeking a declaration that he must pay $4 million to WVU because he resigned to take the head coach’s job at the University of Michigan. 

    As reported by Todd Murray, Garrison said:

“The ball is clearly in the coach’s court,” Garrison said.  “All this could be ended very quickly by him saying, ‘I will honor my agreement under the contract.’”

Garrison said WVU is not interested in settling with Rodriguez.

“We have no reason to settle,” said Garrison, who admitted that, as president, he would prefer to have financial incentives in a coach’s contract rather than a buyout clause.  “The facts in the contract couldn’t be clearer.” 

    Also quoted in the article is Alex Macia, WVU’s vice president of legal affairs and general counsel, who said,

“We’re asking the court to declare that this is legally enforceable agreement,” Macia said Friday.  “We haven’t said anybody breached it yet.  We didn’t breach it, and it is legally enforceable.  We’ve performed our end of the bargain.  We’re asking the court to say he has to.”

Macia’s comments are not quite consistent with the language in the complaint, which contains the following paragraph:

8.  This matter is appropriate for declaratory judgment as a justiciable controversy exists between the parties as the University is informed and believes that Rodriguez does not intend to abide by the terms of the Agreement. 

    Macia is technically correct that no one has said that Rodriguez has breached the agreement yet.  Of course, until January 18, 2008 comes and goes without Rodriguez making the first one-third payment to WVU, he hasn’t breached the agreement.  But unless WVU claims that Rodriguez does not intend to abide by the agreement, then it has no standing to seek any declaratory relief.  And that is its only basis for being in court at this point.

    My feeling when I first read the complaint, and which has not changed, is that WVU has already handled the matter ineptly, and created yet another distraction for the team (remember them?), which plays in the Fiesta Bowl on January 2.  Just as Rodriguez can fairly be asked why he did not wait until after the bowl game had been played to announce his departure for Michigan, Garrison and Macia can fairly be asked why they could not wait until after the bowl game or even later to pursue this action.  (My own guess is that much of the tension stems from a meeting between Garrison and Rodriguez on December 15, which was reported in the Detroit Free Press, in which West Virginia Media president Bray Cary (who had spoken with representatives of both men after the meeting) said, "They started kicking sand at each other,[] like two kids at a sandbox.")  

    If you want the full text of the Dominion Post article, e-mail me at jeff@mehaliclaw.com, and I’ll send it to you.