Basketball coach Sean Miller will be pointing the finger at his contract with the University of Arizona if he is terminated and the school tries to get out of payments. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The University of Arizona may be interested in terminating its contract with current men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller after it was reported that Miller discussed paying $100,000 to ensure that freshman Deandre Ayton would sign with the school. If the report is verified, then Miller likely committed a serious NCAA rules violation that should allow Arizona to terminate his contract with cause.

In most situations, terminating an employee’s contract for cause allows the employer to escape all further monetary obligations that it would otherwise have during the stated term of the agreement. However, as Darren Rovell of ESPN pointed out on Twitter, Miller’s unprecedented contract reads to oddly afford the coach the vast remainder of his salary even if the school has cause for his termination.

Miller may be entitled to 85% of the money still due under his contract, or $10.3 million. This is much more likely an error on the school’s part than an example of true generosity.

A section in the contract titled, “Termination by University Without Cause; Liquidated Damages” is circumstantial evidence of a major screw up by Arizona.

It states that,

This Sixth Amendment may be terminated by the Director of his designated representative at any time without cause. In such event, the University shall pay to Coach as liquidated damages, in lieu of any and all other legal remedies or equitable relief, an amount calculated as follows for each year or pro rata portion remaining under this Sixth Amendment: fifty percent (50%) of that portion of Coach’s Base Salary (Program Salary plus Peripheral Duties Compensation) what would have been owed to him through the remaining period of this Sixth Amendment as provided in Section I but for termination under this Section, plus any Additional Compensation earned by Coach under Section IV prior to the date of termination. The above sums will not be reduced in the event of Coach’s subsequent employment during the period covered by this Sixth Amendment. Payment shall be made in one lump sum, less appropriate withholdings under state and federal law, within thirty (30) days of the date of termination.

Yet, in the preceding section, which concerns terminating of Miller with cause, it states that “the University’s sole obligation to Coach shall be the payment of his Base Salary as provided in Section III (and where applicable, any accrued Additional Compensation earned under Section IV prior to the date of such termination).” It does not say that Miller shall only keep monies already paid or past due to him or that he is entitled to a pro rata portion of the Base Salary. It plainly says that Miller gets his Base Salary.

There is clearly missing language that should limit Miller’s salary in an instance where he is fired for cause — language that is present in almost every kind of employment contract.

The way that the contract is drafted makes it seem that the university would actually save money by terminating Miller without cause (only being required to remit 50% of Miller’s Base Salary still due), which makes no sense whatsoever. But the school may be trapped based on its poor drafting and/or review of the terms prior to the agreement’s execution. It was fully signed by Miller and President Ann Weaver Hart on behalf of the University of Arizona.

A sports agent who has represented coaches in contract negotiations told me that no agent is stupid enough to ask for terms like what are found within Miller’s agreement, “because no school in their right mind would say yes.” However, the contract is binding on the parties and it states that it replaces all prior employment contracts and amendments between the parties.

Darren Heitner is the Founder of South Florida-based HEITNER LEGAL, P.L.L.C. and Sports Agent Blog. He authored the book, How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Attorney Needs to Know.

Follow @DarrenHeitner

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Basketball coach Sean Miller will be pointing the finger at his contract with the University of Arizona if he is terminated and the school tries to get out of payments. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The University of Arizona may be interested in terminating its contract with current men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller after it was reported that Miller discussed paying $100,000 to ensure that freshman Deandre Ayton would sign with the school. If the report is verified, then Miller likely committed a serious NCAA rules violation that should allow Arizona to terminate his contract with cause.

In most situations, terminating an employee’s contract for cause allows the employer to escape all further monetary obligations that it would otherwise have during the stated term of the agreement. However, as Darren Rovell of ESPN pointed out on Twitter, Miller’s unprecedented contract reads to oddly afford the coach the vast remainder of his salary even if the school has cause for his termination.

Miller may be entitled to 85% of the money still due under his contract, or $10.3 million. This is much more likely an error on the school’s part than an example of true generosity.

A section in the contract titled, “Termination by University Without Cause; Liquidated Damages” is circumstantial evidence of a major screw up by Arizona.

It states that,

This Sixth Amendment may be terminated by the Director of his designated representative at any time without cause. In such event, the University shall pay to Coach as liquidated damages, in lieu of any and all other legal remedies or equitable relief, an amount calculated as follows for each year or pro rata portion remaining under this Sixth Amendment: fifty percent (50%) of that portion of Coach’s Base Salary (Program Salary plus Peripheral Duties Compensation) what would have been owed to him through the remaining period of this Sixth Amendment as provided in Section I but for termination under this Section, plus any Additional Compensation earned by Coach under Section IV prior to the date of termination. The above sums will not be reduced in the event of Coach’s subsequent employment during the period covered by this Sixth Amendment. Payment shall be made in one lump sum, less appropriate withholdings under state and federal law, within thirty (30) days of the date of termination.

Yet, in the preceding section, which concerns terminating of Miller with cause, it states that “the University’s sole obligation to Coach shall be the payment of his Base Salary as provided in Section III (and where applicable, any accrued Additional Compensation earned under Section IV prior to the date of such termination).” It does not say that Miller shall only keep monies already paid or past due to him or that he is entitled to a pro rata portion of the Base Salary. It plainly says that Miller gets his Base Salary.

There is clearly missing language that should limit Miller’s salary in an instance where he is fired for cause — language that is present in almost every kind of employment contract.

The way that the contract is drafted makes it seem that the university would actually save money by terminating Miller without cause (only being required to remit 50% of Miller’s Base Salary still due), which makes no sense whatsoever. But the school may be trapped based on its poor drafting and/or review of the terms prior to the agreement’s execution. It was fully signed by Miller and President Ann Weaver Hart on behalf of the University of Arizona.

A sports agent who has represented coaches in contract negotiations told me that no agent is stupid enough to ask for terms like what are found within Miller’s agreement, “because no school in their right mind would say yes.” However, the contract is binding on the parties and it states that it replaces all prior employment contracts and amendments between the parties.

Darren Heitner is the Founder of South Florida-based HEITNER LEGAL, P.L.L.C. and Sports Agent Blog. He authored the book, How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Attorney Needs to Know.

Follow @DarrenHeitner

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