Rodriguez

Bambauer

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Law professor Derek Bambauer knew he found the perfect teaching tool in former West Virginia University head football coach Rich Rodriguez's contract dispute.

Not only was the dispute itself full of basic contract law elements, but then add two groups of very voracious football fans -- one group that felt Rodriguez's hiring was a mistake from the beginning and another that was still seething over their native son's abrupt departure.

Bambauer was teaching at Wayne State University in Detroit when Rodriguez was hired in December 2007 to succeed Lloyd Carr at University of Michigan.

Rodriguez's resignation as WVU's head football coach had come mere months after he last renegotiated his contract with the university. That contract included a $4 million buyout if he left WVU within one year of the August 2007 signing date.

Subsequently, WVU filed a motion for declaratory judgment in Monongalia County Circuit Court, asking the court to find that Rodriguez's contract with the university was valid, that it had not breached the contract and that Rodriguez had.

WVU then added a count of breach of contract after Rodriguez allegedly failed to pay the first installment of the $4 million liquidated damages clause when due.

It wasn't until months later, in July 2008, that Rodriguez and WVU agreed to settle the lawsuit.

The terms stated that Michigan would pay $2.5 million of the settlement and Rodriguez would pay the remaining $1.5 million in three installments of $500,000 each over three years, starting in January 2010.

Bambauer said the heated dispute worked "wonderfully well" for his Contracts B class, a second semester contract law class he was teaching in the winter and spring of 2008. Wayne State law students are required to take the class their first year.

Now an associate professor at the Brooklyn Law School, teaching Internet law and intellectual property, Bambauer said the dispute had consumed the Great Lakes State.

"Michigan is football mad, kind of the way West Virginia is," he said of the atmosphere. "I remember going to my first game (at Michigan). It was sort of like being at a religious revival. I felt very much like an outsider."

Most of his students -- he had about 50 in his "night" section -- were already following the story, he said.

"These were students who were working during the day and going to law school at night. They were a pretty motivated group. Still, I never thought they would get to all of the readings," Bambauer said. "But they were connected, which really made a difference."

That, and the fact that it was a "rich" contract dispute, he said.

"When you're trying to walk students through some of these concepts, it can be difficult sometimes," he explained. "But if you have something you can point to, something very tangible, like this, it helps. They really start thinking about it in concrete terms."

The students, he said, often commented that the dispute was far more interesting than the cases in the textbooks.

"All of them liked it because it was local," Bambauer said. "They saw it in the papers. But they knew how to think about it now. It let them test their wings a little bit."

The storyline, itself, was intriguing, the professor said.

"The whole thing was just so sordid -- the way he left WVU, the whole transition," he said. "He was plainly looking before he left to go to Michigan, based on some reports. It's obvious he constantly had his eyes out for a better deal."

"It was a classic way of burning bridges behind you," he said.

As for the end result?

Bambauer said the fact that Michigan had to shell out $2.5 million to snag Rodriguez shouldn't have been a surprise.

"This is something they knew they'd have to deal with. They had to factor that in," he said.

Still, he can see how it was sort of unsatisfying -- for WVU fans, especially.

"You can think of contracts in two ways. One is, that they are promises. And didn't our parents always tell us we should only make promises we intend to keep? But sometimes that's just not the case," he said.

"Sometimes contracts are more helpful when they're broken. And in this case, if Rodriguez really felt better off at Michigan and he and the university were willing to pay the price -- then he's coaching at the place he wants to be and WVU now has the money to go out and hire a coach."

The ones who get hurt the most in this situation are recruits, alumni and the fans, Bambauer said.

"In this case, you had a lot of recruits who had come to WVU based on promises that (Rodriguez) was going to be there, based on his system. Plus, you had boosters and alumni who had planned around him being there for years to come," he said.

The professor said die-hard college football fans just shouldn't count on a coach staying long-term.

"Everyone should approach a coach's contract a little bit more like a prenup agreement: Really, we think it's going to end up well, but what if it doesn't?

"Football fans have to be a little more skeptical of the promises and the hope you get when you hire a new coach."

Football, especially for Division I universities like WVU and Michigan, is big business, Bambauer said.

"It's important to remember that the position of coach at that level is different. They've worked their way up, and now they're earning millions," he said.

But what did his students take away from the class?

That, more often than not, virtually all lawsuits settle, Bambauer said.

"It was a nice teaching moment because it showed that you threaten a lot and then, eventually, the parties sit down and negotiate. This is the norm.

"A lot of times the work you're doing is to position yourself to get the best possible settlement."

He added, "In that sense, this dispute actually went down pretty quickly and everyone could move on with their lives."

Rodriguez had minimal success during his brief stint in Ann Arbor, compiling a three-year record of 15-22 and 6-18 in Big Ten play before being ousted in January.

Out of a job, the Grant Town native recently signed on with CBS as a football analyst for the upcoming season. It is the first time in more than 20 years that he is without a team to coach.

The man who replaced him in Morgantown, Bill Stewart, also is out of a job. Stewart recently resigned amid allegations that he asked reporters to dig up dirt on his new offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen. Holgorsen was elevated to head coach in June.

More News