In Texas, it is said that football is King. However, based on the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling last week in the regards to former football Coach Mike Leach’s lawsuit against Texas Tech University case, the State of Texas is King, and as Mel Brooks once said “its good to be the King”.
Texas Supreme Court Opinion
Last Friday, the Texas Supreme Court rejected without comment former Texas Tech Football Coach Mike Leach’s appeal in his wrongful termination lawsuit against Texas Tech based on the old British common law of sovereign immunity. The case was brought by Mike Leach and his attorney’s after he was terminated as coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders due to claims of abusing one of his players, and just days before an $800,000 bonus was due to Leach.
While this case involved only Mike Leach and Texas Tech University, the precedent that it sets may have huge implications in the sports industry in Texas for years to come. The court ruled in favor of Texas Tech’s claim of sovereign immunity as an institution of the state of Texas limiting its exposure to any civil suits.
What is Sovereign Immunity
The principle of sovereign immunity dates back hundreds of years to British law, based on the fact that the King was chosen by God to rule and as God’s chosen divine representative on earth the King does God’s will and thus can do no wrong.
Now the British had their way with unusual laws, such King Edward VI’s epiphany that any person found breaking a boiled egg at the sharp end will be sentenced to 24 hours in the village stocks. And over the years, many laws have been revised, if not outright thrown out. However, in the United States and in particular Texas, the King’s way is apparently still good enough. This latest ruling reaffirms that an as a government institution, Texas Tech University has sovereign immunity and has immunity from being sued and from being liable if sued, without its own permission. That’s right, if you want to sue a state school’s athletic program, you must first ask permission.
Who Will This Affect?
This should ring alarm bells throughout the sports industry given the number and size of the state owned athletics programs in Texas, including; University of Texas at Austin Longhorns, Texas Tech University Red Raiders, Texas A&M University Aggies, University of Houston Cougars, University of North Texas Mean Green and Texas State University Bobcats. In addition this decision might be used as a legal precedent in other states where the law is not as settled and clear, and thus have even broader implications.
Any company that has a contract with one of these programs must now re-evaluate the value of their contract and the impact a breach in contract might have to their stakeholder and shareholders. Should an issue arise between a partner company and one of the universities would like to terminate the contract), based on sovereign immunity the company has little ability to protect itself in court.
For example should Texas Tech University decide that it’s would be better to partner with Nike (and their thousands of uniform choices) rather than continue to work with Under Armour which was a Mike Leach endorsed sponsorship, Tech could use sovereign immunity defense to get out of the contract. Should DeLoss Dodds reverse himself regarding the value and adoption of the Longhorn Network, ESPN and IMG would be left holding the bag as the University of Texas walks into the arms of FOX to start a Big 12 network. Should Kevin Sumlin lose eight games in the inaugural SEC season for the Texas A&M Aggies, A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne could simply terminate the contract without due process and move on to the next coach.
What Does the Future Hold?
Could any of these situations happen? Based on the ruling last Friday, that is a very real possibility. However there would certainly be long-term consequences these schools would face, such as a much more limited pool of interested coaching candidates and a decrease in value for overall sponsorships. Most schools would not take that risk, however in order to save the $800,000, Texas Tech University decided it was worth the risk to their business reputation and has opened a Pandora’s box for all marketers.
What are your thoughts about Sovereign Immunity and his wrongful termination lawsuit against Texas Tech University? Leave your comments below or tweet us!