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What’s in an Athletic Contract?

by Justin Nichols, Ed.D.

Know someone who has recently signed an athletic contract or might be signing one soon? For many of us who have experience with contracts and employment, there are some basic elements that exist for all binding contracts:

  1. offer
  2. acceptance
  3. considerations
  4. legality
  5. capacity

This holds true across a number of spectrums of employment, with the exception of a number of contracts related to athletics. What is really in an athletic contract? Many professional and higher education sport contracts include provisions that make their contracts much different from other career fields. Golf club memberships, fleet vehicles, and mortgage allowances were just a few components that were found in some Division I coaching contracts retrieved from 2010. This may seem lavish but there are other components that really create a clear distinction. For example, I could not imagine being terminated from my position as a faculty member and being awarded $18.9 million in liquidated damages from my employer. This is exactly what Charlie Weis, former head football coach at Notre Dame, got paid as a buyout from his contract in 2009. Another more recent example will unfold soon with Antonio Brown’s grievance with the Oakland Raiders ($29 million) and New England Patriots ($9 million). This portion of the grievance is just the tip of the iceberg. In total, Antonio Brown will seek a whopping $61 million in total filings against the National Football League (NFL). While the $38 million, listed above, is a large payout for a player that only lasted one month into the season, the NFL Players Association and collective bargaining agreement are in place to attempt to protect players in these situations. The teams in question and the NFL will try to use contract language to justify their position. Much will unfold in the coming weeks, but one thing is for sure… no matter if we are discussing Division I athletics or professional athletics, the writer of the contract bears the full burden of proof to minimize any liquidated damages paid out in a contract dispute.

Interested in learning more? Want more discussions like this? Enroll in a few of our KHP courses to find out — KHP 473: Management of Sport or KHP 676: Current Issues and Problems in Sport Management.

Justin Nichols, Lecturer
Dr. Nichols is a Lecturer in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion and Director of the Life Fitness Program. He serves in the Sport Leadership program in the department, and his areas of interest are associated with coaching contract development and higher education athletics. Other areas of interest include course, curriculum, and program design/development. He serves on UK committees/boards at the college and university levels.