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Pokelahoma Asks A Lawyer: Contracts & Travis Ford

I ask a Texas-based lawyer his general thoughts on Coach Ford's contract.

Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that last game went.....exactly as we all expected. We lost in the first round again and Travis Ford set an Oklahoma State record with five straight tournament losses. In the spirit of the off season I thought I'd look at Travis Ford's contract again. This time I wanted some sort of legal advice. Since I sure can't go back to that one lawyer who helped me out with the hogs and know what? We're here to see what we can do about Travis Ford's contract. Screaming out "HELP, I NEED AN AMBULANCE!" turned out to be the second best way to get some legal help.

A kindly Texas-based lawyer fought off all the other contenders and agreed to look at Travis Ford's contract for me and offer his thoughts. He even agreed to ignore my terrible old jokes. In exchange, I tell you, he's Texas based, and only offering general comments based on litigation and employment principles. I don't see any of you jackals with law degrees, so let's be thankful he puts up with me.

Here are Coach Ford's Contracts so you can follow along.

POKELAHOMA: So what happens if Travis Ford gets canned tomorrow?

THE UNOFFICIAL NON LEGAL ADVICE MAYBE CONSIDERED AN UN PAID FRIENDLY CONSULTANT BUT PROBABLY NOT REALLY JUST A POKES FAN GUY WITH A LAW DEGREE: There are two contracts. One is the primary coaching contract and the other is a "Talent" contract regarding his media and spokesperson obligations. That said,  I can tell you that if Ford is terminated without cause he will be paid through the end of the contracts. That payment will be reduced by any sums he earns working for someone else during the remaining term of the contracts.

POKELAHOMA: Ok great, so assuming we fire him and he gets another job what we owe won't be the full value of the deal....but we'd still have to pay him each month to make up the difference.

TUNLAMCAUFCBPNRJAPFGWALD: In order to receive these payments Ford must be actively engaged in efforts to find income opportunities. Ford is required to report every 30 days to the university exactly what efforts he has undergone in that prior 30 day period. So, the contract isn't "fully guaranteed" as understood by the layperson. Ford must seek other employment, and if such employment is found, the amount owed by the university is reduced by sums he received from the new employer or new opportunity.

POKELAHOMA: Oh good, so we don't realllllllly owe him a little under 12 million as of today assuming he gets another job...It's possibly less based on whatever his next job pays him.

TUNLAMCAUFCBPNRJAPFGWALD: For instance, if Ford were to take a job as a commentator with ESPN making $300,000/year, the amount due by the university to Ford would be reduced by that $300,000. So essentially, the university has guaranteed that he will make the minimums as outlined in the contracts so long as he is "making diligent effort to obtain full-time employment, business or professional income (for example, but not limited to, basketball coaching, media commentator, speaking engagements, teaching or other academic activities, consulting or participation in business or any other income producing opportunities)"

POKELAHOMA: That seems pretty uhhh undefined....

TUNLAMCAUFCBPNRJAPFGWALD: If Ford decided he wanted to coach basketball at Stillwater High School until the end of these contracts, he would be guaranteed all of the compensation in these contracts because he was gainfully employed as a basketball coach. In fact, if he wanted to be a full-time teacher's aide at Stillwater High School that paid $12,000 per year, and held that position for the term of the contracts, he would receive all the compensation in these contracts. If he ever quit that teacher's aid job, his obligations to seek other income opportunities and make monthly reports to the school would start again.

POKELAHOMA: So you're saying if we fire him today he could coach his kids team for $8 an hour and we're on the hook for the rest of it as if he still worked for us? What constitutes looking for work in this situation? You mention Stillwater High, would that really do it? Is there any way for the university to say "You're not looking hard enough?" Seems like a low bar to me?

TUNLAMCAUFCBPNRJAPFGWALD: Frankly, Ford's people won this point of the negotiation. The actual contractual language states that he has an obligation to make "diligent efforts to obtain full-time employment" then fails to define the term. It doesn't define "diligent," "search," or "full time." It's ambiguous and a clear victory for Ford in my opinion. Reading it as a litigator and trial attorney whose primary job is to break things and kill people, I see this as something negotiated where either a. The employee had the upper hand; or b. The employer was simply asleep at the wheel. In situations like this, ambiguity does not favor the employer. I suppose that there was an attempt to "define" this situation with the modification that is in the parentheticals. But those are examples of things that clearly were already understood in the primary sentence of that paragraph. So it's a total waste of time. In fact, when I read that paragraph I was imagining myself as Ford's lawyer and the field day I would have with Oklahoma State lawyers if they challenged any effort Ford made to find employment.

POKELAHOMA: Issues with our lawyers seem to be a recurring theme....this one, the Wickline deal....not a question, just a comment.

That said, I think if once a month he sent a resume to a different Burger King demanding four hundred thousand dollars in annual salary to manage their franchise, that probably doesn't qualify. But sending resumes to every school that has an opening for basketball coach and demanding a salary commensurate with what he was making, or even 75% of what he was making, probably discharges his obligation. And like I said previously, I think he could take a full-time job as a coaching assistant at Stillwater High School and satisfy the obligations of this contract. Primarily, because it is full-time and in sports, academics, etc.

Pokelahoma: Thanks for taking some time so share some of your thoughts!

It's me again. My closing thoughts on this are we're probably screwed this off-season. Our ability to get rid of him depends on how confident he'll find a similar paycheck soon after we fire him.

However! We're getting down to decision time as recruiting will be impacted when the head coach's contract no longer lasts longer than the careers of the kids he's recruiting. He's out recruiting kids right now, who he can't honestly tell he'll be here for four years. That's no good for anyone.