More on Letter of Intent and Release Bargaining

Josh Wright —  30 December 2008

Last month I highlighted the story of DeMarcus Cousins, a blue chip high school basketball recruit who was playing a game of chicken with the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) over signing his National Letter of Intent — the letter that commits a player to attend the university and imposes the penalty of giving up a full year of eligibility if the student-athlete transfers.  Cousins claims that he stayed near home and UAB to play for former Indiana University coach Mike Davis who had allegedly represented to Cousins that UAB would release Cousins without penalty if Davis was no longer his coach.  Cousins has been holding out to try to bargain for this term in his NLI.  Nothing new there — though if anybody has information on the follow-up story there I’d love to hear it.

I came across this story at ESPN on the release of Miami University QB Robert Marve which includes the following detail:

The release comes with conditions that don’t sit well with Marve. He can’t play for teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Southeastern Conference or the state of Florida. It’s not unusual for programs to place restrictions on the deal when a marquee player transfers.

If this sort of ex-post imposition of non-compete conditions on player releases is standard fare, which the article suggests that it is, Cousins’ strategy seems even more reasonable to protect against this sort of hold up with contractual protections ex ante.

UPDATE:  Apparently, the University of Miami has relaxed its restrictions on Marve’s release.  Originally, Miami was prohibiting Marve from transferring to any school in the ACC, SEC and the state of Florida.  Now, Marve is only restricted from attending three schools that the University of Miami believes Marve contacted prior to receiving his release: the University of Florida, Tennessee, and and Louisiana State University.

6 responses to More on Letter of Intent and Release Bargaining


    Totally agree. I suspect we will see more competition on this margin in the years to come for top recruits as quick coaching changes become more common, etc.


    Agreed. Cousins clearly has an advantage since he’s taking the “home team discount” in a way.

    But presumably even top recruits will have some leverage, since a lot of them are being courted by the same schools. So a guy might talk to Florida, Miami, and FSU and tell all of them he wants an out clause in a set of circumstances, and whichever gives it to him gets the NIL.

    One can only imagine what would happen if Scott Boras could represent recruits–I imagine the vast majority of them have pretty much no clue about this stuff (nor their families) when they’re in high school and looking at the various colleges.


    Interesting. Either way, I suspect that we’ll see more and more players attempting to secure some kind of contractual guarantees ex ante. The Demarcus Cousins story is one type, i.e. player has some leverage because is a once in a generation player for a school like UAB, but I suspect this might become more common for 5 star recruits generally. Will be interesting to watch.


    Okay. I suspect that’s sloppy reporting/writing, but maybe we both have an imperfect understanding of the rules. I had thought one could transfer anywhere so long as you sit out a year, and Miami could not prevent that no matter what. Marve, of course, wants to play this Fall and, if so, has to get permission from Miami on its terms.

    BTW, at least one court (9th Cir.) appears to have upheld transfer restrictions in the face of a Sherman Act challenge. Tanaka v. USC, 253 F.3d 1059


    My understanding is that the default is not that UM doesn’t have the “right” to prevent him from going anywhere, but rather what they have is the right to prevent him from going anywhere without incurring the penalty of sitting out one year after the transfer. One might sensibly argue that the restrictions still increase Marve’s options relative to a benchmark of maximum possible restrictions under the contract. Its unclear, at least in the ESPN story, however, whether the conditional release would prevent him even from transferring to play football with the penalty (Marve is an underclassmen I think and so could sit out in theory w. remaining eligibility, though I might be wrong about that). The language in the stories though, suggests in a few places that Marve would not be allowed to transfer or obtain release to certain schools under any condition.


    Isn’t the standard/default rule that there is no release? In other words Miami was letting Marve go somewhere, just not anywhere, when it had the “right” to prevent him from going anywhere.

    But, yes, of course it makes sense to negotiate ex ante, particularly if you’re going somewhere because of the coach.