The Cousins Recruiting Saga Continues (Again)

Josh Wright —  2 April 2009

It wasn’t too long ago that I blogged about the purported end of the Demarcus Cousins saga.  For TOTM readers that want to catch up to speed, here is how things stood about a month ago:

For those who haven’t, Cousins is a blue chip high school basketball recruit who has been bargaining hard 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 wants to commit to UAB to play for former Indiana University coach Mike Davis but wanted to seek contractual insurance for the possibility that after signing the letter of intent and making specific investments to UAB, Davis might leave the program. Cousins alleged that Davis promised that UAB would release Cousins without penalty if Davis was no longer his coach.

When we last left Cousins, he was holding out, talking to other programs, and attempting to bargain for this term in his National Letter of Intent.  He’s now signed with Memphis.

Back then, I noted that I thought it was odd that UAB could not find a way to include the contractual provision in Cousins’ NLI and wondered whether other athletes were successful in doing so.  It turns out recent developments give answer to that question, and also involve Cousins.

As the college basketball world now knows, former Memphis coach John Calipari (who successfully got the verbal commitment from Cousins) has accepted the head coaching position at the University of Kentucky.

With Calipari accepting the Memphis job, the question now turns to whether his excellent recruiting class will stay at Memphis.  But what about the NLI provisions that commit a player to attend or take the one year penalty for transferring?  Apparently, Cousins only committed to Memphis verbally and so is free to transfer.  ESPN reports that Cousins may stay at Memphis but that Calipari is likely to have a wonderful shot at him heading to Kentucky.

But here is the interesting new fact (at least to me and as it has been reported on ESPN): Another blue chip recruit that had signed an NLI with Memphis, Xavier Henry, but ESPN reporters continue to reference his NLI including a provision that allows him release without penalty in the case of Coach Calipari leaving.  My immediate reaction is that the fact that the competitive process for top recruits allows those players to extract these sorts of commitments from programs like Memphis convinces me that the problem at UAB must be related to a dispute between their coach (Mike Davis) and the UAB administration.  Of course the coach wants the provision.  But perhaps administrations at mid-majors want to increase the cost of early departures by prohibiting coaches from leaving and keeping recruits at the new school whereas this is less of a problem at major programs that have other substitute methods of keeping their coaches on staff for long periods of time.  For example, this list of terms reported to be included in Calipari’s Kentucky deal are too good not to post:

  • The $31.65 million deal making John Calipari the highest-paid coach in college basketball is packed with perks beyond his annual salary, including membership to the country club of his choice, two cars and incentives for reaching the NCAA Sweet Sixteen and Final Four and winning a national title.
  • The Wildcats paid Memphis $200,000 as part of Calipari’s buyout of his Tigers’ contract, which had paid him $2.35 million per year.
  • Including $3 million in retention bonuses he’ll get for staying with Kentucky through March 31, 2016, Calipari is in line to receive an average of $4 million a year over the eight years.
  • Two “late model, quality automobiles,” plus mileage.
  • Membership in a country club of his choice, including monthly dues and initiation fees.
  • 20 prime “lower-level” season tickets to UK home games.
  • Eight tickets for each UK home football game.
  • Hundreds of thousands of dollars in incentives for reaching certain milestones, such as a 75 percent graduation rate or better ($50,000), winning the Southeastern Conference ($50,000), winning the SEC tournament ($50,000), making the NCAA tournament round of 16 ($100,000), making the Final Four ($175,000), or winning the national title ($375,000).
  • The right to income from conducting basketball camps using UK facilities.
  • Should the university fire Calipari without cause, he would still receive $3 million for each year left on the contract, double the annual buyout former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie says he is entitled to under his memorandum of understanding.

One response to The Cousins Recruiting Saga Continues (Again)

  1. 
    antitrust guy 6 April 2009 at 6:38 am

    Putting aside the overall huge bucks for a basketball coach, perhaps the most offensive provision is the fact that the bonus for a 75% graduation rate is smaller than several other bonuses.

    I know that has nothing to do with antitrust*, or even contracts, but it is the problem with college sports.

    *Well, unless I want to tie it to the monopoly rents the NCAA is able to earn, thus making it more valuable to colleges to spend large amounts of money to grab a larger share of those rents by winning basketball and football games.