The Arkansas State Red Wolves and a Word on Contractual Obligations

So if you and I agreed that I would give you something, and you would give me something in return – and I don’t just mean a gentleman’s agreement, I mean a full-on signed and proper contract – I would think you would be pretty upset if you gave me what I wanted, but then I didn’t do the same in return.

You’d probably be equally miffed if I tried to talk you into accepting something else instead, which wasn’t really of equal value – and even if it was, it’s still not the thing I wanted and that we agreed you would give me.

You’d be even more annoyed if I then tried to use the one piece of language in our contract that would void it completely when you pointed out that my previous actions meant that I owed you money.

I’m not going to dig into specific examples, you can insert whatever details you’d like, but this is essentially why we could be only a couple of days away from Arkansas State University suing the University of Miami for $650,000 dollars.

So I’ll be as brief as I can, but link to full details throughout and at the end.

The University of Miami and Arkansas State entered into a written, signed contract for a home-and-home football series which consisted of two games: a game during the 2014 season in Miami, and a game during the 2017 season in Jonesboro.

The 2014 game went off without a hitch, but when the 2017 season arrived, Irma had other ideas. Hurricane Irma, that is. Every Florida based program had major issues that went far beyond a football game scheduled for September 9th (the day of A State-Miami) and lasted much longer. Despite Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir doing literally everything he could think of in order to keep the game intact, Miami refused to play the game anytime that week.

This made sense, and the campus was shut down for almost three weeks – they had to postpone their game the following week against Florida State, as well.

I am fully on board with everything that has happened to this point. Mohajir is absolutely right to pursue the stasis of that game by any means necessary (including paying $90,000 to re-route Miami’s travel plans more safely through Memphis and accommodate them in Jonesboro the way Wisconsin accommodated FAU in Madison).

He has a small local economy that made plans based on anticipated revenue influx from that game, and no game (not just any game, but the University of Miami coming to town) meant a financial crater that would take an unknown amount of time to escape. Not making such efforts would look like an athletic director that didn’t care about the well-being of his own community.

Miami athletic director Blake James is absolutely right to consider the safety of his student-athletes and coaches (and their families) above everything else at that time, so there is no reason to fault him for refusing Mohajir’s advances no matter how accommodating they were so that he could give all of his attention to making sure that as little trauma and stress as possible befell the people of Miami.

Terry tried really hard to take care of his people, and Blake did the same. Yes, Miami probably could have played the game and waited out the storm’s aftermath in Jonesboro or Memphis or elsewhere, but James decided that was a bridge too far and I respect his decision.

Unfortunately, we also have everything that has happened since.

After the season concluded (December 2017), Mohajir contacted James about rescheduling and was asked to wait until the offseason. He did so, and last month he re-opened the topic only to get a response from Miami that informed him that there was no possible way for the game to be rescheduled any earlier than 2024.

Arkansas State didn’t accept this because the scheduling service they spoke with stated that the Hurricanes had schedule openings in 2020 and 2021 that could go to the Red Wolves. Miami stated that this was false, as they had not yet met their guaranteed six home games of the season nor filled their slots that were committed to FCS opponents, and given those stipulations, no openings were possible until at least the 2024 season.

As a result, Arkansas State invoked the notion that Miami was in breach of contract and that they were obligated as such to pay Arkansas State the $650,000 cancellation fee that is in the wording of the signed contract. Miami, in return, invoked item 14 of the contract, a force majeure stipulation that states that if a natural disaster makes the game impossible to play, then the entire contract is null and void.

As I’ve already said, I’m not here to discuss whether Miami was right to cancel the game or Arkansas State was right to doggedly pursue rescheduling during game week; both actions have their own justifications and that ship sailed long ago.

We’re taking a quick look at whether Arkansas State is right to sue, and whether they actually have a legal leg to stand on.

The first point of contention is Miami’s use of the force majeure clause to cancel the agreement in full. It states “if playing the game is impossible.” As long as A-State and Mohajir have documented proof of these lengthy and considerable efforts they went to in order to accommodate Miami prior to the lawsuit, then Miami’s claim is null and void.

Considering that the Red Wolves only filed suit after the Hurricanes refused the initial date and the adjusted date and the attempt to reschedule within 3-4 years, the notion that playing this game was “impossible” is hard to defend. The only justification is if Miami could prove that it truly was an absolute no-go to reschedule this game any time prior to the 2024 season.

According to Miami, their scheduling restrictions are six home games per year and a game against an FCS opponent – I don’t know that either of these things is actually mandated as opposed to a preference, but let’s start from there. I’m using my best available reference, FBschedules.com.

We know for sure that ACC member Miami gets four home conference games per year, so the Arkansas State game would have to wait for a year where the ‘Canes have already scheduled two non-conference home games, at least one against an FCS team, and still had an opening (per their own words).

  • 2019 – Home games against Central Michigan as well as a neutral site game against Florida
  • 2020 – Home game against Temple, road game at Michigan State
  • 2021 – Home games against Appalachian State and Michigan State, a road game against FIU, and a neutral site game against Alabama
  • 2022 – Road game against Texas A&M
  • 2023 – Home game against Texas A&M and road game against Temple
  • 2024 – Road game at Notre Dame

Already, you can see cracks forming in Miami’s stance. If nothing else, at present time they have the exact same schedule flexibility in 2022 as they do in 2024, since both schedules currently contain only one road non-conference game and could add a game in Jonesboro with room to still meet their other scheduling needs.

Sure, 2021 is off the table because that’s already full, but what about 2020? There’s still room to add both a road game at Jonesboro and a home game against their coveted FCS opponent, so nothing is stopping that option but the possibility that Miami is currently talking with an opponent they would rather play.

The same is true for 2019 now that the home game against FIU moved back to next season, and the second FIU date is possibly still in flux, but can only impact either 2020 or 2021.

So while there were certainly great reasons to cancel the 2017 game, playing it was not impossible. Also, Miami’s claim that they could not possibly reschedule the game before 2024 is demonstrably false, as they have several opportunities to fit a game into their schedule well before 2024 without skirting any of their desired stipulations (six home games, FCS home game).

So Arkansas State, no matter what some Miami fans will tell you, is not trying to scam Miami for money they don’t deserve because Miami wouldn’t forego their own safety and just play football, and the Red Wolves have proof that their intentions are shady.

They are simply in a situation where Miami understandably canceled the originally scheduled game, but then refused to reschedule the game on Arkansas State’s offered timeframe and likely lied about why, and refused to pay the contractually agreed upon fee for canceling and not rescheduling by applying a subjective interpretation of the force majeure clause.

This is a team that is paying Central Michigan $1.4 million dollars to come to town in 2019, and is now bending over backwarrds to avoid writing a check for $0.65 million dollars so that they can also avoid playing a game in Jonesboro, AR anytime soon.

I absolutely see Arkansas State winning this argument in court, which is absurd considering that it could literally be over tomorrow if Miami wrote a check that would barely create a smudge on their financial ledger.

TL;DR

Arkansas State is not about to sue Miami because they canceled a football game and wouldn’t agree to an alternate scenario to make the game fit into the same season.

They are about to sue Miami because they did all that AND then refused to reschedule in a timely manner AND probably lied about their ability to do so AND then invoked a subjective interpretation of a debatably applicable contractual clause in order to avoid paying the fee necessitated by all of their previous actions.

But please, continue making stupid stereotypical jokes about people from Arkansas, because that achieves anything.

****

The originally signed contract between the two schools

 

The letter from Arkansas State’s legal counsel to Miami’s legal counsel

 

The reply from Miami’s legal counsel to Arkansas State’s legal counsel

 

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