Athlete Settles With Hawaii for Reneging on Verbal Offer

Submitted by Zone Left on June 14th, 2011 at 1:47 PM

In what could have been precedent setting news, Daniel Smith, a DB from Boise, ID has settled with the University of Hawaii after Hawaii welched on its verbal offer to him on Signing Day. 


Smith, a defensive back from Boise, Idaho, said he committed to the Warriors, who offered him a scholarship, told him to refuse other offers and then reneged on their promise, leaving him without a scholarship on national letter of intent day in 2008.

A lawsuit was filed soon after and the parties reached a settlement agreement in 2010, nearly 2 1⁄2 years after the case began, in which UH paid Smith $41,500 "in order to avoid further controversy and the time, expense, risks and costs inherent in litigation," according to documents released by the school under the state's open records law. According to the settlement, "this agreement shall not be construed as an admission of liability."

This is potentially BIG news for oversigning lovers and haters everywhere. Just about everyone can agree something's wrong when a prospective LSU defensive tackle, Elliot Porter, had his LOI revoked in August  after enrolling in school. This didn't even go that far. Verbal commitments are often thought of as not being binding to anyone (no matter how badly some people may want them to be), but Hawaii decided to settle in a case where there wasn't even a paper trail yet! What happens if Elliot Porter decides to go to court? This guy thinks it would have set a precedent:

The case had drawn some national attention because of the possibility it might have set a precedent in the area of athletic scholarship offers had it gone to trial and Smith prevailed. Tim Davis, a law professor at Wake Forest University who specializes in sports issues and was a witness in the case, said, "I think it would have set an important precedent. To my knowledge it would have been the first one (to have gone to trial)."

HT: Dr Saturday



June 14th, 2011 at 2:23 PM ^

For you lawyers out there, this made me wonder if part of the reason why athletic scholarships are annual is the Statute of Frauds (contracts that can't be completed in 1 year have to be in writing to ben enforceable).  Then again, I guess it doesn't apply here (or does it?)

Not really my area but despite what the Wake Forest prof is saying, I doubt that an opinion out of Hawaii would be highly precedential outside of the 9th(?) Circuit until it was upheld on independant grounds where they were trying to envorce it.  It guess settlling keeps us for finding out.


June 14th, 2011 at 2:48 PM ^

I like your thought but the Statute of Frauds (SOF) is a pain in the ass and judges here would probably get around it for two reasons: 1) Reliance, a verbal offer was given, this kid stopped looking at other schools, a judge looks at this case and just goes wow what a bunch of As#holes and does everything in his power to rule the other way, I know it doesn't sound very impartial but seriously they hate the SOF, and 2) You can claim the scholarship was a one year offer, or one school year, therefore it is only for 9 months of schooling instead of a year which gets you around the year requirement.


June 14th, 2011 at 4:52 PM ^

There is nothing interesting about the Statute of Frauds.  In fact, it is possibly the most boring concept in all of law school.  For what its worth, after Contracts class, you will likely never run into the concept again.  That is, unless you read MGoBlog.


Blue Maize and…

June 14th, 2011 at 3:25 PM ^

Statute of frauds probably wan't a big deal here. As has been noted many times in the oversigning context LOI are only good for one year, and there are many theoretical ways that the contract could come to an end as well (such as leavign the team).

I don't think this is that important though. A few things make the situation unique. He accepted the verbal offer and the coaches told him not to look anywhere else i.e. there was an offer and acceptance. So, this isn't like a player being told he couldn't commit, or didn't have a commitable offer. 

And it happened on signing day which means there might have been actual damage done. I would guess that most of the time this sort of thing happens earlier, and the player has other scholarship options making it much tougher to argue there were any real damages. Add in that this was a settlement and there's no precedent here for much of anything.  

Zone Left

June 14th, 2011 at 3:31 PM ^

There isn't a precedent, unfortunately.

The real issue for me was that this kid could successfully settle before there was a formal LOI. Kids like Elliot Porter already have signed an LOI and are then asked to grayshirt. There's pretty obviously injury there, but no one has tried to take a school or the NCAA to court.

Blue Maize and…

June 14th, 2011 at 3:51 PM ^

Yeah, and I guess the question to keep in mind are what the damages are and if the contract was actually breached. I think that where the LOI isn't revoked but the scholarship's delayed a year or something else happens that doesn't breach the parameters of the agreeement (someone can correct me if they think that breaches the contract) then it seems like the case sounds in tort not contracts, and the damages issue becomes much harder to pin down.

In this Hawaii case having an offer and acceptance followed by the school reneging with no other recourse for the player to get a free education/play college football seems like a clearer case of breach of contract. Though who knows if the kid actually would have won, seems like there are so many ways for a school to void a LOI that the promise of one doesn't seem to be worth all that much...

I know it seems like a fine line, and there's probably an argument that the Hawaii case should be the same as the LSU case just because ultimately what's being deprived is the same thing, but at least for Porter they seemed to still be giving him the option of following through on his LOI, just one year later.


June 14th, 2011 at 4:10 PM ^

Serious question: shouldn't damages be easier to prove in an LSU type situation, where the player was barred by contract from speaking to other schools (and held up to their end) but the school didn't follow through on their signed agreement of a scholarship for, say, 2012?

Seems like the same principles involved in this Hawaii lawsuit but with the added benefit of having a written contract.

Blue Maize and…

June 14th, 2011 at 4:59 PM ^

I readily admit that I could be wrong on this, since I'm not doing much to correct any ignorance of the issues involved, but here's my best guess:

Once the letter of intent is signed, both sides are bound by that agreement. If it says, you get free tuition and cost of living to play football at LSU in 2012, and the coach says actually you're going to get to play in 2013 and you have to figure out what you want to do for the next year. The damages are the value of that lost year, but there's also a requirement that you try to mitigate any damages. If all you're worried about is losing a year, and the coach gives you an opportunity to play football and receive free tuition and the cost of living somewhere else in 2012. (i.e. releases you from your LOI and there's another school that will take you) then there aren't really any damages. You could argue that there's a difference between being able to play at LSU and being able to play at LA Tech, but what's the difference? The value of your education? The value of the experience of playing football at an SEC school? If you still were going to be able to play at LSU just a year later then I don't see how you can argue those were your damages.

On the other hand, if you had an agreement to sign a letter of intent, and that gets yanked away from you then there are some very real damages, it would seem to me. Obiovusly, the above situation changes if Porter's signed the LOI and then the coach tells him you will never get to play football at LSU unless you walk on. Then it seems like they're the same situation to me, and damages depend on whether you're able to mitigate, and what exactly the damages are. That's why I brought up in my previous post that a player might try to argue tort instead of contract because it seems like schools can cancel LOI for lots of reasons, but that there might be a better case for emotional distress or some other wrong knowingly caused by the actions of the football coach in cancelling the LOI.

Again, I'm admittedly a little shakier in contracts than some other areas of the law, so that's a best guess.