Expect more schools like Georgia to protect itself with ‘ethics’ clause

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Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity referenced "events that occur around the country" when alluding to the "conduct and ethics" clause that's in coach Kirby Smart's contract. (Brant Sanderlin / bsanderlin@ajc.com)

In the aftermath of Baylor’s poor handling of sexual assault cases, the school made the extraordinary decision to fire coach Art Briles with eight years and more than $40 million left on his contract. The message from the board of regents: Winning doesn’t trump everything — now there’s a novel thought in major college football — and the school is comfortable with its legal position in impending buyout talks, given Briles’ apparent ethics violations in this matter.

It’s with some irony that word now comes out that new Georgia coach Kirby Smart’s contract includes a “conduct and ethics” clause, via our Chip Towers.

This is a clause that will be in the contracts for all Georgia coaches. The original impetus for this was a recent NCAA investigation into the swimming program in which coach Jack Bauerle was found to have provided extra benefits to a swimmer. There was nothing spelled out in Bauerle’s previous contract about this particular scenario, but he was ordered to reimburse the Georgia athletic association approximately $100,000 for legal fees. The safe assumption: His job was on the line.

Bauerle’s infractions and the alleged actions of Briles obviously are on different levels, and Georgia doesn’t expect Smart will color outside the lines in recruiting or will enable criminal behavior as Briles and Baylor officials are accused of doing. But expect the clause in Smart’s contract — which allows the school to withhold a coach’s pay for a violation of the “conduct and ethics” clause, with the possibility of a firing if it rises to that level — to become the norm in college sports.

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity didn’t reference Baylor directly in his comments to Towers. But you could read between the lines of this quote: “I’d just say that events that occur around the country often lead to changes in contracts everywhere. Things have to be adjusted all the time, not only here but around the country.”

The NCAA already is empowered to institute a “show-clause” penalty on a coach if he or she gets a program on probation and is fired, effectively preventing the coach from taking another job right away. What the NCAA hasn’t done is attempt to expand its powers banning coaches — likely potentially Briles — who may be found culpable for enabling criminal behavior in the real world, outside of NCAA regulations.

I wrote about this last week in a column that is linked here. Renown Title IX attorney John Clune, who has represented several women in rape and domestic violence cases, including at Baylor, agrees that coaches in Baylor-like situations shouldn’t be allowed to just move on to another school.

“It makes sense that if you have a coach found responsible for what’s going on in his last job, that person shouldn’t be allowed to just go to another university,” Clune told me. “If I were the parent of a young woman who was sexually assaulted by a player and later learned the coach who was responsible for the program knew about it … I’d be furious.”

For now, schools like Georgia are at least moving in the right direction in terms of protecting themselves.

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