Smile Politely

$1.3 million, the first installment

This Tuesday, April 30, the University of Illinois will* pay Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber $1.3 million dollars. It’s the first of three payments Illinois will* make, all conveying the same sum, in accordance with Weber’s mutual release of April 17, 2012.

On Wednesday, KSU will pay Weber even more.

KSU’s contract just happens to cycle and reactivate on May Day, the holiday of post-national communism. But it’s Illinois’ contract that collectivists, labor unions, Socialist Worker’s Party members, and, frankly, Bruce Weber should celebrate.

Here’s why: KSU’s contract features a mitigation clause. If Weber were working for Illinois, KSU would be relieved of the responsibility to pay Weber, dollar-for-dollar, for his Illinois salary. Here in the shampooing banana, our athletic donors are paying Weber almost dollar-for-dollar with K-State.


It’s called a “mitigation clause.” They have it. We don’t.

I’m a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law. Consequently, I don’t know very much about the law, or what it’s like to cash a large paycheck. But I can tell you this: The University of Illinois should be either extremely embarrassed or hugely arrogant about the ineptitude/cunning brilliance of its contracts. (I can’t figure out how it might be brilliant; but I’m sure there’s someone out there who’s willing to make an elegant argument along those lines.)

How could Illinois not protect its interests? A mitigation clause is hardly hostile. It ensures fulfillment of an employee’s expected compensation.

Since Mike Thomas came aboard, Illinois has wised up (or Wised up, perhaps.) John Groce’s employment contract (see it in full, in this slideshow) does contain a mitigation clause:

Another clause not visible in Weber’s contract with Illinois is the “buyout” provision. The absence of a buyout provision means Illinois is responsible for the full value of Weber’s contract, for as long as it runs, no matter when Illinois relieves him of his duties. That’s why Illinois will* pay him $1.3 million on Tuesday. They’ll also pay him $1.3 million a year from Tuesday. And again, a year after that.

By that time, Weber may no longer be earning paychecks from KSU.

It doesn’t matter whether Weber was Big 12 Coach of the Year, whether his best player transferred, whether KSU ever beats Kansas, whether Weber ever wins another tournament game. None of it matters because KSU has a buyout clause. KSU’s buyout is explicitly stated. It’s a maximum of $2.5 million.

Illinois’ contract with Weber had no buyout clause.

(Smile Politely mistakenly labeled my series of Weber contract stories “the Bruce Weber buyout” series, but that was the least of the errors of SP’s presentation. We looked stupid. They apologized. Tracy has since offered me five drinks.)

Worst of all, Illinois’ contract featured no reassignment clause. KSU’s contract with Weber features a reassignment clause.

To reassign an employee is to screw him, royally. But only if you want him to leave. A reassignment could also be a golden parachute. It depends on the circumstances.

If KSU wanted to thank Weber for years of service, but install a younger coach, it could reassign him to write Thank You notes to donors, at his leisure, in an office/beach hotel grotto of his choosing. If it wanted him to leave, it could require Weber to show up every day, and sit in a room with four bare walls and no radio. He’d have a mandatory 15 minute break.

This is the clause that would have saved Illinois roughly $3.9 million.

When I first read Weber’s contract with Illinois, I was stunned to find no clause that might allow the university to hire a new basketball coach without firing its (then) present basketball coach. I went to see Associate Director of Athletics Kent Brown, to ensure I was interpreting the contract correctly.

Illinois was required to fire Bruce Weber, because only one “head coach – men’s basketball” position exists within the university’s civil service structure. In other words, they couldn’t hire Shaka Smart, or even initiate the search process to find Shaka Smart, without first firing Bruce Weber. (Illinois’ contract with John Groce features no reassignment clause.)

In my opinion, a reassignment clause would have saved Illinois roughly $3.9 million. A mitigation clause would have saved Illinois $3.9 million. Instead, they’ll pay Bruce Weber on Tuesday.*

I wonder how he’ll celebrate. Perhaps he’ll lead a rousing round of The Internationale with his favorite group of workers, and then take them all out for some custard.

And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think, that for one time in his career, Weber seems to control the means of production.

*Of course, Illinois may choose to contest Weber’s right to payment based on his campaign against Mike Thomas, Phyllis Wise, and Mike Hogan. But unfortunately, Illinois’ existing agreement with Weber is a toothless “mutual release,” which affords the university even fewer options than its toothless contract. For a full recounting of that language, see the Bruce Weber “Buyout” Series, Part Three.

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