The Southeastern Conference (SEC) is on a roll right now. Alabama is the reigning king of college football. Same for Kentucky in men’s college basketball and South Carolina in college baseball. An SEC-alum is the reigning Super Bowl MVP and another recently won the Masters. Yet, not content to limit the SEC’s dominance to the field of play, Arkansas’ college football coach Bobby Petrino is doing his best to extend the SEC’s dominance to the gossip papers and tabloids.

For anyone not following along at home as the saga unfolds, here’s what’s generally understood as of right now: Petrino was involved in a single-vehicle motorcycle accident on April 1. Petrino was beat up pretty badly in the crash, but was able to speak with reporters soon after the crash showing obvious road rash and wearing a neck brace. What Petrino failed to mention to the reporters, and more importantly, his boss, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, was that he had a passenger–a twenty-five year old former Arkansas volleyball player turned football department employee following a “previous inappropriate relationship.” Petrino went well out of his way to hide this fact, directing a passer-by not to call 911 and getting a ride into town where Petrino’s female passenger was dropped off at her car. Petrino then called a state trooper that was a member of his personal security guard during the season. This might not be a problem were it not for the fact that Petrino is married with four children and the woman on the back of the motorcycle is engaged to someone else in the Arkansas athletic department with a June 9 wedding date.

Petrino’s actions could be problematic for him in several ways–but most importantly, a morality clause in Petrino’s contract that gives Arkansas the right to fire or suspend the coach for conduct that “negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university’s) athletics programs in any way.” Recently, Petrino’s former employer, the University of Louisville, refused to exercise a similar morality clause in the contract of its men’s basketball coach after it became public that Pitino had an affair with a lady on a table at a Louisville restaurant and later provided the money for the abortion.

Vanderbilt Law-alum Clay Travis guesses that Petrino will “survive because he wins and because [Arkansas' athletic director] wants him to survive. But I think the SEC will suspend him for at least half the season, potentially more.” In the end, Petrino should hope that his current boss shows the same leniency that his former boss showed Pitino. Perhaps the greatest thing that both coaches have on their side–winning.

Update – This post was written prior to news Tuesday night that Bobby Petrino was fired. Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long stated that the termination was “with cause” and will not receive his $18 million dollar buyout. Long also revealed a previous $20,000 payment from Petrino to his mistress. Some sources close to the Arkansas athletic department say that Arkansas/Long wanted to keep Petrino (see Travis’ comment above about Petrino winning games) but that Petrino refused the terms of the sanctions.

- R. Paul Russell

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8 Responses to Illicit Romance, Motorcycles, and Morality Clauses

  1. Sam Beutler says:

    It’s interesting we don’t hear more about coaches fired as a result of violating a morality clause. My guess is that in most situations, schools opt to use the morality clause as leverage against the coach, inducing him or her to “resign.” Resignation may look better from both the coach’s and school’s public relations perspective. Interesting that from all accounts, Arkansas did not ask him to resign instead.

  2. Talor Bearman says:

    I think the idea of a “morality” clause is somewhat interesting. It seems to me that America seems to be pretty willing to forgive people for moral misgivings if they are good at their job. In addition to Pitino, Tiger Woods has been able to find new sponsors, and Mike Leach was recently rehired (although he was fired for abusing a player, not for sexual misgivings).

  3. Katharine Skinner says:

    In wondering about her employment contract, it appears that even before creating her contract, Petrino and the school may have violated hiring rules, which makes one wonder whether her contract would even be enforceable later. Apparently the university has an affirmative action policy that requires any job opening to be posted for at least 30 days before any interviews can begin. Petrino requested a waiver to get around the time limit, but her first interview was scheduled before the waiver was even granted. The job qualifications also required a minimum of two years prior experience with a football program, which she did not have. Since she was hired using impermissible procedures, it may have an effect on the validity of her contract to begin with.

  4. Ed Chadwick says:

    The young lady has actually already been placed on paid leave by the University which was inevitable when the press found out she had taken $20,000 from Petrino to buy a car. While Petrino himself has made it clear he won’t challenge the firing, I think it will be interesting what she’ll do legally, especially if she does have similar moral language in her contract. In any case, I have to imagine that the SEC and NCAA also might have something to say as she was bound by their regulations as an employee of the school, though I have no clue how or even if those organization have any rules that apply to this situation.

  5. Alexandra Pichette says:

    It will be interesting to see whether the young woman will be terminated as well. She may or may not have the same morality clause in her employee contract, but it seems clear that she will face some responsibility for taking the job without disclosing this signficant conflict of interest. Although this will probably be a moot point, after the popular Petrino was terminated it seems like she would be facing an extremely hostile work environment if she stayed- and/or unlike Petrino, she can probably fired without cause.

  6. Charles Michels says:

    I don’t think Petrino will have any reason to challenge the “with cause” termination. Doing so will just get more of the details of this messy affair out in public.

    He’s already got enough money. Take the termination. Find a new job. Avoid the public embarrassment.

  7. Meredith Lawrence says:

    Interpretation of the morality clause’s “with cause” provision would be very interesting had Petrino not also allegedly been involved in his female passenger’s hiring and questionable $20,000 payment. Such activities provide a more solid basis for “with cause.”

  8. Joel Slater says:

    It will be interesting to see if Petrino even attempts to challenge the “with cause” part of the firing. I would think a fuzzy morality clause would be difficult to interpret, though these actions are extreme enough that I doubt Petrino has much of a chance.