Thursday, June 26, 2008

Duke won a lawsuit because it has a bad football team

From the Sports Law Blog:

The University of Louisville sued Duke for breach of contract after the Blue Devils opted out of the final three games of a four-game football series after Louisville demolished Duke 40-3 in the first game. Apparently, Duke waved the surrender flag to avoid more embarrassments.

The case, University of Louisville v. Duke University, sought $450,000 in damages. The amount was derived from a contractual cancellation penalty of $150,000 per game if the nonbreaching party is unable to schedule a replacement game with a “team of similar stature." Louisville, of course, had a duty to mitigate its damages by trying to find a "team of similar stature." It claimed it could not.

It is in interpreting "team of similar stature" where Duke's lack of success helped. Judge Phillip J. Shepherd agreed with Duke’s argument that its team was so bad (6-45 over the past 5 years) that finding a replacement team of "similar stature" should not have been difficult. At oral argument, Duke persuasively asserted that this is a threshold that could not be any lower.

Louisville did find substitute teams and the court rejected the claim that the term "similar stature" was ambiguous. According to the court's ruling, finding a replacement of similar stature literally meant that any NCAA Division I team would suffice – including those in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA.) Therefore, the court granted summary judgment for Duke.

Imagine, however, if Duke was a more competitive football team. Then the substitution clause would be more difficult to fulfill. Or, in a legal nightmare scenario, imagine that Duke's football team was as good as its men's basketball team! Needless to say, situation would be far more difficult.

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