Jim Harbaugh Seeking Immunity in New Coaching Contract

Last Updated on January 19, 2024

Just after winning the College Football National Championship and advocating for college athletes’ rights, Jim Harbaugh began taking steps to determine what is next in his football coaching career. Will Harbaugh remain the head coach of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor football team or will he return to the NFL?

Soon after the National Championship game, Harbaugh began interviewing with NFL teams for a head coaching position. While exploring his options in the NFL, Harbaugh is simultaneously working hard at negotiating his contract to remain at Michigan.

However, this contract negotiation is like no other as Harbaugh is seeking to add a revolutionary clause to his contract with Michigan. Specifically, Harbaugh is seeking to add an “immunity clause” to his contract as he is currently facing a Level I violation from the NCAA.

Harbaugh’s Alleged Level I Violation

The University of Michigan received a notice of allegations related to impermissible on-campus and off-campus recruiting during the COVID-19 dead period. The football program is facing four Level II violations. Additionally, Jim Harbaugh is facing a Level I violation for allegedly misleading investigators.

The program received notice in January of 2023 and agreed to several Level II violations including coaches watching workouts via Zoom and sending texts during the dead period.  Consequently, Jim Harbaugh served a self-imposed three game suspension even though he remains steadfast against the alleged Level I violation that he lied to investigators during the investigation.

However, the investigation and possible penalties for Harbaugh is still looming. It is for this reason that Jim Harbaugh is seeking to have an immunity clause added to his contract.

Specifically, Harbaugh wants to include a provision that would grant him immunity from termination from any finding that could arise from the current NCAA investigation into the Michigan football program. Furthermore, he seeks to prohibit the athletic director from firing him “for cause” and leave that type of decision to a three-member arbitration panel.

Additionally, he seeks to have any decision involving a ‘for cause’ termination be the decision of a three-member arbitration panel. However, the athletic director would retain the ability to fire Harbaugh for performance related issues. The arbitration panel decision making process that Harbaugh is seeking to make a part of his contract is common in university executive contracts, but is completely unheard of in coaching contracts.

Why This Immunity Clause is Revolutionary

A successful negotiation of the immunity clause stands to have a profound effect on the future of college coaching contracts. It is very possible that other college coaches will seek to have similar provisions added into their contracts.

This is especially true in the wake of the sanctions that the NCAA recently handed to Florida State University for using NIL as a recruiting inducement. Last week, the NCAA issued its first penalties on an assistant coach, a school, and a NIL collective for impermissibly using NIL as a recruiting inducement.

Per the NCAA infractions report, an assistant football coach at Florida State University arranged a meeting between a booster and a college athlete considering transferring to Florida State. While the assistant coach did not attend the meeting, he provided the athlete transportation to the meeting.  During the meeting, the booster offered the prospect a NIL deal valued at approximately $15,000 per month. Shortly after the meeting, the prospect withdrew from the transfer portal and remained at his previous school.

The prospect did not enter the NIL deal nor receive any compensation related to the deal. However, the NCAA still found this interaction to be an infraction as the booster had an impermissible contact with the prospect and offered him a NIL deal as an inducement to transfer to Florida State. Accordingly, the assistant coach, the NIL collective, and the booster faced several penalties.

Many believe that the Florida State penalties are the first of many more to come. Therefore, it is possible that coaches will find negotiating an immunity clause to be an attractive option if Harbaugh is successful.

If Harbaugh is successful, it stands to completely revolutionize how college coaches negotiate contracts. A successful negotiation of the immunity clause stands to have a detrimental effect on the NCAA’s enforcement process as well.

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