A Portage County judge has ruled that Bradley University, in Peoria, Ill., "intentionally interfered" with Kent State University's contract with former men's basketball coach Geno Ford, and is liable for damages.
The ruling by Portage County Common Pleas Judge John Enlow was announced Thursday by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who appointed an Akron law firm to represent the university in the matter, and KSU.
A jury will be convened to decide what damages Bradley will pay KSU, according to DeWine. In court filings, KSU had asked Enlow to award $1.6 million in damages, but he ruled that such damages "must be proven at trial."
Enlow found in favor of a motion for summary judgment by KSU, ruling that Bradley U. "intentionally interfered" with the contract between Ford and KSU, according to DeWine's office. A summary judgment is a ruling made by the court for one party against another in a case based on its merits, without a jury hearing arguments.
In his ruling, Enlow wrote that Bradley U. "largely bases its case on KSU allowing Coach Ford to have discussions with other basketball programs."
According to the lawsuit, any non-Mid-American Conference school seeking to hire Ford had to seek permission from KSU Athletics Director Joel Nielsen before doing so. Bradley U. sought and received permission to talk to Ford following the 2010-11 basketball season, and he agreed to become their head coach in March 2011.
Despite that, Enlow ruled, "consent to interview is not consent to hire," as Ford's contract stated that "'Ford recognizes ... his promise to work for the university for the entire term of this five (5) year contract,'" as quoted in court documents.
"But that provision did not void or take priority over the five year term of the contract and specified damages for a breach," Enlow wrote.
A Bradley U. spokeswoman, Kath Conver, referred all questions to the university's counsel, Bill Kohlhase. A message seeking comment was left for Kohlhase.
Ford was hired by KSU in April 2008 at an annual salary of $200,000. The contract was later extended by one year, and Ford's salary increased to $300,000 annually in April 2010. That made him the highest-paid basketball coach in the MAC.
KSU filed suit against Ford and Bradley U. for breach of contract in April 2011. Enlow previously found Ford liable for $1.2 million in damages for breaching his contract, which extended through the 2014-15 basketball season.
The Akron law firm Roderick Linton Belfance was appointed by DeWine to represent KSU in the lawsuit against Ford and Bradley U.
"We have a duty to protect our public colleges and universities from third-parties that try to undermine or interfere with their contracts," DeWine said, announcing the ruling. "When a university disregards those contracts and knowingly poaches another school's coach, that university must be held accountable."
The Golden Flashes went 68-37 over three seasons with Ford as their head coach.
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