Escaping The Non-Conference Contracts For Vanderbilt, SEC Football

Greg Arias

The COVID-19 novel Coronavirus pandemic has thrown the world as we knew it into turmoil. That turmoil appears ready to last, although some states have eased restrictions and are attempting a return toward future normalcy. 

There are more important aspects of our situation than sports-surely I jest- right? The world of college and professional athletics has undergone the same deep impacts as the rest of our nation, and they, too, are attempting to decide what steps to take as they attempt a return. 

One of the contingencies under consideration among college administrators is the possibility of conferences playing a conference only schedule. 

Why?

Some states might not have progressed to the point of allowing student-athletes to compete on the field by the time others might be ready to participate.     

In the SEC, Alabama will face the USC Trojans in Dallas to kick off their season. Still, on Wednesday, California's governor says he would consider enacting Martial Law in his state to stop the spike or reemergence of the virus. 

What happens if that possibility were to become a reality, and the Trojans were not able to play while the Tide was free and ready to play?

If such possibilities became a reality and the SEC were to move to a conference only schedule to assure teams would be able to participate, how would schools such as Vanderbilt be able to escape non-conference contracts currently on their 2020 schedule?

 The Commodores will open their season versus Mercer in Nashville, along with non-conference matchups at home versus Colorado State and Louisiana Tech, along with a road visit to Kansas State in a Power Five matchup.

If the SEC were to enact a conference only schedule, those four games would have to be stricken from the schedule. While removing them might seem simple, there are monetary considerations as well. 

When non-conference games are scheduled, there are contracts between the two schools that outlines all details, including the amount of compensation the home school will pay the visiting institution for the game. 

Mercer, a Division-I team from the Southern Conference, is a smaller school who schedules contests versus SEC teams in part to earn a large payday to subsidize their other athletic programs in non-revenue producing sports. 

Losing a payday against the Commodores would be a blow to the Bears athletic programs, but it could happen should the SEC move to a conference only setup.     

So then Vanderbilt would be out the money owed Mercer under the contract, right?

It's not that simple because of language included by all SEC teams in their contracts. 

The term Force Majeure is defined as unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract." Others call it the act of God clause.

Commodore Country has obtained copies of the contracts between Vanderbilt and  Colorado State & Lousiana Tech- Mercer is a private institution like Vanderbilt and not subject to open records requests- where Force Majeure clauses are included in both contracts obtained.

The clause states that "In the event of fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, war, invasion, hostilities, rebellion, insurrection, confiscation by order of government, military or public authority or prohibitory or governmental authority, including that of the Southeastern Conference or National Collegiate Athletic Association, making it impossible or impractical to play the game, both Parties shall be relieved of any and all obligations of this agreement."  

Financial terms of the contract between Vanderbilt and Mercer are unavailable. Still, it is doubtful that the Bears would accept a deal without compensation, meaning the Bears would be out the agreed-upon revenue under this clause. 

Both the Colorado State and Louisiana Tech contracts do not specify any monetary terms for compensation between the schools, but both include Force Majeure clauses. 

Any decisions by the NCAA, SEC, or Vanderbilt are still works in progress. Likely multiple scenarios are possible to cover any eventualities. Still, for the Commodores and the rest of the SEC, there is an escape clause available to be able to move forward with a conference only season should that be the final decision.      

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