When Coaches Can't Compete -- Non-Competes in Sports

by Fisher Phillips


In the lucrative world of big time college football, universities continually try to gain an edge over the competition by, among other things, luring top notch coaches with generous multi-million dollar contracts. One such instance of this occurred in late 2012, when the University of Arkansas hired Bret Bielma away from the University of Wisconsin to coach its football team. Prior to joining the Arkansas football program, Bielma had a highly successful tenure as the coach of Wisconsin’s football team, which included multiple conference titles, regular bowl appearances and annually competing for national championships. Bielma’s decision to leave Wisconsin, after such a successful run at the university, to join Arkansas surprised many who follow college football. While it was already well-known that Bielma was being paid a multi-million dollar annual salary to coach the football team, Arkansas recently released a complete copy of Bielma’s contract.

In addition to containing the standard language one would expect to see, Bielma’s contract with Arkansas also includes a non-compete provision. Broken down to its basics, the non-compete clause prohibits Bielma from coaching another one of the football teams in the Southeastern Conference (“SEC”), the conference Arkansas competes in, at anytime between December 4, 2012 and December 31, 2018. The scope of the non-compete clause is limited to the 14 members of the SEC as of the date Bielma’s contract went into effect.  Putting aside buyouts and other provisions in the contract, the non-compete clause does not prohibit Bielma from leaving Arkansas to coach another university’s football program outside the SEC. The provision further acknowledges that Arkansas would suffer irreparable harm in the absence of the protections afforded by the non-compete clause and provides that Arkansas is entitled to injunctive relief “[i]n the event of a breach or threatened breach.”

The entire non-compete clause in Bielma’s contract reads as follows:

Covenant Not to Compete.  The parties covenant and agree that the University  is a member of the SEC and competes against other SEC member institutions for students, faculty, and staff. Additionally, the parties covenant and agree that the University’s football program competes against other SEC member institutions for prospective student-athletes, financial support, and prestige. The parties further covenant and agree that the competitiveness and success of the University’s football program affects the overall financial health and welfare of the Athletic Department and that the University maintains a vested interest in sustaining and protecting the well-being of its football program, including, but not limited to, the recruitment of prospective student-athletes to the institution and the financial integrity of its athletics programs. To avoid harming the University’s interests, Coach covenants and agrees that this covenant not to compete shall be in full force and effect during the period beginning on December 4, 2012, and ending on December 31, 2018, and shall survive Coach’s termination of the Agreement prior to the expiration of the Term or any mutually agreed upon extensions of the Term for any reason whatsoever. Coach and/or any individual or entity acting on Coach’s behalf, shall not seek or accept employment in any coaching capacity with any other member institution of the SEC.  For purposes of this covenant not to compete, the University and Coach agree that it shall apply only to the 14 member institutions of the SEC existing as of December 4, 2012. This covenant not to compete, however, shall not apply if the University exercises its right to terminate the Agreement for convenience or if the Coach terminates this Agreement for cause based upon the University’s material breach of this Agreement.

Nothing contained in this Agreement shall be deemed, construed or operate as a waiver of any immunities to suit available to the University or the members of the Board of Trustees or any University officials, representatives or employees. In the event of a breach or threatened breach of this provision, the University shall be entitled to injunctive relief as well as any other applicable remedies at law or in equity. Coach understands and agrees that without such protection, the University’s interests would be irreparably harmed, and that the remedy of monetary damages alone would be inadequate. This covenant not to compete shall be independent of any other provision of this Agreement, and the existence of any claim or cause of action by Coach against the University, whether predicated on this Agreement or otherwise, shall not constitute a defense to the enforcement of this provision by the University.

In short, as the clause makes readily apparent, Arkansas has taken preemptive measures aimed at both dissuading Bielma from jumping ship to coach another football team in the ultra-competitive SEC and thwarting efforts by other SEC schools to recruit Bielma to coach their football team.

The inclusion of a non-compete clause in Bielma’s contract is noteworthy for a number of reasons. Initially it highlights how non-compete clauses can be broadly utilized, in an array of industries, in an effort to protect an employer’s business interests. While enforceability is a completely separate issue, Arkansas, similar to many other institutions, is attempting to protect the substantial investment it has made in an employee, here the coach of its football team. Moreover, if Bielma ever violated the non-compete clause by going to another school in the SEC, it would likely result in a expensive and highly publicized legal battle between universities. It is an open question if a court in Arkansas or another jurisdiction would ultimately enforce the clause and enjoin a football coach of Bielma’s stature from working at another school in the SEC. At a minimum, however, the non-compete clause provides Arkansas with substantial leverage over any other university in the SEC that attempts to hire Bielma to coach its football team before the expiration of the clause on December 31, 2018.  The simple takeaway from the non-compete clause appears to be that Arkansas has no interest in losing its multi-million dollar football coach to a rival school in the SEC.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Fisher Phillips | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Fisher Phillips

Fisher Phillips on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.