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Houston Cougars Employ The Defense of Kings

Is it game, set, and match for Michael Young? Is the University of Houston out of the woods? Does anybody but the parties involved (and the NCAA) really give a damn?

Young sued the university in early July, seeking to rescind an employment contract he had signed but then wanted out of. UH claimed that Young was still under contract, that they were still paying him, and that they were expecting him to perform his duties. But then in mid-June, just several weeks later, UH terminated Young's contract. And last week, the Attorney General's office filed a legal response on behalf of the university.

And shocking no one, but perhaps Young's attorney, the state's basic response was simple: nice try, but no luck. The state generally denied all of Young's accusations, and then pled the affirmative defense of sovereign immunity.

Sovereign immunity is an ancient legal doctrine going back to before the United States existed. In short, the king could not be sued for any actions, and that's morphed into current actions where the state, or an entity or person acting on behalf of the state, cannot be sued. The University of Houston is a state school, making it a state entry, and it cannot be sued. It's unfair, but as former Texas Tech head football coach Mike Leach found out, tough luck suing a state university.

There are differences of course. Leach sued for wrongful termination, claiming that Texas Tech violated his contract when the school fired him. Young is not seeking any monetary damages, and he's not suing to keep a job. He wants the court to rule that he rescinded the contract. So it's possible a legal scholar greater than myself can make the case and win. But the question becomes one of why?

The state's general denial failed to note an important element. Young is seeking to have the court rule there is no contract. But that point's now mute. There is no contract. The university terminated it. It wasn't terminated on the timeline requested by Young, but it was terminated.

Back in the day, right after I finished law school, I worked as the briefing attorney for a state district court judge. And I learned one thing: judges hate these type of law suits. They're petty. No real harm has been suffered by any party. There's no real money or physical damages involved. It's generally just a pissing contest that ends up taking way too much of the court's time over petty matters.

 

So far the court's been asked to do nothing. A complaint has been filed. An answer has been made. The court's required to take no action until one of the the parties requests that it so do. The plaintiff can seek a ruling that Young properly rescinded his contract acceptance. The state can file for a summary judgment. Young can file an amended complaint requiring an amended answer.

Most observers can probably agree this entire thing is just nonsense. Young's feelings were hurt by the demotion. And he sent his kid off to Oregon as a result. The school could probably have handled it better, perhaps waited for Joseph Young to finish then just outright fired Michael Young then. But problems with Michael Young date back to the Tom Penders-era, when Young was found to be unqualified for a strength and conditioning coach position, and Penders was met with tons of criticism from alumni over his so-called poor treatment of Young, so perhaps the school felt it was just time to finally pull off the bandaid, no matter the pain it might cause.

And that pain could be significant. The conspiracy filled complaint of Young's accused the school of numerous NCAA violations -- they're probably too busy with Johnny Manziel right now to notice UH though -- and of hiding physical threats made against Joseph Young. While the complaint is probably worthless - because of the terminated contract and sovereign immunity -- it probably serves as the perfect template for the University of Oregon to use to make sure Joseph Young is eligible for play this season.

What happens next? Maybe a court filing by the state seeking to dismiss the case. Probably an ugly reply from Young's attorney. More bad press and a continued unhappy fan base. At some point NCAA reps will hit the campus and much more money will be wasted. And all of this resulting from the hurt feelings of a spurned legend suffering through a divorce from his alma mater.

So even though the contract's terminated, there's still a lawsuit. There's still the matter of the alleged NCAA violations supposedly committed by the University of Houston in its attempts to placate Young. There's the alleged threats made against Joseph Young, and Joseph Young's sure to come attempt to play basketball for Oregon this season. And the lesson learned is a simple one: God forbid any basketball coach attempt to exert some control over who he employs on his staff.


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