Arkansas State threatens to sue Miami over canceled game

Dr. Saturday

Back in September, the looming threat of Hurricane Irma led to a bevy of game cancellations involving schools in the Southeast, mostly in Florida.

Miami’s trip to Arkansas State was included in that bunch with the school opting not to send the team to Jonesboro for the scheduled Sept. 9 contest against the Red Wolves. All of these months later, Arkansas State says it has not received payment from Miami for the game.

A lawsuit could come next.

According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas State says Miami must make a payment of $650,000 by Feb. 15 — this Thursday.

From the Democrat-Gazette:

Arkansas State University issued an ultimatum Monday morning to the University of Miami: If it doesn’t pay for its canceled football game from the 2017 season by Feb. 15, then ASU will file a lawsuit. In a letter that was shared with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, ASU informed Miami of its demand.

The ASU and Miami athletic departments had signed a contract in May 2013 that stated the Red Wolves would play in Miami during the 2014 season and the Hurricanes would play in Jonesboro during the 2017 season. The contract stated that if one team did not appear, the other would receive a liquidated damages payment of $650,000 by Feb. 15, 2018.

Miami announced Sept. 6, “based on the projected timing and path of Hurricane Irma,” that it had canceled all week athletic contests — home and away. That included the football team’s scheduled trip to Arkansas State.

“The decision to cancel these athletic contests is difficult, especially as some are scheduled to take place away from Miami,” Miami athletic director Blake James said. “However, we made the collective decision that we simply cannot put our student-athletes, coaches and staff in danger traveling to and from contests.”

After the cancellation was announced, Arkansas State AD Terry Mohajir said ASU, the Sun Belt and ESPN all offered to move the game from Saturday to Friday night. Mohajir also said “additional accommodations” for the Miami players and program were offered to help with travel, but, “ultimately, the Miami administration made the decision not to travel.”

In a Feb. 12 letter to Miami, Arkansas State said the contract between the schools “excused Miami from appearing for this game if it were ‘impossible’ for Miami to do so.”

“The facts show that it was not impossible for Miami to do so,” the letter said.
Arkansas State says Mohajir “offered to pay $86,000-$88,000 for the entire Miami team and staff to fly from Miami to Memphis on a separate air charter service to ensure that Miami could travel safely to Jonesboro and Miami’s contractual obligations with other air carriers were not impacted.”

“Despite these offers, accommodations, and a number of other unilateral efforts on behalf of Arkansas State University, Miami refused to appear,” the letter says. “This refusal caused Arkansas State University, the community of Jonesboro, and others significant harm.”

Arkansas State says Mohajir later reached out to James in an effort to reschedule the game, which was the second part of a home-and-home agreement (Arkansas State played at Miami in 2014). James said, because of existing scheduling agreements, Miami could not until 2024, 2025, 2026, 2027 or 2028 — an arrangement deemed “not workable” for ASU.

The letter, written by an ASU attorney, reads:

“Mr Mohajir consulted a scheduling service, which revealed that Miami had openings in both 2020 and 2021. Mr. Mohajir raised these dates with Mr. James, and even offered that Miami would schedule the contracted game in 2020 or 2021, Arkansas State University would agree to play a buy game at Miami. But Mr. James refused this offer and indicated that playing during 2020 or 2021 was impossible given Miami’s prior scheduling agreements. After numerous unsuccessful attempts by Mr. Mohajir to come to a mutually-agreeable and reasonable solution with Mr. James, (Arkansas Chancellor) Dr. (Kelly) Damphousse spoke to (Miami President) Dr. (Julio) Frenk to resolve the situation in a congenial manner. All of these efforts were rejected by Miami.”

Arkansas State’s representation noted the ways other schools affected by Hurricane Irma have resolved their canceled games — including games being moved, rescheduled for a later date and buyout agreements. The letter also included quotes from Miami head coach Mark Richt, who said to reporters, “Could we have snuck out just in time to play that game? We could have, logistically.”

“In the same news article, (Richt) then made a number of statements justifying his rationale for not playing the game. None of those reasons, however, are relevant to the terms of the contract. The game was scheduled to take place in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and not Miami, Florida, and as such, the force majeure clause is not applicable.”

The letter goes on to say:

“Based on information conveyed by Miami, it is not a matter of Miami’s inability to schedule a game against Arkansas State in a reasonable time frame, but rather it is Miami’s unwillingness to play Arkansas State in 2020 or 2021 because it would prefer to schedule a team from the FCS. Because Miami has demonstrated that it is unwilling to reschedule the game within a reasonable time frame, despite having the ability to do so, Arkansas State is left with no choice other than to seek damages for Miami’s breach. When this contract was executed, all parties agreed that if one party did not appear, the other party would receive a liquidated damages payment of $650,000.00. Under the terms of the contract, that payment is due on February 15, 2018.”

Arkansas State’s letter was in response to Miami saying it was willing to play the Red Wolves in September 2024 or September 2025. UM said 2020 and 2021 “are home dates and they are reserved for games with FCS institutions” and “cannot be replaced with an away game with ASU.”

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Sam Cooper is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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