Athletic apparel company Fila is suing the University and men”s basketball head coach Tommy Amaker for a breach of contract. Fila is seeking in excess of $1 million, saying that Amaker violated his agreement with the company when he accepted the position as Michigan”s basketball coach and allegedly abandoned his obligations to the clothing manufacturer.
Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin said he learned of the lawsuit Monday. Fila has not officially served either the University or Amaker because the company said it still wants to settle out of court. Fila did send a letter to University President Lee Bollinger”s office on Aug. 29 saying there were “serious legal issues” concerning Amaker”s contracts with Michigan and Fila.
“The contract clearly provides that should Mr. Amaker leave his position at Seton Hall, his contract with Fila (and his ongoing responsibilities to promote the Fila brand and outfit his teams with Fila products) would remain intact and fully enforceable,” Fila said in a written statement.
Amaker”s contract with Fila stated that should he leave Seton Hall University the only school under contract with Fila for another Division I program, he would be obligated to use his “best efforts” to make his new school use Fila apparel and would not be allowed to negotiate with any competing companies. When Amaker left Seton Hall after last season and signed as Michigan”s head coach, the University was already under contract with Nike.
“It”s a moot point going to an institution that already has a preexisting arrangement with another shoe company,” Martin said. “Everybody in the world knew about it.”
“Fila and I had an apparel sponsorship agreement when I was head men”s basketball coach at Seton Hall,” Amaker said in a written statement. “In light of Michigan”s sponsorship arrangement with Nike, it was not possible to continue my relationship with Fila once I accepted the job at Michigan.”
Amaker declined further comment.
Martin called the lawsuit unprecedented and ridiculous. He said he is surprised the University is being involved since it is under no contractual obligations with Fila. He also said Amaker”s business with Fila has been satisfied.
“In the first face-to-face, and the only face-to-face I had with Tommy (prior to his hire), he asked if we were a Nike school now,” Martin said. “Then he mentioned to me at that time he had a relationship with another shoe company. And I can”t even remember if he said Fila or not. He said, “That”s fine, that”s over. I”ve fulfilled my obligations.” That whole conversation didn”t take 30 seconds with respect to (Fila).”
In 1997, Amaker signed a deal with Seton Hall for his first job as a division I head coach. That June, he reached a five-year arrangement with Fila, with a five year option for Fila. Amaker is in the fifth year of his contract.
Amaker”s deal consisted of a “consulting agreement” with Fila, which the lawsuit claims was “a necessary precursor to the separate outfitting agreements by which all of Seton Hall”s athletic teams were outfitted.”
The University”s deal with Nike does not require any such “consulting agreement,” and Amaker hasn”t done any negotiating with Nike personally.
Fila”s claim alleges Amaker began contract talks with Michigan in July of 2000, which would have been before his final year season at Seton Hall. Amaker attempted to end his contract with Fila during that time but was advised that he would have to buy out his contract.
Martin denies that any negotiations between the University and Amaker began at that time.
“I was interim (athletic director). There is no way I was either ever given the authority or would I based on common sense ever encumber a permanent AD, because I wasn”t even a candidate for this position,” Martin said.
Martin said that the University will reimburse Amaker for his legal fees, but if he has to pay a settlement, that will be his own responsibility.
Martin also said not to rule out counter-filings against Fila as a possibility, saying there is such a thing as a nuisance lawsuit.
Fila declined to comment beyond its written statement.