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Michigan Gives In and West Virginia Wins

Appalachia owns Michigan.

First, Appalachian State beat the Wolverines to open the 2007 season. Now, West Virginia has won out over the Maize and Blue, as well. U.M. needs to learn to steer clear of Mountaineers, because Senator Blutarsky is right: Rich Rodriguez and his current employer flat caved.

Viewed from a distance, it seemed pretty cut and dried from a legal standpoint. Coach Rodriguez had a flirtation---O.K., an affair---with Alabama and, once jilted, W.V.U. demanded a hefty buyout as part of a package to raise the pay of the native son with the wandering eye. After consulting with his agents and attorneys, Coach Rodriguez signed on the dotted line.

His contract said he owed the school money if he left before the contract term ended. He left before the contract term ended. He owes the money. This is a pretty standard provision, with respect to which claims of coercion are farfetched and arguments about broken verbal promises, which may explain the emotional estrangement between Rich Rodriguez and his alma mater, likely are legally inconsequential where the written contract is concerned.

Coach Rodriguez and Michigan capitulated. West Virginia initially demanded the $4 million provided for in the contract. Lawyers were hired, lawsuits were filed, depositions were taken, and the settlement was for . . . the full $4 million. While I feel certain the settlement documents will reflect that no legal admission of liability is being made, this is a surrender in anybody’s book.

Michigan’s official statement---that the school and its coach were ready to put this episode behind them---rings hollow. Such a statement would have been altogether plausible on January 9; it is singularly unconvincing on July 9. Conceding early and moving on is one thing; taking a stand on principle and fighting until you win something---anything---is respectable, as well. Duking it out for six months or more and, in the end, giving the other side what it asked for from the get-go is giving up, though.

Michigan unquestionably got the better end of the coaching bargain, but West Virginia won both the legal fight and the P.R. battle. Rich Rodriguez most likely is worth every penny of what the Wolverines are paying to get him, but half a year of nickeling and diming before raising the white flag should leave a bitter taste in the mouth of anyone who calls himself a Michigan man. Bo, it is fair to say, would have handled the whole thing differently.

Go ‘Dawgs!