Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mississippi State University and Its Baseball Coach Sued By Former Player

Last month, former Mississippi State University baseball player Forrest Moore filed a lawsuit in Mississippi state court against the school, its head baseball coach John Cohen (pictured), and assistant athletic director Mike Nemeth. Moore was a scholarship pitcher for the Bulldogs during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons.

In the complaint, which is available here, Moore levies a series of allegations against Cohen, Nemeth, and the university. Specifically, Moore alleges that upon taking over MSU's baseball program in 2008, Cohen required the team to work out for more than maximum number of hours permitted by the NCAA. In order to avoid NCAA sanction, Moore asserts that Cohen forced players to sign uncompleted time sheets, without allowing the players to document the actual number of hours they were being required to practice. During these practice sessions, Moore alleges that Cohen forced him to throw more pitches than he should have, causing Moore to develop forearm tendinitis. Moore asserts that Cohen continued to overwork him during the season, ultimately resulting in a partial tear to the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in Moore's pitching elbow. Moore requested a medical redshirt for the 2009-10 season in order to recover from the necessary surgery, but alleges that Cohen instead informed him that his scholarship was not being renewed for that school year.

Despite all of Moore's allegations about the origins of his arm troubles, his complaint ultimately does not seek to hold Cohen or the University responsible for his injury. Instead, Moore's legal claims focus on the non-renewal of his scholarship. Specifically, Moore asserts a breach of contract claim against Mississippi State, alleging that the university did not follow proper NCAA procedure by failing to provide him with the requisite written notice or hearing required under NCAA rules before depriving him of his scholarship. Article of the NCAA Division I Manual states:
The institution’s regular financial aid authority shall notify the student-athlete in writing of the opportunity for a hearing when institutional financial aid based in any degree on athletics ability is to be reduced or canceled during the period of the award, or is reduced or not renewed for the following academic year.
Moore asserts that his scholarship constituted a contract with the university governed by NCAA rules, and that by failing to follow the proper procedure when revoking the scholarship, MSU breached the contract. But for this breach, Moore contends that he would have been permitted to retain his scholarship, rehabilitate his arm, and ultimately be "properly evaluated" by major league scouts.

Interestingly, Moore's complaint fails to mention the fact that he was nevertheless drafted in the 38th round of the 2010 draft by the Florida Marlins despite sitting out the 2009-10 season (Moore does not appear to have played yet in a professional game). Moore, a former high school All-American, had previously been drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 32nd round of the 2007 draft, but elected to enroll at MSU.

As for Cohen and Nemeth, Moore asserts that they intentionally interfered with his contractual relations with the university, and conspired to deny Moore his scholarship for the 2009-10 school year. Cohen denied almost all of Moore's allegations in a motion to dismiss filed last week, including the assertion that Moore's scholarship was not renewed. Cohen also claims immunity under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act.

It does not appear that Mississippi State has filed a response to the complaint yet, but the school has acknowledged that it is investigating Moore's allegations regarding Cohen's potential NCAA violations.