A contract, says Wikipedia (we used to quote Webster's Dictionary for such matters) is a binding legal agreement that is enforcable in a court of law.
Obviously, that doesn't apply to sports contracts, which are so routinely broken by one party or the other, we've come to take for granted they aren't worth the paper on which they were written.
Start with coaches. West Virginians are so familiar with all the sordid details of Rich Rodriguez's legal woes with West Virginia University, I'm not going to rehash them here. But it is a good example of how contracts can be broken (although in Rodriguez's case, he is paying the price - perhaps in more ways than one - for reneging on his agreement).
Perhaps the ultimate example of what a tangled web we have weaved when it comes to sports contracts belongs to Bobby Petrino. In July 2006, he signed a 10-year, $25.6 million contract to remain at the University of Louisville. In January 2007, Petrino resigned at Louisville and signed a five-year contract for $24 million to become the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
Before his first season in Atlanta had ended and with his Falcons sitting at 3-10, Petrino resigned to become the head football coach at the University of Arkansas, which signed him to a five-year deal.
In other words, in between July 13, 2006, and Dec. 11, 2007, Petrino signed three contracts that would commit him to coach for 20 years.
A coach leaving a school to which he is under contract is a big deal. It's especially a big deal to the young men who made the commitment to play for that school, often because of the head coach.
The problem with all this is that the coaches aren't penalized. Not severely, anyway. Petrino had to pay Louisville $1 million to get out of his contract. In many cases, it isn't even the coach who pays the penalty as his new employer often picks up part or even all of the tab. Meanwhile, the players who signed to play under his guidance are stuck with a new coach and if they decide to leave, they must sit out a year.
But players aren't immune to breaking contracts, either.
The motivation for this column came from Cleveland Browns player Josh Cribbs. In November 2006, Cribbs signed a six-year, $6.7 million contract extension to play for the Browns through 2012.
Now, that he has become one of the best kick returners in the NFL, he wants a new deal.
He's cleaned out his locker. He's demanding more money or he's taking his football and going home.
The key words here are "Cribbs signed.'' If he doesn't play, he is in violation of the contract.
The NFL should tell him in no uncertain terms he either fulfills his obligations with Cleveland or he cannot play for any other team. But that won't happen.
The Browns are offering more money, although still not enough to satisfy Cribbs. Meanwhile, other teams are lining up for his services.
This is madness.
Football has gone from a contact sport to a contract sport.
Contact Dave Poe at firstname.lastname@example.org