Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2000-11

Advisory Opinion No. 2000-11

Application Of The Code Of Ethics To Coach Calhoun’s Nike Contract

Coach Jim Calhoun has asked the Commission for an advisory opinion regarding his Nike consultant contract. Specifically, at the request of Coach Calhoun, State Ethics Commission Attorney Rachel Rubin and the Coach’s representatives, Attorneys Jerry and Peter Roisman, have worked to amend Nike’s prior proposed agreement to ensure compliance with the provisions of The Code Of Ethics For Public Officials. Coach Calhoun wishes to know whether the new contract, which resulted from this process, in fact complies fully with the requirements of the Code.

Over the past several years, the State Ethics Commission has reviewed and approved, with certain modifications, various outside endorsements and consultant contracts entered into by UCONN athletic coaches. As in this case, the most common of these contracts have involved the retention of the coach as a consultant for an athletic apparel or shoe company.

As a general rule, the Commission has allowed the coaches, through these consultant agreements, to benefit from the prominence that results from their professional success. At the same time the Commission has prohibited any agreement that impairs independence of judgment or necessitates the inappropriate use of public position in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. §§1-84(b) or (c). See, State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 2000-4, 61 Conn. L.J. 32, p. 5D-6D, February 8, 2000.

Utilizing these criteria, Attorney Rubin identified several provisions of Nike’s prior proposed contract which appeared to conflict with §§1-84(b) and/or (c) of the Code. Viewed categorically, these provisions were as follows: 1. Use of Nike Products By Team: Coach would have been required to provide Nike supplied products to Team, and would have been required to use his best efforts to have Team wear Nike products during games, practices and related activities. Coach would agree that Nike may state its products are the "official designated products" of the UCONN basketball team. 2. University Endorsement/Licensing: Coach would agree to use his best efforts to also persuade the University to permit Nike to utilize "official designated products" endorsement. Additionally, he would use his best efforts to convince the University to grant Nike exclusive rights to market products bearing new UCONN/Nike Logo designed by Company. If resultant sales would exceed a certain level, the Coach would receive a bonus. 3. Team Exhibition Tour: If required by Nike, Coach would accompany Team on exhibition trip to Europe in connection with the promotion and sale of Nike products. 4. Termination: Coach’s Nike compensation tied directly to his UCONN position: i.e., if the Coach ceases to be head coach of UCONN (for reasons other than retirement) Nike may terminate contract.

The Commission finds that the Nike proposed provisions in question would conflict with the requirements of The Code Of Ethics For Public Officials. Specifically: 1. It would be a use of official position for a state employee, such as a University Coach, to seek to influence his subordinates’ use of products provided by a Company which privately employs the Coach. Additionally, these contractual provisions would impair the state employee’s independence of judgment with regard to his official duties: i.e., his responsibility to insure the Team’s athletic shoe/uniform requirements are met in a way that best suits the University and the Team. 2. It also would be a use of official position and an impairment of independence of judgment for a Coach to advocate certain Licensing/Endorsement agreements to the University on behalf of his private employer. Rather, a Coach, as a state servant, should advocate only what he believes to be the most advantageous agreements for the University. 3. Essentially the same analysis applies to the Nike sponsored exhibition tour. Simply stated, it would be a use of official position and an impairment of independence of judgement for a Coach to agree to allow his private employer to in any way dictate the Team’s participation in a tour, exhibition or other event. 4. Finally, it would be a use of official position for a Coach’s consultant contract or compensation to be tied to or determined by his continued employment at the State University. As noted at the outset, under the Code, a Coach can be compensated for his personal expertise and prominence; not for his affiliation with the University.

It is important to understand that the provisions in question were only Nike proposals and that Coach Calhoun maintains that he did not, and would not, engage in any of the above discussed activities which would conflict with his state responsibilities under the Code. The Commission has absolutely no reason to doubt this assertion. Nonetheless, it is essential, under The Code Of Ethics, that a state employee’s outside contractual agreements not conflict with the Code’s provisions. In recognition of this imperative, Coach Calhoun’s representatives and Commission staff have worked collaboratively to revise Nike’s proposed contract to remove the objectionable provisions. The State Ethics Commission finds that the resultant new contract complies, in every respect, with the requirements of the Ethics Code; and, therefore, constitutes permissible outside employment for Coach Calhoun.

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick,

Content Last Modified on 4/21/2010 11:28:15 AM