Going to court over commitment (cont.)
Posted: Friday February 29, 2008 4:25PM; Updated: Friday February 29, 2008 4:28PM
Reached by SI.com via e-mail, Reinebold, a former Canadian Football League head coach, declined to comment on the case, citing pending litigation. John McNamara, Hawaii's associate athletic director for external affairs, said no one at the university would comment because of the pending litigation.
After they received Reinebold e-mail inviting them to take an unofficial visit, the Smiths spent about $4,000, Wanda said, to go to Hawaii on April 1 and 2. While there, the Smiths said they met with Hawaii defensive backs coach Rich Miano and watched tape of Daniel in Miano's office. Daniel said that on April 26 -- his birthday -- he received a call from Reinebold, who offered a scholarship.
"Right before he offered it," Daniel said. "He said 'If we offer you a scholarship, we want you to be 100 percent committed to us, and we'll be 100 percent committed to you.' ... I told him I was 100 percent committed, and I committed right there."
At the time, Daniel said, he had a written scholarship offer from Division I-AA Portland State. The Smiths never received a written offer from Hawaii. Oral and written scholarship offers are considered non-binding until a prospect signs a National Letter of Intent, in which the school promises to provide a scholarship in return for the athlete enrolling for at least a year.
Because the Smith's never insisted on a written scholarship offer, their case may hinge on that claim. The Smiths' attorney, Mark Valencia, said the legal basis of their complaint is the principle of promissory estoppel, which takes place when Party A relies on a promise from Party B to the detriment of Party A. A written agreement isn't always necessary to prove promissory estoppel.
Matt Mitten, the director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University's law school, said the promissory estoppel claim is the strongest in Smith's complaint, and he believes a judge would allow the case to proceed based on that claim. Still, the Smiths could face problems because they never obtained a written offer. "It's fairly difficult to prevail on an oral promise because of proof issues," Mitten said.
The Smiths must prove Reinebold asked Daniel to refrain from dealing with other schools following his commitment. Terry Duffield, a former Hawaii graduate assistant who worked closely with Reinebold for much of 2007, said such a statement would be out of character for Reinebold.
"After knowing Jeff like I do, there's no way in hell he made that statement," Duffield said. "Jeff Reinebold would encourage a kid to test the waters before he made a lifetime commitment. That's the kind of guy Jeff is."
Shortly after Daniel committed, Rivals.com and the two daily newspapers in Honolulu carried stories trumpeting his commitment. Even after Daniel was cited for several alcohol violations in September stemming from a party he threw when his parents weren't home, he remained in contact with Reinebold. In monthly conversations, Daniel said, Reinebold assured him the scholarship was his.
Daniel said he never spoke to Jones, Hawaii's head coach. And while most schools require the head coach to sign off on any scholarship offer, Hawaii's assistants under Jones sometimes did offer scholarships on their own. Greg Brown, a Las Vegas personal trainer, said Miano offered his son, Corbin, a scholarship last year. Corbin, a safety from Spring Valley High, called Miano in September to commit to Hawaii.
Not long after, the Browns says Hawaii coaches stopped answering their calls and e-mails. In late October, Greg Brown received an e-mail from Miano saying Corbin should "keep his recruiting options open. "They never had the balls to call him" and say the scholarship offer had been rescinded, Greg said. Corbin eventually signed to play at Air Force.
At the same time, Daniel Smith remained convinced he had a scholarship to Hawaii. He tried to set up an official visit -- in which the school pays the prospect's travel costs -- late in the season, but he said he was told Jones did not want distractions on the sideline. Smith said he began to worry when he read on a recruiting site that several players had committed on their official visits.