In a lawsuit full of important times and dates, May of 2018 might’ve been the most notable one.
That’s how long it was reportedly going to take for the Title IX lawsuit brought against the University of Tennessee to get into court. And that would’ve been just the start of the proceedings.
So I can understand why Tennessee settled with the plaintiffs to the tune of $2.48 million in a decision announced on Tuesday evening. I think it was the best thing UT, which was facing a list of imperfect options, could’ve done in this scenario.
Before I go much further, I have to stop and say that I don’t know what would’ve been the outcome if the lawsuit made it to court. None of us do. There were certainly some extremely concerning allegations made by the Jane Doe plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Allegations that could’ve and should’ve ended careers if found to be true.
But regardless of what would’ve been found in civil court, UT was facing a form of a two-year sentence handed down from many in the court of public opinion. Innocent until proven guilty is true in theory, though that’s not always the approach taken by the media, opposing fans and certainly not followed on the recruiting trail.
And those are the areas where Tennessee was going to pay the price for the next 24 months or so. The TV graphics were coming, negative recruiting was imminent and the lawsuit would’ve hung over the school and the football program like a dark cloud that may not have ruined anything, but certainly would always be lurking, threatening to do just that.
That’s not even to mention the financial strain – something that’s reportedly been estimated in the $5-6 million range to continue the legal battle. The settlement makes financial sense, it made a fair amount of sense from a PR side and really was the best UT could’ve done given the circumstances.
It’s far from a perfect solution, however.
What happened to the fight that UT continuously spoke of? The settlement is not an admittance of guilt (as made clear by a statement from UT), but it’s also certainly not the best way to completely clear your name and reputation. It makes it go away on some levels, but doesn’t give the school its day in court – its day to publicly fight the allegations and legally prove that there was no hostile environment present.
“I will fight all of these false attacks on my character, and I know that once this process has been completed, my reputation will be affirmed,” Butch Jones said in late January.
The settlement, in my opinion, doesn’t necessarily hurt the reputation of Jones or anybody else named in the lawsuit. But does it truly affirm them? That’s up for debate.
And what message has UT sent to anybody who may consider civil action against it in the future? That’s a fair question as well.
But in a world where fighting claims against you can cost millions, and damage your reputation for years before you get a chance to completely clear it, I understand the decision to settle and move on.
It was an imperfect one, but perhaps the only option UT had at this point.