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John Schnatter’s rights complicate Cardinal Stadium name situation

Nov 26, 2016; Louisville, KY, USA;   Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Nov 26, 2016; Louisville, KY, USA; Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. USA TODAY Sports

While conceding that “Cardinal Stadium” is a temporary solution, the University of Louisville administration’s ban on “Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium,” appears to be permanent.

U of L officials expect to eventually rechristen the school’s football stadium, but they have ruled out reversing last week’s decision to remove the name of the pizza company founded by John Schnatter.

“The decision is made and it’s final,” U of L spokesman John Karman said Wednesday. “There won’t be any waffling or wavering.”

There could be some haggling, however.

Terms of a 2007 amendment to Schnatter’s initial stadium agreement extended his exclusive right to request name changes through Dec. 31, 2040. Schnatter donated $6 million over 10 years for that privilege — the last scheduled payment was due in December, 2017 — on top of his initial outlay of $8 million.

With more than 21 years remaining on U of L’s contractual commitment, university President Neeli Bendapudi may have left the school vulnerable to litigation by unilaterally removing the name of the stadium’s corporate sponsor in response to his admission that he had used a racial slur during a media training exercise.

“My read on it is he’s got the rights,” U of L athletic director Vince Tyra said Wednesday. “I think at some point we’ll have a conversation with him about that more specifically, (but) it was not the highest of priorities when I spoke to him on Thursday morning. And I wasn’t anxious to push that topic at that point. Then, on Friday, obviously, the decision was made.

“At some point, we’ll have a conversation. I don’t expect it to be an acrimonious one. But we’ll have a conversation about it.”

Though Papa John’s retains the right to sell pizza in the stadium, Schnatter’s personal posture could be hard to predict. Within days of resigning his seat as Papa John’s board chairman, the company’s founder wrote that he regretted that move in a letter obtained by the Wall Street Journal. His new attorney, Patricia Glaser, says Schnatter is “not going quietly.”

Glaser did not immediately respond to a request by the Courier Journal to characterize Schnatter’s stance toward U of L.

“My guess is he may push back against the University of Louisville because his personal honor is at stake,” said WHAS’ Terry Meiners, a friend of Schnatter’s. “I get it that it’s damaged, but his legacy has been built over 30-plus years. It can’t all be tied to one idiotic reference.”

Len Simon, who has taught complex litigation at Duke University and the University of Southern California, suspects neither Schnatter nor U of L would want to pursue a court case, “so it may be a game of chicken, and they may pay him something to go away, but I think his overall legal position is not worth much money, whether you call it lack of merit or lack of recoverable damages. However, the payment in advance for naming rights for the next 20 years does complicate the situation.”

This article is provided via the Kentucky Press News Service.

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