A lawsuit specific to TCU could created a wide-ranging and industry-changing precedent was filed on Thursday.
Kolby Listenbee played wide receiver for TCU from 2012-15. After being a bit player as a freshman and sophomore, Listenbee exploded in 2014, catching 41 passes for 753 yards and four touchdowns on a Horned Frogs team that shared the Big 12 championship and finished the year ranked No. 3 nationally. He entered the '15 season with high hopes of competing for a national title and then spring boarding to an NFL career, but those hopes were permanently derailed by an injury to Listenbee's pelvic bone suffered in a September win over SMU.
Listenbee now alleges that head coach Gary Patterson, offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, position coach Rusty Burns -- who are all individually named as defendants in the lawsuit, alongside former TCU AD Chris Del Conte, the TCU board of trustees, TCU itself and the Big 12 Conference, among others -- conducted a shame and bullying abuse campaign that pressured Listenbee into prematurely rushing back onto the field before his injury was fully healed, thereby ending his career and any hopes of NFL earnings.
Here's a sampling of the behavior Listenbee says he suffered at the hands of the coaching staff. (View the suit for yourself here.)
Listenbee caught six passes for 142 yards and a touchdown in the Frogs' second game of 2015, then hauled in two passes for 51 yards and a score against SMU. He was injured catching a 31-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter of the SMU game and did not return. Listenbee missed the next two games, but caught six balls for a 101 yards and a touchdown in an October win over Iowa State. His production tapered off significantly from there, though; he caught two passes combined in the Frogs' final two games of the 2015 season.
Listenbee caught on with a handful of teams in the NFL but never appeared in a game, all while battling subsequent injuries to his midsection.
And now he's seeking damages for the career he says would have been his had TCU's coaches not mismanaged his injury.
I'm no legal expert -- this is your cue to ignore the rest of this sentence -- but it seems that Listenbee and his counsel will have a hard time convincing a court he was guaranteed to earn a certain NFL dollar figure without the SMU injury and the subsequent handling therein. TCU, again, if it even makes a trial, will argue that plenty of all-conference wide receivers fail to earn an NFL paycheck even when perfectly healthy.
Still, if this case goes to trial and if Listenbee wins, it's not hard to squint and see a near future where former players (and enterprising lawyers) claiming they, too, were robbed of an NFL career by their college coaching staff -- and judges finding a precedent in this case right here.