Last Thursday, EA Sports and College Licensing Company reached a preliminary settlement in the "Ed O’Bannon" class action lawsuit over the use of college athletes' names, images, and likenesses.  The terms of the settlement have not been disclosed, but reports suggest that the figure could be upwards of $50 million.  Not surprisingly, EA Sports announced that it will no longer produce its popular “NCAA Football” franchise beginning in 2014.  If the settlement is approved, more than 100,000 former and current student-athletes may be eligible for varying amounts of compensation depending on the specifics of each class member’s claim, including the prevalence of the individual in the game.   

It is well known that NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from profiting off their name while in school and violators of this rule risk the loss of NCAA eligibility (for student-athletes) and potential sanctions (for member institutions), but now, some current student-athletes are in a position to receive a damages award stemming from the commercial use of their image, even though they are still enrolled in school.  The NCAA has thus far declined to comment on whether current student-athletes will be entitled to collect damages without risking their eligibility until after the terms of the settlement are revealed.  However, last year, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel likely set a precedent that will allow these current NCAA student-athletes to recover damages without jeopardizing their eligibility. 

In the Fall of 2012 after a series of breakout performances, Manziel trademarked his nickname “Johnny Football.”  Later that same season, a vendor began selling t-shirts with the phrase “Keep Calm and Johnny Football.” Manziel’s company, JMAN2 Enterprises LLC, filed a suit for damages as well as an injunction calling for the vendor to stop producing the t-shirts.  The suit posed the question of whether a current NCAA player could be entitled to collect legal damages for the misappropriation of likeness and retain eligibility.  The NCAA ruled that Manziel would be entitled to retain his eligibility and recover damages provided the trademark violation was not an intentional violation aimed at funneling money to the player.  While the O'Bannon/EA Sports case is not a trademark case, the NCAA test established in the Manziel ruling should apply because both cases center on the misappropriation of a student athlete’s proprietary interest.  Whereas Manziel can be awarded damages for the misappropriation of his intellectual property, current students would be entitled to compensation for the misappropriation of their names, images, and likeness.  The NCAA has refused to comment on the ability of current student-athletes to receive settlement money, but the precedent of the Manziel ruling will make it difficult for the Association to deny student-athletes’ recovery.  As a result, current NCAA student-athletes may be able to receive compensation from the O'Bannon/EA Sports settlement without risking their eligibility, even though they would not have otherwise been able to do so under NCAA Bylaws. 

This blog was originally posted on Wednesday, October 2. Click here to read the original post. 

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NFL, Players Reach Concussion Agreement

Posted on August 30, 2013 02:45 by Tim Epstein

 

While the $765 million proposed settlement is a considerable sum of money, a final judgment figure would possibly have greatly exceeded this dollar amount; not to mention legal fees and expert costs to get there, along with continued acrimony between necessary business partners (NFL players and the League) related to the MDL.  The proposed settlement appears to resolve all claims in the MDL against the NFL defendants, and apply to every former NFL player who will have retired by the time the Court approves the settlement.  At this stage, however, it appears that the litigation will continue as between the helmet manufacturers and the players.

For latest news regarding the settlement, click here

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On Tuesday October 30th, the NCAA Board of Directors announced the adoption of a new enforcement structure that, among other things, creates additional levels of infractions, enhances accountability for head coaches, and seeks to punish violators with sanctions that more appropriately align with the actions that occurred.  The most striking of these new initiatives, to be implemented beginning in August of 2013, is the creation of the new four-tiered structure for violation classification.  

Under the current model, violations are classified as either major or secondary.  The new system sets forth violations as follows: Level I, Severe breach of conduct; Level II, Significant breach of conduct; Level III, Breach of conduct; and Level IV, Incidental issues.  A copy of the NCAA’s press release may be found here.  This new structure is the product of a year-long effort by the thirteen-member Board comprised of presidents, athletic directors, and conference commissioners.   President Mark Emmert described the changes as part of a devotion to “protecting the collegiate model,” in part by “remov[ing] the ‘risk-reward’ analysis that has tempted people.”   

These changes come on the heels of increasing external pressure for a more consistent and transparent process, with a number of major infractions cases serving as the backdrop for this magnified criticism.   Greater accountability and stricter sanctions is undoubtedly a step in the right direction when it comes to enforcement of what would be considered major infractions under the current framework.  The NCAA should be applauded for taking measures to ensure consequences for coaches who plead ignorance while violations blatantly occur on their watches.  But at the same time, the new violation structure is troublesome.   Despite admirable efforts to construct a better system, this new four-tiered structure for violation classification fails to ameliorate many of the common concerns expressed with respect to NCAA Bylaws and enforcement of the same.  Hopefully, this will be cleared-up with the upcoming changes to the substantive “rules” in the Bylaws.    

The NCAA Bylaws are often denounced as too lengthy and too complex, and deservedly so.  Moving from a two-tiered violation structure to a four-tiered system, if not matched-up with more common sense in rule substance, is an obvious step backward, and is counterintuitive if the desired outcome is a more workable framework.  Increased confusion is even more likely when one considers the near endless interpretations that could be attributed to the definitions describing each tier.  For example, consider the difference between a violation that “threatens the integrity of the NCAA,” versus a violation that merely “provides more than a minimal, but less than a substantial…advantage.”  One definition classifies a Level I violation, while the other corresponds with Level II, but is there really a difference?   The definitions may mean something different to a coach versus someone in compliance at a school or enforcement at the NCAA, so how then is the goal of deterrence met for the problem that President Emmert describes as a calculation of risk vs. reward made by coaches who currently do not have sufficient risk to their livelihoods or respective programs.

Under this system, inconsistencies may abound to an even greater degree than under the current model.  This is likely to complicate the NCAA’s investigative measures, which is problematic given the Association’s already limited resources; resources so limited that some have even suggested that the NCAA get out of the enforcement business altogether (for a more in depth discussion of this proposal, see this well-done piece by Attorney Stephen A. Miller, recently published in The Atlantic).  Finally, if the NCAA is really student-athlete first, then this measure does nothing to address the countless Bylaws that punish student-athletes for technical violations that provide no competitive advantage, and do little more than burden an already overwhelmed enforcement staff.  Again, it is worth pondering, is an “incidental issue” even worth sanctioning?  I hope that reforms not just in terms of a scholarship enhancement, but in terms of rules affecting student-athletes’ behavior on a day-to-day basis are addressed in the coming months.

Since the NCAA has chosen to divert its attention first to the method in which these intricate and often superfluous regulations are classified, my worry is that dealing with the substance later will lead to a continuance in seeing violations shoe-horned into a rigid framework that sometimes, but does not always fit.  For those that desire more consistency in results, do you want the NCAA to have something akin to Federal Sentencing Guidelines, or more common sense in results?  I am not yet convinced that the new enforcement structure will get us more common sense in results, which many (myself included) would like to see as opposed to more rigidity.

Over time, perhaps this will prove to be a positive step toward a streamlined, consistent, and fair process.  For now though, a more detailed systemization of the NCAA’s enforcement structure only seems to complicate matters further if there is not significant overhaul to the substance of the rules themselves.  While my experiences may leave me a bit biased, until we see a comprehensive reassessment of the actual Bylaw language (promised in the next few months), I foresee this self-proclaimed “overhaul” as little more than a re-branding exercise.

Originally published on Sportslawblog *Hat tip to Brian Konkel for his work on this piece.

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Shortly after the NCAA’s imposition of unprecedented sanctions against Penn State, I wrote in this space about the myth of due process protection in the NCAA arena. Essentially, the NCAA, as a private voluntary association of member institutions, is not a state actor and is not bound by state or federal constitutional constraints. Since NCAA member institutions appear to have validated President Mark Emmert’s unilateral punishment (through the NCAA Executive Committee and Division I Board of Directors), and Penn State consented, affected parties were left with very little recourse. Now, it appears that the Paterno family intends to challenge this notion. For various reasons, the family is unlikely to succeed either through an administrative appeal or in court.

As a threshold matter, the consent decree falls completely outside the normal NCAA procedural process outlined by Article 32. Normally, an appeal cannot occur until a hearing has been conducted, and a decision has been rendered. The Paternos could conceivably circumvent the standard appeals process by arguing that the NCAA did not adhere to its own prescribed procedure, and therefore, an exception should be made allowing for an unconventional appeal as well. With no hearing, however, there can be no subsequent appeal of a decision based on the same.

Even assuming, arguendo, that an appeal would be permitted from a procedural standpoint, the family simply has no standing to appeal. Counsel for the Paterno family has stated the opposite, based on the fact that Joe Paterno’s name is found in the Freeh Report as well as the consent decree. This is a misguided assertion. For an “involved individual” such as Paterno to appeal, he would have had to make an in-person appearance before the Committee on Infractions. Bylaw 32.10.1.2. To reiterate, the Committee has never been involved here. The standing argument on behalf of a family of an affected individual is even more attenuated, as no member of the Paterno family would even qualify as an involved individual. To analogize: would the NCAA allow the family of an ineligible student-athlete to bring its own appeal to the Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee for related pecuniary or reputational damage? Clearly not.

The Paterno family’s hopes of recompense in a court of law may be equally slim. The Paternos may bring suit on behalf of the late Joe Paterno seeking toprohibit the NCAA from vacating his wins, and ordering the NCAA to follow its own procedures, thereby invalidating the consent decree. The Paterno family could contend that the consent decree is unenforceable as a whole because it had a significant adverse impact on Paterno as a third-party affected by a decree that neither Paterno nor his family consented to. But setting aside, for a moment, the fact that courts look with skepticism upon challenges to NCAA decisions, and separating the family’s claim from the arguments advanced by some members of the Board of Trustees, the Paternos simply cannot show sufficient harm warranting the issuance of an injunction against enforcement of the NCAA decision.

Pennsylvania courts will only grant a preliminary injunction when relief is necessary to prevent immediate and irreparable harm where the aggrieved party cannot be adequately compensated by damages. Summit Towne Ctr., Inc. v. Shoe Show of Rocky Mount, Inc., 786 A.2d 240 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2001).Courts have defined an injunction as an extraordinary remedy that should be issued with caution. Big Bass Lake Cmty. Ass’n v. Warren, 950 A.2d 1137, 1144-45 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2008).

By any discernable standard, the diminution of Paterno’s win total does not constitute a harm warranting redress, in part because Paterno’s reputation has already been significantly tarnished by the entire ordeal, but primarily because no “show cause” order was ever issued against Paterno. If the NCAA  had issued a show cause order as part of this major infractions case, the irreparable nature of harm would be more evident, since it would result in a loss of employment opportunity. See Sanchez v. Dubois, 291 F. App’x 187 (10th Cir. 2008) (holding that since the secondary infractions case was unpublished, there was no deprivation of a liberty interest, but suggesting that a show cause order preventing employment could be sufficient). But since the NCAA did not issue such an order, and given that Paterno has since passed, this argument becomes moot. Likewise, an equitable remedy would be unnecessary to prevent immediate future harm for the same reasons. Barring a successful challenge to the consent decree by the University, the Paterno family is likely going to be bound by its contents and its reputational effects.

The same conclusion is likely to be reached in the appeal filed by individual members of the Board of Trustees. The Board members contend that the NCAA violated their “fundamental” due process rights, but again, this is a misconceived notion. The Board members further argue that the consent decree is null and void since President Rodney Erickson lacked the legal capacity to agree to the sanctions and did not properly consult the Board. Even if true, this likely has no bearing on the NCAA’s ruling, and similarly, a court would likely find that Erickson was acting with apparent or actual authority to bind the University. The Board may elect to take internal action against Erickson and is well within its rights to do so, but it is difficult to foresee a scenario that would result in a re-adjudication of the punishment rendered against Penn State that would produce a more favorable result for Happy Valley. Given the reputational damage that the University has already suffered, perhaps that is for the best. 

As originally published on Sports Law Blog  Hat tip to law clerks Brian Konkel and Jane Kwak for their assistance on this piece.

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As to whether the punishment fit the crime in the imposition of punishment on current student-athletes and coaches that had no fault here, it is difficult to equate Jerry Sandusky's heinous actions and subsequent cover-up with standard NCAA violations that go to competitive advantage. Therefore, I can see why many people are having trouble with the punishment being levied against the innocent members of the football program in Happy Valley. Let's put that aside for the moment, though, to clear away some of what I consider to be misinformation and misinterpretations of this latest NCAA headline. In addition to punishment itself, Mark Emmert's executive declaration of Penn State's punishment on Monday left many on the sidelines enraged over (1) a lack of "due process" and (2) setting a bad precedent for future NCAA enforcement matters. As to (1), "due process" is not accorded to member institutions in the NCAA process, and I do not believe that (2) should concern current and future alleged rule-breakers in standard areas of violation such as recruiting, benefits, academic eligibility, amateurism, etc.


As to the due process issue, the NCAA administrative law process does not accord Federal or state constitutional due process protection for those parties that go through enforcement proceedings, be it student-athlete reinstatement (SAR) or infractions. The U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that the NCAA is not a governmental actor and thus is not obligated to provide due process. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n v. Tarkanian, 488 U.S. 179, 179 (1988). The NCAA is a private association made up of members that include schools and conferences. Those schools and conferences agreed to abide by the Association rules, including potential punishments for violations of Association rules, analogous to a country club and its members. (Bylaw 3.3.4.1). Schools and conferences are voluntary members of the NCAA, and therefore must abide by the associated rules and regulations. See, Hispanic Coll. Fund, Inc. v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 826 N.E.2d 652 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005) (holding that the NCAA’s decisions regarding organization were not subject to trial court’s review absent allegations of fraud or illegality, because the organization was a voluntary member of NCAA). Furthermore, “[t]he articles of incorporation and bylaws of a not-for-profit corporation are generally considered to be a contract between the corporation and its members and among the members themselves.” Id, at 658. Therefore, member schools are under an enforceable contract with the NCAA and subject to its rules, regulations, and any punishment it may sentence. Bylaw 19.5.2 lists all the appropriate penalties for major violations, including (l): other penalties as appropriate. 

Courts have been, and remain, reluctant to accept challenges to the substance of NCAA enforcement decisions; the Oliver case being one of the few exceptions. See e.g. Justice v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 577 F. Supp. 356 (D. Ariz. 1983) (upholding NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations and denying student-athletes’ constitutiona land antitrust claims); but see Oliver v. Natl. Collegiate Athletic Assn., 2008-Ohio-7144, 155 Ohio Misc. 2d 1, 920 N.E.2d 190. Further, membership must tread lightly in either going to court to challenge a decision or, more likely, abiding by a court ruling overturning a NCAA decision pursuant to injunctive relief sought by a student-athlete, since the NCAA reserves the right to punish a member institution should an appellate court later reverse alower court’s ruling overturning a NCAA decision. See, e.g. Nat’l CollegiateAthletic Ass’n v. Jones, 1 S.W.3d 83 (Tex. 1999) (holding that the NCAA’s appeal from an injunction granted at the trial court level was not moot as to the applicability of retroactive penalties). Challenges to the NCAA administrative law process are for when the NCAA is not following its own “fair process.” So, the question applicable to Penn State is whether the NCAA did, in fact, follow its own fair process. 

The fair process established by the NCAA can be found in Article 32. From start to finish, including investigations and hearings, the infractions process takes over a year in most cases. The process includes a preliminary investigation, the possibility of summary-disposition, notice of inquiry, notice of allegation, institution investigation, written responses to the allegation, hearing, final Committee report and possible appeal. For example, allegations of impermissible recruiting and student-athletes receiving benefits from professional agents at the University of South Carolina first came to light in July 2010. The Public Infractions Report was issued two years later on April 27, 2012. On the other hand, the overall process with Penn State took about nine months. 

However, with Penn State, the NCAA did not follow the infractions process established in Article 32. So, does the NCAA's failure to follow its already-established process of investigation, enforcement, hearing, deliberation, decision, and possible appeal violate the fair process that it is bound to follow? Yes and no. A "quick look" analysis reveals that punishment was delivered by the NCAA President without regard for the existing NCAA enforcement structure; something not specifically articulated in NCAA bylaws, and certainly not something for which we see any precedent. However, the only party with standing to challenge the NCAA's declaration is Penn State, and Penn State consented to this punishment; ergo we now have a moot challenge.

As someone who regularly represents parties in NCAA processes, knowing what information is public thus far, if I am Penn State, I do not think going through the infractions process would have been a better process for the Penn State community. Sure, the punishments might not have been as severe, but Jerry Sandusky's actions were not just corruptions of the NCAA's principles of amateurism, competitive fairness, and academic integrity, but acts of profound evil. As such, as the infractions process drags on, Sandusky's acts and any cover-up of those acts would be continually relived. Further, there is a cost in terms of counsel like myself to be involved in the process. Let's go back to the South Carolina example. The school said that it spent $535,667.50 in connection with the NCAA investigation. Finally, as to those who believe that Penn State would find relief only at the appellate level in the infractions process, there is no guarantee that Penn State would have taken the case this far. My friend, Jerry R. Parkinson, who served as a member of the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions from 2000 until very recently (including service as the committee’s first coordinator of appeals), cited in a law review article that only thirty-four of the ninety major infractions cases that went to a hearing from 2000 to 2009 were appealed. 

While I believe the less controversial route would have been an expedited infractions process that would necessarily include a summary disposition (the July 12, 2012 Freeh Report helps in this regard), for the Penn State community to heal, I have to think ripping the band-aid off quickly in the manner done here with Emmert's decision yesterday, while not ideal, is preferable to a drawn out infractions process.

Reposted with permission - orginally posted July 25, 2012 on Sports Law Blog 

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The National Hockey League playoffs are underway, and the League is experiencing unprecedented media coverage as a result of the $2 billion dollar contract it signed with NBC last spring.  But with newfound popularity, comes newfound criticism, and the tensions of playoff hockey have only exacerbated the onslaught from both players and pundits.  Most of the commentary has centered on a perceived lack of consistency in officiating and enforcement, and of course, at the center of all of this is the League's concussion problem.  Last week, the League office drew heat after Nashville Predator's Defenseman Shea Weber was not suspended for deliberately slamming the head of Detroit Red Wings Forward Henrik Zetterberg into the glass.  Perhaps heeding these criticisms, the League responded this weekend with a three-game suspension for Carl Hagelin of the New York Rangers, after he elbowed the Ottawa Senators' Daniel Alfredson, causing a concussion.  Some commended the NHL for taking a tougher stance with the Hagelin suspension, but the repercussions handed down have been widely inconsistent.  Given that the League has been beset by concussion concerns with its biggest stars such as Sidney Crosby, and in light of the brewing litigation against the NFL by its former players, the NHL would do well to establish a consistent and strict policy with respect to blows to the head.

Meanwhile in the NFL, yet another concussion related lawsuit was filed Monday on behalf of four former players in Atlanta.  What makes this suit distinct from the 58 suits that have already been filed, however, is that this complaint is the first to make specific reference to "bounty-gate."  The lawsuit references the scandal as just another example of the League's indolence in dealing with the realities of head trauma. Specifically, the complaint alleges that the NFL "explicitly relied on violence" and neglected to educate players on the dangers of concussions.

Linking the bounty scandal to the ongoing concussion litigation was inevitable, but it is unlikely to be a game changer from a legal standpoint. From a public relations perspective, allegations related to bounties certainly creates a buzz, but ultimately, the scandal will offer little in the way of proving the League's negligence. First, there is little proof, at least at this point, that the League was aware of bounties occurring, and even less evidence suggesting that the problem is pervasive.  Additionally, unless the individual plaintiffs claim to have been directly affected by the scheme, the causal link is missing.  In fact, the four plaintiffs in this new suit merely state that the bounty system is indicative of a culture of violence.  But professional football is inherently violent, and without a showing that the League's policy in regards to bounty systems rendered the sport unreasonably dangerous, the allegations referencing the bounty system will do little more than draw more attention to the issue.  Regardless of the potency of these allegations, look for more suits to be filed, and expect those complaints to mirror this one.

Thank you to Brian Konkel, Law Clerk at SmithAmundsen for his work on this piece.
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The release of this audio recording raises numerous issues.  Williams' career was already in serious jeopardy prior to the release of this recording, but now, he is virtually un-employable.  His rhetoric and tone exceed that which would be considered normal locker room speak, and leaves little doubt that bounties were indeed taking place.  Williams called for specific injuries to numerous San Francisco players, even suggesting players should attempt to go for the head of concussion-prone wide receiver Kyle Williams.  With the multitude of lawsuits already filed against the NFL related to concussion issues, this is pretty damning for Williams, the Saints, and the League as a whole.  It is possible, and perhaps even likely, that Commissioner Goodell could turn Williams' current indefinite suspension into a lifetime ban.  It seems as though Goodell has ample evidence to do so at this point, and he may need to take such a step to remain consistent with the NFL's present crusade in support of player safety.  

To that end, Goodell clearly has authority to discipline Williams, consistent with the NFL's Standard of Conduct: 


Standard of Conduct

While criminal activity is clearly outside the scope of permissible conduct, and persons who engage in criminal activity will be subject to discipline, the standard of conduct for persons employed in the NFL is considerably higher. It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime.


Discipline may be imposed in any of the following circumstances:

  • Conduct that imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person; and
  • Conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players.

It will also be interesting to see if this audio recording affects the ongoing appeal of Head Coach Sean Payton.  Payton's chances of succeeding on appeal of his year-long suspension were probably slim before this recording, but in light of the public outcry, it seems certain that Goodell will uphold Payton's suspension. If Payton was in the room during this speech (it appears that he was not at this point), and knew of the bounties (which he has admitted), he had a duty to report Williams and others involved, even if he did not partake in the scheme himself.  Goodell can fall back on the NFL's Standard of Conduct in this regard as well: 

Reporting of Incidents: The League must be advised promptly of any incident that may be a violation of this policy, and particularly when any conduct results in an arrest or other criminal charge.  Players and club employees must report any such incident to the club, which must then report it to NFL Security at (800) NFL-1099. Failure to report an incident will constitute conduct detrimental and will be taken into consideration in making disciplinary determination under this policy. Clubs are also required to report incidents that come to their attention.

Another interesting issue that could trigger litigation is the fact that this audio recording was allegedly not authorized for release.  This recording was captured during filmmaker Sean Pamphilon's work on an ESPN documentary entitled, "Run Ricky Run," which chronicled former Saints player Steve Gleason's fight with Lou Gehrig's disease.  However, Gleason, who expressed regret and disappointment over the release of the recording, apparently owns the rights to all recordings compiled during the filming.  Gleason conceivably could bring an action against Pamphilon for the unauthorized release, though it could be difficult for Gleason to prove damages, given the circumstances. 

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An issue that has recently flooded the pages of the New York Times is the rapidly increasing cost of attending law school, despite the economic climate this country is currently experiencing.  Law school tuition is rising four times faster than the cost to attend an undergraduate institution, yet the amount of students attending has also increased despite the heavy debt they will incur and the tight job market they will enter after graduating.  Many people in various legal positions have contributed their opinions to the debate of whether it is necessary for law schools to take action to lower costs, and if so, how that should be accomplished.  

The first law school in the United States was established in 1784 and the school viewed its students as apprentices, not as scholars.  However, in 1878 the American Bar Association (“ABA”) was formed and began enacting limitations on law schools.  For instance, in the 1890s the ABA pushed states to limit the number of people admitted to the Bar.  In 1906, the Association of American Law Schools also contributed to the transformation of law schools by adopting a requirement that law school consist of three years of study.

Since the formation of law schools, the organization of these institutions has experienced changes.  It is less common to see militant professors, as portrayed in the 1973 movie The Paper Chase, and more common to witness professors simply asking for volunteers in class and not berating students if they did not read an assignment.  Even the length of time that a person has to go to law school has changed.  Recently, schools such as Northwestern University School of Law have begun to offer an accelerated program in which a student can complete their Juris Doctor (“J.D.”) in two years instead of three.  

Despite all these changes, though, many people in the legal field are frustrated with how much it costs to attend law school as well as the make-up of law schools.  One common complaint, as detailed in The New York Times article, “What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering,” is that law students are leaving school with no practical training, leaving firms the task of having to prepare new associates to become lawyers on the firm’s dime, or that of clients.  Many suggestions have been offered as to how to remedy this issue in a way that would train law students to become lawyers and alleviate some of the financial costs law schools and students face.  One suggestion has been to decrease the amount of credits students must take.  Another proposal has been to replace the third year of law school with an apprenticeship, which was the focus of the first law schools, instead of forcing students to engage in more coursework.

A proposition that has generated a lot of discussion is the idea of replacing full-time faculty with adjunct faculty.  Currently, the ABA requires that its accredited schools have a ratio of twenty students or less to one full-time faculty member.  A ratio of thirty students to one full-time faculty member is not in compliance with the ABA standards, but many of these full-time professors do not have practical legal experience because law schools look to hire scholars and not people who have spent years practicing law.  On the other hand, an adjunct professor is an experienced practitioner by definition.  

Besides lacking practical experience, it is more expensive to employ full-time faculty as opposed to adjunct faculty.  About half of a law school’s budget is spent on faculty salary and benefits, and about eighty percent of that budget goes toward full-time faculty.  Alternatively, adjunct faculty make a few thousand dollars a year to teach a course.  

With the current economic climate, it is vital that changes are made among different institutions, including law schools that will keep costs down.  While no method is a guaranteed solution, staffing more adjunct faculty is something that should be considered and this type of change would need to be initiated by the ABA.  Even though modifications to the organization of law schools may make law school administrations and professors uneasy, if adjustments are not made, the make-up of the legal profession may experience unwanted changes.  The New York Times article states that, “the nature of legal work itself is evolving, and the days when corporations buy billable hours, instead of results, are numbered.”  If law students continue on the path of failing to obtain practical experience, their chances of succeeding in this dismal market will remain poor.

 

 

 

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This past summer, the University of North Carolina was hit with a bevy of NCAA sanctions stemming from several members of its football team having received improper benefits from sports agents in violation of the NCAA’s amateurism rules.  Scandals like the one that hit UNC are nothing new to college football, as the University of Southern California, the University of Miami, the Ohio State University and others have likewise faced the wrath of NCAA sanctions for their student-athletes’ impermissible relationship with agents and receipt of money, cars, houses…you name it.  What’s notable about the UNC scandal is the role that social media played in the whole fiasco.  In its Notice of Allegations, the NCAA cited UNC for its failure to properly monitor the social media activity of its football players.  One player in particular had several Twitter posts that indicated that he was receiving impermissible benefits, to which the UNC athletic department was oblivious and which reportedly initiated the investigation.  


In light of the NCAA’s decision in the UNC case, it is clear that NCAA member institutions bear considerable risk to their reputations and good-standing with the NCAA if student-athletes’ social media use is not addressed in some manner.  But what are schools to do?  

Some schools have chosen to allow student-athletes to continue to use social media sites, subject to monitoring by the school’s athletic department.  To assist with this task, a number of schools have turned to third-parties whose business platform is based on monitoring student-athletes social media use.  One site, Udiligence, describes itself as “the industry leading social network monitoring service that helps collegiate athletic departments protect against damaging posts made by student athletes.”  Potential First Amendment and privacy issues are largely avoided in this realm in that student-athletes must consent to being monitored by taking the affirmative step of downloading an application that monitors their use.  Still, when schools make submission to monitoring a condition of participating in athletics, one could argue that such consent is not freely given.  

Other schools have taken a more radical approach to mitigating the potentially damaging effects of unbridled social media use by banning student-athletes from using it altogether.  While the risk of NCAA violations and damage to a school’s reputation is diminished, if not altogether extinguished, by this approach, a public university that institutes a complete ban of social media use could potentially face a legal challenge from a student athlete on First Amendment grounds.  The Supreme Court has held that university students are afforded the same First Amendment protections as the general population of adults.  When a university institutes a total ban for the use of social media for student-athletes, the act is tantamount to a prior restraint on speech.  According to Black’s Law dictionary, a prior restraint is defined as “any scheme which gives public officials the power to deny use of a forum in advance of [the] actual expression.”  Under prior restraint analysis, the public university defendant faces a steep burden in proving the need for such a restraint on speech and must meet certain constitutional requirements mandated by the Court.  

In light of the potential for litigation that exists with a total ban, and the inherent creepiness/Big Brother aspect of using a site like Udiligence, the most sensible approach to student-athletes’ and social media involves educating student-athletes on the risks of social media use and distributing guidelines about what constitutes acceptable usage.    
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Originally posted at the Sports Law Blog.

In another chapter in MLB’s simmering baseball kickback scandal, a Federal grand jury has indicted a former Chicago White Sox executive and two team scouts on charges that they took kickbacks totaling approximately $400,000 from signing bonuses and contract buyouts paid to secure 23 prospective players between December 2004 and February 2008. A seven-count indictment returned at the United States District Court in Chicago alleges that the White Sox baseball team was defrauded of money, as well as the honest services of the Defendants, who allegedly concealed the kickbacks from the team and its more senior officials.

This scandal first became public after White Sox executive David Wilder was discovered returning from the Dominican Republic in March 2008 with $40,000 in cash.

The facts, according to the indictment:

David Wilder was the White Sox farm system director from 2003 to 2006 and Director of Player Personnel until May 2008. He was responsible for overseeing the Sox scouts in Latin America, including Co-Defendants Jorge Oquendo and Victor Mateo. Oquendo served as Latin American Scout and was directly responsible for overseeing Mateo.

The White Sox authorized scouts to conduct preliminary negotiations, and Wilder was authorized to permit a player’s signing if the payment was under $100,000. If it was more, he obtained authorization from the White Sox GM Kenny Williams. After the signings, MLB conducted background checks, a written contract was sent, and checks were drawn from the White Sox’s bank in Chicago. Checks were paid to the player (if Dominican) or to a Mexican team if the signing involved a contract purchase.

The Defendants’ written contracts with the team required them to serve “diligently and faithfully” and to provide services with “diligence and fidelity.” The White Sox relied on Defendants to recommend/approve recommendation of signings that were (i) commensurate with the player’s skill level; (ii) in an amount that was no greater than necessary to induce a player to sign with the team or to induce a Mexican team to release the player; and (iii) not artificially inflated by inclusion of kickback payments.

The Defendants allegedly misrepresented the amount necessary to sign certain players and omitted material information about the payments which caused the White Sox to pay artificially inflated signing bonuses and artificially inflated prices for players’ contract rights. Oquendo and Rivera allegedly scouted players that they knew they could secure kickbacks from, and Oquendo sought players already affiliated with Mexican teams. Oquendo and Mateo directly and indirectly informed Wilder as to whether kickbacks could be obtained.

This indictment could be part of a much more expansive scheme of fraud with regard to MLB scouts in Latin America. Statistics provided by MLB show that signing bonuses of Latino players have gone up drastically in the last decade. The average signing bonus was approximately $29,000 in 2004, but had risen over $100,000 by 2008. ESPN’s Outside the Lines conducted a report in September of 2008 that described a “lawlessness” to baseball in the Dominican Republic. MLB claimed in the report that it was unaware of the problem of skimming.

The “White Sox Three” may be the first to be charged, but there are others, even bigger fish, that could face similar charges.

Jim Bowden, erstwhile GM of the Washington Nationals, stepped down in March 2009 amidst baseball’s investigation of his alleged skimming activity going as far back as his days as Reds GM in 1994. Bowden has denied any involvement. In August of 2008, the Yankees fired Carlos Rios, their director of Latin American scouting, and Ramon Valdivia, their Dominican Republic scouting director, for their alleged involvement in a kickback scheme. This came after the Boston Red Sox fired one of their own Dominican scouts, Pablo Lantigua, as a result of his alleged acceptance of a gift from a talent hunter, or a “buscone” who represented a Sox prospect that the team had signed. As this article details, the problem is not just a matter of MLB supervision, but also the fact that the system of buscones in the Dominican in deeply ingrained and is tied to the country’s crushing poverty.

Worth noting is the fact that the White Sox scandal was the first to break back in May 2008. It will be interesting to see whether this initial indictment is a prelude to further charges in Boston, New York or D.C.

At a time when MLB is still dealing with the lingering effects of the steroid era, this scandal is certainly unwelcome, but far from reaching a crisis level. The MLB-initiated investigation, carried out by the FBI and culminating in this week’s charges, demonstrates the League’s commitment to rooting out this problem. While the situation in the Dominican likely won’t change any time soon, the League and team officials can keep this type of scandal from escalating by more vigilantly monitoring how their scouts interact with players and player representatives.

The scandal has further elicited discussion about subjecting international players to MLB’s June draft for U.S. and Canadian players. Under the current system, the only restriction on a team’s acquisition of international players is that they be signed after their seventeenth birthday. But as Rick Karcher point out in this space a short while back, implementation of a draft would have to be collectively bargained and even then, the effect it could have on the entire player acquisition process is unclear.

Hat tip to law clerks, Luke LeSaffre and Brian Konkel, for their excellent work on this piece.

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