Sports Law Roundup – 12/15/2017

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Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Louisville basketball: The fallout from the FBI’s announced investigation of Adidas-sponsored men’s college basketball programs resulted in the termination of Rick Pitino’s  position as the head coach of Louisville’s team. That, in turn, spawned Pitino lawsuits against Louisville for wrongful termination and Adidas for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Louisville now has sued Pitino for breach of contract and negligence and seeks monetary from Pitino arising out of the school’s losses due to vacated wins, potentially including its 2013 national title, and other NCAA sanctions, lost donations, and other financial losses. Louisville’s complaint alleges Pitino admitted liability when he said in a post-termination interview that he knew about NCAA violations but did not report them and took “full responsibility” for his decisions to hire assistants who subsequently engaged in wrongful activity.
  • Television transfer: An announced transaction between 20th Century Fox and Disney involving the latter’s acquisition of more than $50 billion (exclusive of debt) of the former’s assets has potentially significant consequences for the entities’ sports properties. Included among the assets Disney (which already owns ESPN and ABC) is acquiring are all of the Fox Sports Regional Networks (e.g., Fox Sports Detroit, Fox Sports South, etc.) and the YES Network. Disney also is acquiring other substantial assets, including FX Network, Fox’s interest in Hulu, and all of Fox’s film and television studios, which would include the rights to film properties like “The Simpsons,” “Modern Family,” “Avatar” (for which one source reports there are four sequels in the works), “Deadpool,” and “X-Men.” In exchange, Fox shareholders will receive shares of Disney stock. In addition, a spinoff entity will take control of Fox’s primary national networks, including FOX, Fox News, Fox Business, FS1, FS2, and the Big Ten Network. The deal still requires approval from both existing entities’ boards of directors and shareholders, as well as government regulators.
  • Baylor sexual assaults: The flow of evidence of Baylor‘s apparently widespread sexual assault problems seems unlikely to abate anytime soon now that a judge is permitting discovery of sexual assault reports from students who are not parties to pending litigation involving the school, as well as records of third-party Code of Conduct violations limited to violations related to “sex” and is ordering Baylor to produce documents previously provided to independent auditors, those being “32,000 nonparty student records, and hundreds of thousands of additional documents, without regard to” relevance or federal privacy restrictions.
  • Gambler defamation: In June, an alleged “gambling guru” known as RJ Bell (real name: Randall James Busack) sued Deadspin (and its post-Gawker-bankruptcy owner, Gizmodo Media Group, LLC) and freelance writer Ryan Goldberg over an article Goldberg wrote and Deadspin published that was critical of Busack and which Busack alleges was libelous. On Tuesday, a New York bankruptcy judge announced that trial in the case will begin on Valentine’s Day 2018. An important legal question in the case is whether a provision in an order of the bankruptcy court overseeing the Gawker Media bankruptcy intended to operate as a release of third-party claims against Gawker Media writers applies to bar Busack’s claims against Goldberg, which is the position Goldberg takes. Busack contends that the release doesn’t apply to him because he didn’t sue Gawker during the bankruptcy and received no distribution from the Gawker bankruptcy estate. Gawker Media entered bankruptcy as a result of a prior lawsuit Hulk Hogan (real name: Terry Bollea) brought. The attorney who represented Bollea in that case also represents Busack in this case. On Wednesday, the judge, who previously indicated he found the release issue ambiguous, ruled that the release did, in fact, bar most of Busack’s claims.
  • Garbler defamation: Lou Holtz, former head football coach at Notre Dame and South Carolina and former football “analyst” for ESPN, has sued The Daily Beast and one of its writers, Betsy Woodruff, for defamation. Holtz claims that Woodruff’s article about Holtz’s comments during the 2016 Republican National Convention, in which she reported he said immigrants were “deadbeats” and “invading the U.S.,” contained information known to be false and caused Holtz to lose future speaking opportunities.
  • NFL Network sexual harassment: A former NFL Network employee has sued NFL Enterprises, LP (apparently the Los-Angeles-based television and broadcast arm of the NFL), Jessica Lee (allegedly a supervisor at NFL Network whose LinkedIn page describes her as the Network’s director of studio operations), and fifty unnamed defendants. The plaintiff’s lawsuit nominally is one for wrongful termination, but its most newsworthy allegations involve claims of sexual harassment, assault, and battery by other NFL Network employees, including former players Marshall Faulk, Donovan McNabb, Warren Sapp, Ike Taylor, Heath Evans, and Eric Davis and former executive Eric Weinberger, who now works as the president of Bill Simmons Media Group, which owns The Ringer.

Sports court is in recess.

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Liberty Bowl preview

After a couple weeks of silly bowl games and lamenting the defunctedness of the Baccardi Bowl, it’s come time to get into college football’s more serious postseason games. With the BCS bowls getting going on January 2 (there are no New Year’s Day bowls this year), New Year’s Eve provides a suitable appetizer, including Cincinnati and Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl, 2:30 pm Central time on ABC. Watch for me on the TV.

Rather than try to duplicate the good work already done by dedicated Vanderbilt bloggers and create my own full game preview, I’ll yield to more experienced voices below, after offering my own thoughts, in bullet-point format (it’s Memphis, after all):

  • While Vanderbilt was three plays away from a 9-3 record in the regular season, they finished 6-6, which still triples their win total from last year with essentially the same roster and bests their win total from the past two seasons combined. That said, a win on Saturday would give the Commodores a winning record on the season; a loss, of course, would give them a losing record. Coach James Franklin has hit this point in his preparation this week and I think it’s an important one. A season this good, comparatively speaking, cannot end with a losing record.
  • This is just the fifth bowl appearance for Vanderbilt, but this year’s senior class is the school’s first to play in two bowl games. At a school where nobody leaves early for the NFL (not even Jay Cutler), the seniors represent a strong, experienced group of leaders. They also have played for three different coaches (Bobby Johnson, Robbie Caldwell, and Franklin) in three years, so they have been through a lot together. After a win in the Music City Bowl three years ago, followed by two down years, the seniors seem to play for themselves as much as they do for Franklin and the future of the program. I think this bodes well for their performance in their final game.
  • As much as 2008’s Music City Bowl was a coming out party for quarterback Larry Smith, the 2011 season has been a coming out party for his replacement, Jordan Rodgers. The junior starter with a famous brother has been an offensive force this year, both as a rusher and a passer. Rodgers need not have a perfect total game for Vandy to win– other offensive options and tools are available– but he needs to avoid making the kinds of mistakes he did in the overtime loss to Tennessee.
  • Cincinnati is a relative unknown to me, and probably to you, something the information below should remedy. The two things that come to my mind are 1) they aren’t that far removed from Brian Kelly, so there probably is a talent residue there; and 2) their basketball team is made up of some hard brawlers, which may or may not carry over onto the football field. I just looked up their regular season record: 9-3. But they play in the Big East.
  • I’ve been to one other bowl game, the 2007 Rose Bowl. USC embarrassed Michigan that afternoon, and I was embarrassed to be associated with the state in which the losing team was located. I very much am hoping for a different result on Saturday.

History: Sensibly, the Liberty Bowl started in Philadelphia in 1959, but by 1965, it had moved to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis to host larger crowds and establish itself as one of the oldest non-BCS bowls. The People’s history of the Liberty Bowl is here.

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