Sports Law Roundup – 2/3/2017

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I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

After a week off to attend a fancy law conference, we’re back with the top sports-related legal stories from the past week or so:

  • Baylor sexual assault: The scope of the sexual assault scandal at Baylor University continues to expand. Last week, a former Baylor student sued the university because, she alleged, she was the victim of a group rape committed by two football players in 2013 that the school ignored. The plaintiff also alleged that football players were responsible for numerous other crimes “involving violent physical assault, armed robbery, burglary, drugs, guns, and, notably, the most widespread culture of sexual violence and abuse of women ever reported in a collegiate athletic program.” She further claims that, between 2011 and 2014, thirty-one Baylor football players committed a total of fifty-two rapes, including five gang rapes. The complaint makes out claims under Title IX and common-law negligence theories. One significant hurdle for the plaintiff is that both types of claims are subject to two-year statutes of limitations. Since her alleged rape occurred in 2013, the university is likely to seek a dismissal on that basis.
  • College football defamation: In more Baylor football news, former head coach Art Briles now has dropped the defamation lawsuit he filed just two months ago against three Baylor regents and the university’s senior vice president and CEO for their statements that Briles was aware of sex crimes reportedly committed by his players and failed to provide that information to proper authorities, among other claims. As of this writing, no one has made an official comment on Briles’ behalf explaining the dismissal, but it appears to be connected to documents some of the same defendants in the Briles case filed in a new defamation case brought this week by former Baylor football director of operations Colin Shillinglaw. Those documents supposedly demonstrate Briles’ awareness of and attempts to cover up his players’ wrongdoing. If you’re the TMZ type, you can read more about the contents of the alleged Briles communications here.
  • Wrestling ban: Iran has announced that it will not allow the American wrestling team to compete in the 2017 Freestyle World Cup, which the Iranian city of Kermanshah is hosting this month. The ban comes as a form of retaliation for President Donald Trump’s January 27 executive order temporarily blocking people from entering the United States from Iran and six other majority-Muslim countries.
  • Football head injuries: A state court judge in New York denied the NFL’s motion to dismiss a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the son of deceased player Arthur DeCarlo Sr., who, his son alleges, died as a result of CTE he contracted from head injuries sustained while playing football. This is the only CTE case against the NFL that is outside of the federal multidistrict settlement based in a Pennsylvania federal court. Addressing a statute-of-limitations issue, the New York judge likened the case to asbestos claims by describing CTE as a latent condition, the manifestation of which is not discoverable until the completion of a posthumous autopsy. Meanwhile, on Monday, a group of former college football players filed suit against helmet manufacturer Riddell seeking class-action status and alleging that Riddell made false claims about its helmet’s ability to protect against concussions. This is the fifth active concussion-related lawsuit pending against Riddell.
  • Cheerleader wages: A former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader filed a complaint against the NFL and the twenty-six NFL teams that have cheerleaders, alleging that they conspired to suppress cheerleader wages (which are between $1,000 and $1,500 per year, according to the complaint) below market value. The unnamed plaintiff is seeking to represent a class of all NFL cheerleaders employed in the past four years.
  • Child abuse: Three former Penn State University administrators will face criminal child endangerment charges stemming from the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal inside the university’s football program. PSU’s former president, senior vice president, and athletic director were successful in quashing charges of failing to report child sexual abuse, but their trials on the remaining charge will go forward next month.
  • Student-athlete rights: The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board issued an official memorandum stating that football players at Division I FBS schools “are employees under the [National Labor Relations Act], with the rights and protections of that act.” The precise legal consequences of this memorandum are unclear, at least to this writer, but the practical consequences likely will include an increase in unionization attempts and unfair labor practice filings among student-athletes at the covered schools. The memorandum already has generated critical comments from some members of Congress who believe it would have “devastating consequences for students and academic institutions[,] puts the interests of union leaders over America’s students, and . . . has the potential to create significant confusion at college campuses across the nation.”
  • Baseball hacking: As punishment for their hacking of the Houston Astros’ database, MLB fined the St. Louis Cardinals $2 million and forced them to forfeit two 2017 draft picks (the fifty-sixth and seventy-fifth overall picks) to the Astros. In addition, the league banned the currently jailed St. Louis employee who hacked the Houston system multiple times from future MLB employment. Most commentators and team officials regard the sanction as a light one.
  • Daily Fantasy Sports: The European island nation of Malta has granted daily fantasy sports website DraftKings a license to operate in that country, and that license may allow the site to operate in other European jurisdictions that recognize the Maltese license as well.
  • Live game streaming: MSG has entered into an agreement with the NHL to broadcast the four New York and New Jersey hockey teams (Sabres, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils) on the network’s live streaming service, MSG GO, which is available for free to MSG subscribers. Meanwhile, another New-York-area network, SNY, will begin streaming Mets games on its own website and the NBC Sports app. (NBC previously reached a streaming agreement with MLB Advanced Media for in-market access to Cubs, White Sox, Phillies, Athletics, and Giants games starting this year.)

Sports court is in recess.

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On the Road Again: A study of NHL rink variation

One of the important background dimensions to comparative baseball statistics is known as “park adjustments,” a set of corrective factors applied to account for the physical differences (e.g., outfield wall depth) between each park. Among American sports today, only Major League Baseball and NASCAR (and golf, I suppose) permit such structural variation between the competitive arenas themselves.

Professional hockey used to be in that group too. More than merely adjusting, adding, and subtracting lines on the ice to affect the flow of play, as the NHL continues to do (cf. the NBA three-point line), the rinks themselves used to be different sizes. League rules mandate a uniform rink size, but so-called “small rinks” persisted in the NHL as late as the 1980s and 1990s in Boston, Chicago, and Buffalo.

While hockey does not face the structural differences present in baseball, there still is a need to apply rink-by-rink statistical adjustments. That’s because the compiling of basic hockey statistics (e.g., shots, hits, turnovers) requires statisticians to make judgment calls to a more significant degree than in a discrete-event sport like baseball.

By way of limited background, the NHL collects basic gameplay statistics through a computer system known as the Real Time Scoring System (RTSS). A benefit of RTSS is that it aggregates and organizes data for analysis by teams, players, and fans. A vulnerability of RTSS is the subjectivity alluded to above that comes when human scorers track a fluid, dynamic sport like hockey.

While others have noted certain biases among the RTSS scorers at different rinks, a paper by Michael Schuckers and Brian Macdonald published earlier this month analyzes those discrepancies across a spread of core statistics and proposes a “Rink Effects” model that aims to do for subjective rink-to-rink differences in hockey scoring what park adjustments do for structural differences between baseball parks.    Continue reading

Can Jaguars Swim?

british jaguars

The NFL has not disguised its efforts to develop its brand abroad, and it appears to be moving toward establishing a team in another country. With expansion, which probably would reduce current owners’ revenues, unlikely, the only ready option is to relocate an existing team across the boarder.

The obvious choice is Canada. The Buffalo Bills already have some sort of timeshare arrangement with Toronto, but so long as Roger Goodell remains NFL commissioner, that move will not happen. (Goodell:Bills::Selig:Brewers, sort of.) Mexico doesn’t quite seem to be happening for the NFL either.

Instead, the league has set its eyes on Europe, and London in particular. Even though it abandoned NFL Europe, the league is pressing its product there more than ever, and it’s doing so in a targeted way. The team to go? The Jacksonville Jaguars.

I watched last night’s crime against football on Sky Sports, a British broadcasting operation. During breaks, they were airing commercials for some UK version of fantasy football that featured three Jags cheerleaders and chances to win gear from “your favorite team,” spoken over the image of a Maurice Jones-Drew jersey. (You can view the commercial here.) Jacksonville is playing Atlanta in the NFL’s now-annual game in London, but the commercial doesn’t include any Falcons imagery. It’s all about establishing a long-term connection between European fans and the Jaguars.

The newish Jags owner is on board with that long-term connection– Shad Khan, a native of Pakistan who moved to America at age sixteen and became a billionaire through the automotive-parts industry, called the Jaguars “the home team for London.” Khan also bought a London-based soccer team, Fulham Football this summer, and in Khan’s eyes, that’s no coincidence: “Obviously, there would be some practices, some synergies we’d like to take advantage of [between the Jaguars and Fulham],” he said. Khan also pointed out that the Jaguars will be playing one home game in London at least for the next four seasons.

U.S.-based fans may just now be hearing about the prospect that a team, possibly the Jaguars, could be making a more permanent connection to London, but from the looks of things like the commercial I saw last night and Kahn’s actions, the NFL may have already made a decision.