The NCAA’s response to Georgia’s new NIL law reveals the emperor’s new clothes

Earlier today, the State of Georgia enacted HB 617, which affirmatively permits college athletes attending schools in that state to receive financial compensation for use of their name, image, or likeness (“NIL”). The new law takes effect on July 1, 2021.

In a nationwide environment in which the NCAA broadly prohibits almost every form of direct financial compensation to so-called “student athletes,” emerging state laws like Georgia’s HB 617– other states joining in this initial wave include Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and New Mexico– offer a commonsense middle ground on compensation that’s short of revenue sharing with school athletic departments and would seem to place schools in those states at a competitive recruiting advantage, at least in the short term.

The NCAA’s initial response to what appears to be a broadside attack on one of the governing body’s longstanding, core tenets was surprising. Jere Morehead, a member of the NCAA Board of Governors “said he would expect the NCAA would allow ‘accommodations,’ to be made for athletes in states with NIL rules.” Morehead also is the president of the University of Georgia, so this may not be the NCAA’s official position on state NIL laws. If the “accommodations” comment reflects in any way the thinking within NCAA leadership, though, it is extremely illuminating.

It’s easy to forget that athletics organizing entities, and especially in light of their popularity and rhetoric the NCAA, NFL, and MLB, do not act and regulate their respective sports with the force of actual law. (In fact, they in some sense operate outside the law thanks to formal and informal antitrust exemptions.) During baseball’s meltdown over Barry Bonds’ superhuman ascension in the early aughts, you could be forgiven if you weren’t sure whether steroids were illegal illegal or merely MLB “illegal.” The NFL also has done an effective job of coopting this officious language into its in-sport vernacular as well (e.g., “illegal touching” having quite different meanings on and off the field). All of these groups have “committees” that issue “rules” and “regulations” just like real government agencies!

For the degree to which these private sports administrative entities control the behavior of their subject players as well as the general public’s perception of the goings-ons in and around their games, it’s sort of amazing that states could just opt out of a major NCAA prohibition and the NCAA’s response is to roll over and take it. Not that passing legislation is easy, but is this all that was needed all along?

If the NCAA’s “accommodations” response proves real, it could carry widespread consequences for the enforceability of other NCAA rules. Suddenly, the implication is that the NCAA will yield wherever its policies conflict with state law. Does this mean an end to the NCAA’s punishment of athletes who use marijuana in states that have authorized its use? What about sports wagering? There of course are other actual legal factors at work with those two examples (the persistent federal marijuana prohibition and common legal provisions restricting wagering by contest participants), and it’s unclear whether an affirmative legalization is a prerequisite (e.g., was Todd Gurley prohibited from being paid for autographed helmets as a matter of Georgia law?) . Still, Morehead’s suggestion that the NCAA will quietly accede in this area implies that there actually may not be much brute behind the bluster out of Indianapolis. If that’s the case, it’s a welcome– if still annoyingly executed– development that should further hasten the loosening of the NCAA’s iron fist over those whose efforts generate millions of dollars in administrative salaries.

A predictable turn in the ongoing saga of Charlie Blackmon’s 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

The end of the first month of the 2021 MLB season finds the Colorado Rockies stuck in last place in the National League’s Western Division. By OPS+, they’re the worst hitting team in the NL and the second-worst overall, their 85 OPS+ just edging the Detroit Tigers at 81 OPS+. Even though the Rockies were in the playoffs as recently as 2018, their slow start this year already has cost Jeff Bridich his general manager post. Perhaps unsurprisingly in light of the foregoing, Charlie Blackmon, the team’s ostensible star, so far is having the worst season of his career. His .169/.299/.292 line shakes out to 58 OPS+/56 wRC+/108 DRC+.*

Meanwhile, the winding road that conveys the legal saga of Blackmon’s 1979 Pontiac Trans Am– a story that remains too hot for any other website to cover– may be approaching its terminus. We picked up the tale as it hit the courthouse steps in January, when Blackmon filed suit against Michael Ramsey and his company, Ramsey Performance, alleging that the two entities took his money and his car and, after failing to complete agreed-upon restoration work on the latter, refused to return either. When Ramsey declined to hire a lawyer and instead made a “Good Job/Good Effort” attempt to respond to Blackmon’s complaint by filing only a copy of the complaint bearing Ramsey’s handwritten comments on the allegations, I predicted that Blackmon’s legal team would wait a few weeks and then file a motion for default judgment or judgment on the pleadings.

That’s exactly what happened. Referring to Ramsey’s unusual filing as “a something,” Blackmon’s motion asked the Superior Court of Cherokee County, Georgia to take a shortcut to the end of the lawsuit. Ramsey’s response either was so deficient that it didn’t amount to an answer at all, the essence of the argument goes, or it was an answer that didn’t deny any of the material allegations in the complaint. Either way, Blackmon contended that the court can rule for him on the question of the defendants’ liability right now. The question of damages– basically, the amount of money the court would order paid to Blackmon– could throw a wrench into Blackmon’s gears, however. Because he hasn’t been able to inspect the vehicle, the motion proposes the appointment of a special master– an investigator who works at the judge’s direction– to provide an assessment of the Pontiac’s condition for the purpose of determining a precise monetary award.

If Ramsey’s response to this motion is better than his response to the complaint, it is so only because he typed it as a partially separate document rather than handwriting his comments on Blackmon’s filing. This response otherwise is worse than the last one. Continuing to represent himself, Ramsey complains that Blackmon refused an out-of-court resolution of the dispute on terms Ramsey dictated. Ramsey also provided in-line responses to some of the arguments in Blackmon’s default motion, though these generally do not help his position, being either admissions of matters pertinent to the question of default (e.g., acknowledgement that he was served with the complaint) or immaterial. He also attached correspondence that again reveals Blackmon’s personal email address (although Blackmon’s own lawyer already let that cat out of the bag) and is neither relevant nor, to the extent it constitutes settlement communications, admissible as evidence.

Next up will be the trial judge’s ruling on the default motion. Judge Cannon certainly has plenty of latitude to grant a default judgment in Blackmon’s favor here. The easiest part to resolve should be a ruling on the question of a default judgment against Ramsey’s company, which, in Georgia, must be represented by a lawyer. Apparently open questions about the precise nature of the remedy or remedies Blackmon seeks (e.g., Does he just want his car back? Does he want money from Ramsey, and, if so, exactly how much?) may complicate the situation for Blackmon, however, and complications and uncertainties usually are not helpful to a party seeking entry of a default judgment.

Those, of course, are matters for Blackmon’s legal team to sweat. Their client likely is more concerned about his sub-.200 batting average and his team’s NL-worst record.

As always, keep your browser dialed to ALDLAND.com, where we remain your (actually; I somehow am not kidding) exclusive source for hot rod baseball litigation.

* All statistics current as of the time I typed them.

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Previously
A reminder that it’s spring training for automotive shop workers too: The ongoing saga of Charlie Blackmon’s 1979 Pontiac Trans Am
The ongoing saga of Charlie Blackmon’s 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

A reminder that it’s spring training for automotive shop workers too: The ongoing saga of Charlie Blackmon’s 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

MLB spring training kicked off this week, and the schedule included a couple of games for the Colorado Rockies, who make their spring camp in Arizona. While outfielder Charlie Blackmon has yet to make his 2021 spring debut for the Rockies, that didn’t stop his legal adversaries from making theirs on the other side of the country.

In the story too hot for any other sports website to handle, Blackmon is suing a Georgia man– Michael Ramsey– and his company– Ramsey Performance– who, Blackmon alleges, took his money to restore a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am but didn’t finish the work and now refuses to return either Blackmon’s car or his money.

Yesterday, the Superior Court of Cherokee County, Georgia finally heard from Ramsey and his company– sort of. Ramsey, purporting to represent himself and possibly his company, filed a response to Blackmon’s complaint that does not so much answer the allegations, in a conventional sense, as it does continue the long-winded, argumentative emails Ramsey had been sending to Blackmon’s agent before he filed the lawsuit. To the extent they can be distilled, the main points of Ramsey’s countering contentions are that he, personally, is not at fault because all the work was done by his company; there was no fixed schedule for this “spare time” project; the scope of and financial responsibility for work done by third parties remains Blackmon’s obligation; “the vehicle is not a hostage . . . but it will not leave without payment resolution”; a sheriff’s deputy sent to inspect the vehicle at Ramsey’s garage accidentally defrosted Ramsey’s freezer; and Blackmon’s complaint should have included more of Ramsey’s emails.

The unsolicited suggestion that Ramsey and his company should hire a lawyer isn’t merely a strategic one borne out of the thought that judges are unlikely to be swayed upon encountering filings that include both segments typed entirely in capital letters and handwritten annotations on the opposing party’s exhibits. Indeed, while Ramsey has the right to make the choice to represent himself in court, his company, Ramsey Performance, does not.

Indeed, it isn’t clear that Ramsey Performance, as the distinct legal entity that Blackmon named as a separate defendant and to which Ramsey himself pointed for potential liability, filed an answer at all. If it did not, Blackmon’s attorney likely will wait a couple weeks and then move for a default judgment against Ramsey Performance. As for Ramsey’s responsive filing, assuming it qualifies as an answer, it may be ripe for a quick motion for judgment on the pleadings or summary judgment to the extent the judge determines that it does not sufficiently deny key allegations in Blackmon’s complaint. Setting aside for a moment the possibly critical technical failings of Ramsey’s answer, it also is possible that the judge orders the parties to mediate a dispute that seemingly could be resolved for less than $20,000.

The only way to find out what will happen next? Keeping it tuned right here to ALDLAND.com, your exclusive source (seriously) for hot rod baseball litigation.

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Previously
The ongoing saga of Charlie Blackmon’s 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

The ongoing saga of Charlie Blackmon’s 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

1979 Trans Am- bought it new in April of 1979. It is an unrestored 400/4spd  car with a little… | Pontiac firebird trans am, Pontiac firebird, 1979  pontiac trans am

From MLB hot stove season to MLB hot rod season, the Superior Court of Cherokee County, Georgia brings us the tale of Colorado Rockies outfielder and four-time All-Star Charlie Blackmon‘s classic sports car. While the Sports Law Roundup is on hiatus, we’ll tackle this one in as much detail as the public record permits, because what else are we going to do during Pandemic Pro Bowl Weekend?

According to a complaint his legal team filed on Monday, Blackmon hired Michael Ramsey and Ramsey’s company, Ramsey Performance, to restore a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am in early 2015. Since then, Blackmon has paid Ramsey more than $50,000 and has nothing to show for it, and now he wants it back. Ramsey may have done some work on the project, but it is not complete. The allegations and written communications attached to Blackmon’s filing suggest that Ramsey even has refused to allow Blackmon to view the vehicle, much less take possession of it.

The filing includes written correspondence, mostly between Ramsey and Anna Domenech, one of Blackmon’s representatives at his sports agency, ACES. Domenech stepped in to try to retrieve her client’s vehicle. Her documented efforts over the course of most of 2020 proved unsuccessful, but they paint a picture of Ramsey as someone with other priorities and not particularly eager for real engagement with Blackmon’s people. Ramsey’s rare, often lengthy responses refer to his obligations to a software company undergoing post-merger downsizing, a matter he characterized as “my job which actually supports my family.” The emails also suggest that the restoration project became more expensive than Ramsey anticipated and required him to advance money for overruns that he wants to recover, at least in part, before surrendering the car to Blackmon.

Ramsey eventually offered a completion date of May 23, 2020. After he missed his own deadline, Blackmon hired a Georgia lawyer with experience representing sports and entertainment clients in the state to secure the vehicle’s return. In September, when Ramsey responded to the lawyer’s demand, the lawyer forwarded the response to Domenech, simply noting, “[a]t least he is alive.” Domenech replied to agree, further pointing out that the work still wasn’t done and writing, of Ramsey, “[i]f there is someone that can’t be trusted its [sic] him and he has proven that time and time again.”

Blackmon hired another Georgia lawyer who, in December, again demanded possession of the car. Ramsey responded by insisting that he be paid additional money before surrendering the vehicle:

I am more than happy to setup [sic] a review/inspection of the car, settle on what is owed based on that review, and ONLY THEN return the car to Charlie once we are both able to close this. It can only happen in that order and in that way, I will not release the car and settle later . . . . Anything owed on either side are [sic] agreed to and handled before the car leaves as once the car leaves everything is closed.

Blackmon then sought the assistance of the Cherokee County Sheriff to retrieve the car. When that effort was unsuccessful, Blackmon finally filed suit this past week against Ramsey and his company. He’s asking the court to order Ramsey to return the car or pay Blackmon the value of the car plus all materials and services for which Blackmon paid. Blackmon also is asking the court to force Ramsey to pay Blackmon’s legal expenses incurred in the case.

Ramsey has not yet filed an answer to the complaint, and his response isn’t due until at least late February.

There has been no detectable media coverage of this case, and Blackmon presumably wants it to stay that way. Nevertheless, his lawyers’ decision to leave unredacted certain personal identifying information, including Blackmon’s email address and the addresses of two of his current or former residences (one of which looks like it might be incorrect), is a footnote of minor interest pertaining to the representation of a famous client.

Born in Texas, Blackmon attended high school and colleges in Georgia before signing with Colorado as a second-round pick in 2008. Now, he’s entering what might be his final season with the Rockies (he has player options in 2022 and 2023) and looking to rebound from a slight dip, by his standards, in his eleventh year in the majors.

The People’s Preview of the 2019 College Football Conference Championship Weekend

Don’t call us Bleacher ReportSB NationFansided, but we’ve decided to pick up a little #content buzz around here by completely outsourcing our content for this exciting preview of the 2019 college football conference championship weekend to unpaid labor/digital aggregators. Finally(!), our reader(s) have a chance to find out what the people themselves have to say about these games and no longer must wade through the filtered editorial morass of our (also unpaid) writers’ unavoidable human biases.

A game(s) preview is, at its essence, a telling of whether a game should be good. Here then are the tellings of whether this weekend’s college football games should be good told by the people–free and rational economic actors all–according to the comparative differences between bottom-level ticket prices available on the secondary market as of this morning.

$¢ indeed.

UPDATED: Playing the Fields: Justin, Jake, and Jacob

News broke last night that Justin Fields, Georgia’s number-two quarterback behind Jake Fromm, is considering a transfer. Initial reports indicated that he had decided to transfer, but follow-ups this morning have softened that somewhat. Still, from Fields’ perspective, a transfer makes some sense for the second overall recruit from the 2018 class who, thus far, has not overtaken Fromm and probably wants– and would receive– a starting opportunity at another top-tier program.

If Fields does leave after this season, he will be the second highly regarded QB to depart Athens under the Kirby Smart regime. Former starter Jacob Eason left after he lost the job to Fromm in the 2017 season, transferring to Washington (in his home state). He had to sit out the 2018 season, though he was allowed to practice with the Huskies and play on the scout team. Although Washington coach Chris Peterson told Eason during his high-school recruitment that, if Eason “ever needed to or had the opportunity to come home, he would have a place for” Eason, there obviously is no guarantee of a starting job for him in Seattle. In fact, a report yesterday shows that Eason will face a challenge from a former high-school rival, Dylan Morris, who will enroll early to begin the competition with Eason this spring. While the Seattle Times regards Eason as the presumptive starter– “of course”– for 2019, the report also notes that Eason will be one of five scholarship quarterbacks on campus this spring.

Even if Fields doesn’t have to sit out a year, something he obviously hopes to avoid even if it isn’t clear how he would do so under current NCAA rules, Eason’s situation should serve as a reminder that there are no certainties in college football.

The rest of us can occupy the moments between bowl games trying to guess if and, probably more significantly, where Fields might transfer. Some reading the tea leaves are seeing early indications that Fields is setting his sights on Columbus.

UPDATE: Fields has taken the necessary step to commence the transfer process. Coaches at other schools now are free to recruit him to join their programs without having to receive permission from UGA. It apparently is possible that the SEC still could restrict Fields’ ability to transfer within the conference, however.

UPDATE: Fields is transferring to Ohio State. The immediate reports do not indicate whether he’ll have to sit out a year, but I think that’s the reasonable expectation absent extraordinary circumstances.

A Word on SEC Championship Game Rematches

The conventional “wisdom,” if you can call it that, from the ESPN pundits is that Auburn so thoroughly dominated Georgia the first time around, that there isn’t much Georgia can do if they play again. If you watched the game, and I did, that is certainly the way it looked. Auburn’s defensive line dominated, their offensive line won the battle, Auburn moved the ball, Georgia didn’t, and they led the game 40-10 before a meaningless late touchdown. So… case closed right?

Well, that’s an interesting theory, or, uh… hypothesis, if you will. How does it hold up to further analysis, or, uh… data. Yes, data. Let’s see. Like many things in college football, the data is limited. Small sample size yada yada yada. The sample size is 7. But here they are. All of the SEC Championship game rematches in history (plus LSU-Bama in 2011, rematching in the national title game):

Year Teams Regular Season Postseason Difference
1999 Florida/Alabama Alabama by 1 Alabama by 27 26
2000 Florida/Auburn Florida by 31 Florida by 22 9
2001 LSU/Tenn Tenn by 8 LSU by 11 19
2003 LSU/UGA LSU by 7 LSU by 21 14
2004 Auburn/Tenn Auburn by 24 Auburn by 10 14
2010 Auburn/S.Car. Auburn by 8 Auburn by 39 31
2011 LSU/Alabama LSU by 3 Bama by 21 24

First things first, only 2 times in 7 rematches has the result changed, in that the loser of the regular season matchup won the postseason game. Those occurred in 2001 and 2011. However, perhaps the biggest takeaway is that 6 times out of 7, the game changed significantly. Only in 2000 was the result basically the same – that being a comfortable win for Florida both times. The other 6 games all went from a close game to a blowout, or vice versa. The average difference in score is over 19 points. Maybe the first game is not a very strong predictor of the second game?

Well, hold on you say. This is only 7 games. And you’d be right, it is a small sample size, but you work with the data you’ve got. Here, I can also add this list of bowl games that have been regular season rematches. Going back to the same starting point (1992, beginning of the SEC title game), there have been 14 such games, and only 4 of these 14 bowl games were won by the team that won the regular season game (excluding the 1995 Sugar Bowl, the “Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter,” because the two teams tied the regular season game).

So, still a small sample size. But the data certainly suggest the first game is not a good predictor of the second game. Not at all. Stated differently, the hypothesis that the first game played between two teams will be a reasonable predictor of a hypothetical rematch has very little support. Thus, when two teams play twice in the same season, the first game is not a good predictor of the second game. That is the “what.”

The “why” is just speculation. We don’t have any data that goes to the cause. However, I can guess as to some reasons. First of all, I’d simply say that the logic is wrong in the first place. Most fans seem to think that a football game is good evidence of something. It shows you who the better team is. I’d argue that’s wrong. Maybe a team’s 12 or 13 game record is good evidence (maybe it’s only so-so evidence). But I’d argue that one game isn’t good evidence of anything. Too many variables, too much luck. In other words, the first game might be a poor predictor of the second game because the first game has a significant luck factor, and so does the second game.

Other possible explanations for this phenomenon are psychological. The players and coaches from the winning team feel like all they have to do is not make any mistakes, and they’ll win again the same way they won the first time. They may have a hard time getting up for the game. The coaches may feel pressure not to change their scheme. After all, it worked the first time. Meanwhile, the second team is adjusting. Its players are angry, and out to prove the first game was a fluke. The opposite can also happen. Consider 2010 – Auburn may not have thought it was a great team during the first matchup, early in the year, when they beat South Carolina by 8. But after finishing the year unbeaten, Auburn was in a different mental state, and out to prove they actually were much better than a 3 loss South Carolina team.

Those are my two best guesses, but there are other conceivable explanations. However, the facts are what they are. And the facts suggest that if Auburn and Georgia play in the SEC Championship game, Auburn may not be as big of a sure thing as the media thinks. In fact, Auburn did get a number of apparently lucky breaks the first time around (fumbled punt, the “leaping” personal foul) which resulted in extra possessions. For whatever its worth, the computers mostly think Auburn would be favored by about a field goal and would have perhaps a 55-60% chance to win. That doesn’t sound very much like the first game. Based on the above, that probably means its exactly right.

Perhaps UGA fans should be cheering for Auburn to win this weekend, so they get a rematch, rather than playing Alabama for the first time.

Vanderbilt vs. UGA: A day to be reckoned with

vuuga

As promised, we were in Athens last Saturday for Vanderbilt-Georgia, a game in which the homecoming Dawgs were favored by more than two touchdowns. Instead, the Commodores eked out a one-point victory on the road. Although it probably wasn’t too exciting on television, this was an entertainingly tense game to attend in person.

Two game notes, and then I’ll turn it over to the Vandy football video crew:

  1. The Vanderbilt defense is excellent against the run, which happens to be Georgia’s offensive strength, but they were helpless against the pass. UGA should’ve called nothing but pass plays until VU forced them to do something else.
  2. This was Vandy head coach Derek Mason’s first conference win, which is nice, but it probably should have come sooner. Like, maybe the week before in Lexington? Neither Georgia nor Vanderbilt are making much football sense in 2016.

ALDLAND goes live to the Battle of Athens

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We will be in Sanford Stadium tomorrow when Vanderbilt, based in Nashville (i.e., the Athens of the South), faces Georgia, based in Athens, in a game that will decide which city will retain its Southern Athenian identity and, maybe, third place in the SEC East.

Thus far, this season has been a disappointment for both schools, but tomorrow’s game should at least allow fans a nice look at each team’s stars. For Georgia, that means the return of the combined running attack of Nick Chubb and Sony Michele. For Vanderbilt, it means the return of the SEC rushing leader, Ralph Webb, who, I am told, will play tomorrow after suffering an injury during last week’s loss at Kentucky.

The star power of Webb distracts from the Black & Gold’s numerous deficiencies and, in some sense, Webb reminds me of Earl Bennett, a Vandy wide receiver who, ten years ago, became the SEC all-time reception leader. Following the exciting and brief James Franklin era, the Commodores have regressed under Derek Mason to a team reminiscent of those overseen by Bobby Johnson: above-average defense that worked hard to keep the team in games while the offense, with its lone leader (then Bennett, now Webb) tried to keep pace on the scoreboard until the overworked defense eventually gave out and the opposing team ran away with the game. Mason and his assistants have better resumes than Johnson and his assistants did, but the results have been the same.

During the last ten years, though, Vanderbilt has played Georgia close and even stolen a few wins. Those have tended to come in home games for the Commodores, though; the Dawgs typically have routed them in Athens. Vanderbilt nevertheless goes on the road tomorrow in search of its first conference win of 2016. Kickoff is at noon on SEC Network, and we’ll be there. Follow along here for live updates.

Reading the Richter Scale: Week Nine

richter

After entering yet another season with high hopes, the Georgia Bulldogs have limped to a 5-3 start, with all three losses coming against SEC opponents. Like last year, they lost their star running back to serious injury and Florida embarrassed them in Jacksonville. Matching last year’s 10-3 record will require the Dawgs to win out– they’ve already equaled 2014’s loss total. With remaining games against Kentucky, Auburn, Georgia Southern, and Georgia Tech, as well as a presumptive bowl opponent, that’s not an impossible task, but without Nick Chubb or any coherence at quarterback, it is far from guaranteed, especially without a bailout defense. In terms of end-of-season incentives, that bowl-game appearance is all the team has to play for, though, the Florida loss having eliminated UGA from contention for the SEC championship. Before the season started, Georgia’s representation of the SEC East in that game was a foregone conclusion.

Now, a groundswell seems to be building against Richt, with demands for a change coming from across the spectrum: Finebaum callers, the beat writers, and “major” boosters. It’s the last group that really moves the meter in situations like these. Richt is under contract through 2018 thanks to an extension he signed in January. If the school wants him gone before then, a buyout, likely funded with booster money, would be necessary.   Continue reading