Sports Law Roundup – 3/31/2017

aslr

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.

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

  • Penn State child abuse: The criminal trial of former Penn State University President Graham Spanier, who was charged in connection with the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal inside the university’s football program, concluded with a jury verdict convicting Spanier of a single misdemeanor count of child endangerment. The jury, which deliberated for two days, declined to convict on the conspiracy charge. Spanier’s attorney immediately indicated an intent to appeal the verdict. Albert Lord, a PSU trustee, responded to the news of Spanier’s conviction by writing that he is “running out of sympathy” for Sandusky’s “so-called” victims.
  • Baseball fan injuries: The Cleveland Indians prevailed in a lawsuit filed by a fan struck in the face by a foul ball. The Ohio court adhered to the “Baseball Rule,” which holds that people who choose to attend baseball games assume the risk that they will be struck by flying bats and balls and therefore cannot sue teams when they are injured in such an incident. The plaintiff argued that his case presented distinguishing factual circumstances: he alleged that stadium ushers ordered him to leave his seat during play in the bottom of the ninth inning in advance of a fireworks show, such that his back was to the field when the batter hit the ball that eventually hit him in the face when he turned back to look at the field. Conflicting evidence on the timing and nature of the ushers’ instructions seems to have damaged the fan’s case, however.
  • Hockey labor agreement: The U.S. women’s national hockey team and governing body USA Hockey agreed to a confidential four-year labor deal centering around player compensation and support programming. The agreement negates the need for a planned player boycott of the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship, which begins today. A predominantly female team of attorneys from Ballard Spahr represented the players on a pro bono basis. In disappointing related news coming just one day after the new agreement, however, the University of North Dakota announced that it is cancelling its women’s hockey program, which has been an important feeder to the national team.
  • Hockey head injuries: Pretrial disputes over document discovery continue in the head-injury lawsuit between the NHL and a group of former players. Previously, those disputes focused on research documents from Boston University’s CTE Center. Now, however, the court has dealt a victory to the players by publicly releasing certain internal NHL communications and other documents. An early review of the now-public documents already has revealed one seemingly damning email from a team doctor lamenting “situational ethics” in the context of concussion management: “We all sit around and talk and talk about concussion management. Then it’s the playoffs, someone suffers an obvious loss of consciousness and is back playing in less than 48 hours. . . . We must be [the player’s] advocate regardless of what the coach or general manager thinks.” Another email, from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, expressed disappointment with a former referee’s public criticism of the league’s hard-hit discipline policy, writing, upon being informed that the former official still was receiving severance pay from the NHL, writing that “maybe he should understand it’s not nice to bite the hand that feeds you. Please have someone check to see if there are any grounds to withhold. Don’t want to hurt him – maybe just get his attention.” Other communications evidence what appears to be the NHL’s willful refusal to acknowledge or examine the issue of concussions in sports.
  • Baseball DUI: Earlier this month, a South Korean court sentenced Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang to eight months in prison after the player admitted guilt on a DUI charge. The prison sentence was Kang’s first, despite two prior DUI arrests in his native country. It’s possible Kang serves no prison time, though, because the court conditionally suspended the sentence for two years, and he’ll avoid a lockup if he complies with the court’s terms. Initially, observers believed Kang would be able to return to the United States to rejoin his team for the 2017 season. He has missed all of spring training, however, and it appears he is having difficulty securing a visa to reenter the U.S., placing his season with the Pirates in jeopardy for the moment.
  • Student athletes: A federal judge has rejected a proposed class-action lawsuit filed by two former University of North Carolina student athletes against the school, which alleged that UNC pushed them into a “shadow curriculum” of “bogus courses,” which led to “a systemic failure to properly educate college athletes,” because, the judge explained, the court did not have jurisdiction over the case. In general, there are two ways a plaintiff may invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court: 1) allege a claim raising a question of federal law or 2) sue a “diverse” party (i.e., a defendant who is a resident of a state other than the one in which the plaintiff resides) on claims for which at least $75,000 is at stake. Here, the plaintiffs’ claims raised state-law questions, so the first jurisdictional path was unavailable. As for the second, while the plaintiffs are not citizens of North Carolina, theoretically setting up a “diversity” situation with UNC, the judge determined that the university is a component of the North Carolina government and thus not a citizen of any state for purposes of the federal jurisdictional analysis. The judge dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning that the plaintiffs should be able to refile in state court, although it now appears they likely will face sovereign-immunity challenges should they proceed down that route.

Sports court is in recess.

Introducing a new hockey stat: scaled plus-minus (SPM)

I have been interested in the hockey stat plus-minus (PM) for some time now. It suffers from many well documented problems. A lot of those problems, though, are people upset when a player has a PM stat over a short period of time (one game, one week) that doesn’t reflect what seems appropriate for how good everyone thinks that player is.

In any case, scaled plus-minus (SPM) corrects some problems with PM, and makes no attempts to fix others. It is still based on PM, so the problem of where shifts start, and what lines a player is on are still prevalent. But how it is considered in the broader context of judging the strengths or weaknesses of a player suddenly become useful. For example, SPM approaches a constant value – the player’s true value – over time, instead of steadily increasing or decreasing. Also, if a player has a PM of +3, it is hard to tell if the player is above average or not. It is much more clear with SPM: SPM within the range of -1 to +1 is considered average.

Read more in part 1, a discussion of the changes (and a tiny bit of math – the relevant wikipedia page on random walks is mostly about drunk people and has pretty pictures/gifs), here.

For those looking to jump to how SPM affects the way we look at sports, click here.

ALDLAND Podcast

Few things call for a special emergency ALDLAND Podcast, but the US playing Canada in hockey is one of them. Join your two favorite cohosts and a special guest as we run down why the United States of America is the best country ever and why Canada comes up short. For real though, we love Canada and our Canadian readers/listeners. Just not today. Or tomorrow. And you have to give us Neil Young and Rush if we win. Sorry.

_______________________________

Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

Big Monday

Today really isn’t a big day, and most of the weekend’s football games were duds, but there were a couple notable exceptions.

Saturday day was pretty slow around the college football world, but things picked up Saturday night, when two unbeaten teams, Wisconsin and Oklahoma, put their perfect records to the test and failed to preserve them. In East Lansing, Michigan State made it two in a row against the Badgers. Wisconsin dominated early, but the Spartans seized the momentum and the lead, which they held for most of the game. In typical MSU fashion, though, their attention lapsed and Wisconsin was able to tie the game at 31. With no time on the clock, QB Kirk Cousins threw a Hail Mary (or “Rocket” pass in Dantonio terminology– we always seem to learn the names of his game-winning plays) to the endzone that bounced off B.J. Cunningham’s face and into the waiting hands of Keith Nichol, who muscled it across the goal line for the walk-off score:

That game finished in time to watch Texas Tech complete its victory over Oklahoma, a game the Red Raiders mostly dominated, although the Sooners threatened to make it interesting late, after most of their fans had left. (Vanderbilt wrapped up a homecoming win against Army before both of these games.)

All of which caused me to miss a dominant performance by Albert Pujols in Game 3 of the World Series.

On Sunday, the Lions dropped their second straight game and looked a lot like their old selves. Speaking of which, I saw former Lion QB Dan Orlovsky on the sidelines in Indianapolis during their loss in New Orleans, which made me think that, of the three defeated NFL teams– Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Miami– the Colts may actually be trying to lose all their games. Orlovsky has to be a better option than Curtis Painter. He certainly was a serviceable player for the Lions last year, and Painter is not that. The Rams are suffering from critical injuries at QB and RB, and the Dolphins, who need Andrew Luck most of these three, really just are that bad. But Jim Caldwell’s decision to go with Painter over Orlovsky supports the notion that Indy is tanking this, although they really are pretty bad all on their own too. On the topic of rookie quarterbacks, Cam Newton turned his record-breaking stat parade into a win for Carolina, and Tim Tebow did what Tim Tebow now does, apparently, in his first start for Denver, coming from behind to beat the aforementioned and still hapless Dolphins in Miami.

In hockey, the Washington Capitals dealt the Detroit Red Wings their first loss of the year in a 7-1 Capitals home win.

Ken Dryden: Time for the NHL to Get Head Smart (via Grantland)

I come back to the Crosby press conference. I’m not sure how it could have been done better. The message was that we are in uncharted territory. We know some things, there is much more we don’t know, and we’re going to do what we know and respect what we don’t until we know better. This is serious, and we are serious. And we want you — all those who are watching — to experience what we have experienced and learn what we have learned, because as people who love sports, we’re in this together. It is this same tone, attitude, and approach on head injuries that Bettman and Goodell need to take. … Read More

(via Grantland)

Mike Modano Says Goodbye (via Grantland)

Wayne Gretzky is the one who is most often labelled with the words “hockey ambassador,” but Modano was nearly as great of a statesman. The similarities to The Great One didn’t end there. Just as Gretzky’s half-tucked-in jersey would become his sartorial trademark, Modano’s loose and oversized sweater — puffed up with air as he power-turned, billowing behind him like a superhero cape or an American flag as he blazed down the ice — is one of hockey’s more enduring images. And while Gretzky remains the game’s leading scorer, Modano has more points than any other American player. … Read More

(via Grantland)

The Weekend Interview: Chris Osgood

The first newspaper I read seriously and regularly was the Wall Street Journal. A test preparation company gave me a free print subscription, and I milked it as long as I could by doing things like stopping delivery when I was away, which had the effect of tacking more issues onto the end of the subscription. When it finally dried up, a friend on his way out at Dow Jones, the family driven organization that used to control the Journal before News Corp took over, lined me up with an online subscription, which carried me another year or so. By that time, newspaper websites were in full bloom, and a subscription really didn’t mean anything. When the family split and Rupert Murdoch took over, a digital lockdown followed closely on the heels of a substantial (if sometimes misguided) increase in content. No worry, though, as a free and easy workaround makes it simple to get behind the Journal’s paywall. All you have to do is…. Well, I don’t want my cell phone hacked, but, as Jimmy Cliff said, you can get it if you really want, and frankly, it isn’t even that tough.

Uh, hockey? Right. The WSJ has a regular feature called The Weekend Interview, a full-page study of one person, accompanied by an illustrated portrait by Ken Fallin. For reasons that make sense to me, Fallin inspired my photographic selection for this post, above. Because ALDLAND is neither the Journal nor The National Sports Daily, though, more often than not, the interviews are going to have to be imagined.

Chris Osgood is the right subject for this site’s first Weekend Interview. When the Detroit Red Wing goalie retired last month, my immediate reaction registered on the sadness side of the line. It wasn’t totally shocking, although I had thought he’d be around another year or two, especially given Captain Lidstrom’s decision to stay on. And Osgood is likeable, if not a perpetual fan favorite (but few goalies are). Osgood also is the type of player for whom the immediate hall of fame question is more than an element of the motions through which to go the media has obligated itself for every retiree; for him, it’s a real question, an interesting question, a debatable question, and possibly ridiculous that it is a question at all, and like Jim Gray, I promise I’ll promise you I’ll get to that question right away. Here goes… Keep reading…