Sports Law Roundup – 3/3/2017

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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.

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

  • Football head injuries: Two former Purdue football players have sued the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference, seeking class-action treatment for their claims that those defendants failed to disclose information about head-trauma risks and provide the university with concussion-management policies. Both named plaintiffs allege that they currently suffer from depression, memory loss, and headaches as a result of concussions experienced while playing football in college.
  • Professional athlete Ponzi scheme: Last year, a banker pleaded guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering in connection with a Ponzi scheme she ran with former NFL player Will Allen designed to defraud investors with a plan to make loans to professional athletes seeking offseason financing when they weren’t receiving payments from their team salaries. On Wednesday, a court sentenced the banker and Allen each to six years in prison for their roles in the criminal scheme.
  • Baseball DUI: A South Korean court has sentenced Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang to eight months in prison after the player admitted guilt on a DUI charge. The prison sentence is 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.
  • Rams fans: Last year, St. Louis-area holders of Rams personal seat licenses suing the team after its move to Los Angeles requested class-action status for their case. Having consolidated various of these cases, the judge now has ordered the parties to mediation.
  • Penn State child abuse: Earlier this year, a court ruled that 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. Last month, the three defendants asked for an immediate appeal of the ruling that they must face trial, which remains scheduled for next month. Now, the court has denied those appeal petitions, clearing the way for the trial to begin as scheduled on March 20. (Last week, the judge granted the prosecutor’s request to add a conspiracy charge to the list of criminal counts pending against the defendants.)

Sports court is in recess.

Is the next Mike Trout already in Detroit?

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He’s only twenty-five years old, but Mike Trout is the best player in baseball today and one of the best ever. There’s only one of him, though, and he’s under contract with the Angels through 2020, which means that your team can’t have him anytime soon, and, unless your team is the Yankees or Dodgers, it probably can’t afford him once he hits free agency either. If you don’t and won’t ever have Trout himself, your only option is to make like the post-Jordan NBA and find the next Trout. Everybody wants to be like Mike.

The Detroit Tigers, for example, really could use a guy like Trout. They haven’t done much this offseason, and they’re in need of a center fielder. Of course, they had a decent center fielder in 2016 in Cameron Maybin, but the team “traded” him to the Angels as soon as the season was over and, surprise, the Angels didn’t send Trout, who also plays center, to the Tigers in return.

While the hole in the middle of the outfield currently remains unaddressed (the team’s very recent acquisition of Mikie Mahtook notwithstanding), another anticipated outfield move that Detroit has not yet made is trading right fielder J.D. Martinez, who will be a free agent after this coming season. Martinez has been very good since the Tigers acquired him from Houston, and, assuming he returns to form following his elbow injury last season, he will earn a payday next offseason beyond what the Tigers likely will want to offer.

Before Martinez inevitably departs the Motor City, it’s worth taking another look at what exactly the Tigers have in their young right fielder, and, bold as it may seem, asking whether he’s the next Trout.

On one hand, the answer obviously is no. Martinez, in his best season, was, by whichever WAR metric you prefer, about half as valuable as Trout was in his best. There also is the matter of age: while we’d expect The Next Trout to be younger than Trout, J.D. is four years older than Mike.

On the other hand, anyone who’s followed Martinez’s career knows that he was reborn as a hitter after he left Houston for Detroit, creating a bit of deception in his developmental track (I’m sure he doesn’t spend much time thinking about those first three MLB seasons), even if the aging clock ticks on.

Imagining, for purposes of this strained and fabricated narrative, that this “young” Martinez was coming up behind the more experienced Trout, we might also notice that the two outfielders have similar batting profiles.

This afternoon, Baseball Savant creator Darren Wilman tweeted a link to a chart comparing hitters according to their batted ball exit velocity and slugging percentage:

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Right there next to each other at the top of the curve are Trout and Martinez. (Click below to see more precise indications of their positions.)

Everyone knows Trout and Martinez are power-hitting outfielders, but I still was surprised to see how close Martinez was to Trout on this graph. Martinez’s overall value suffers because he plays an easier position than Trout, and, although his defense showed marked improvement in 2015 (before the improvements evaporated in his broken-elbow season last year), plays it less well than Trout plays his. Still, if I’m Martinez’s agent, a chart showing that my client hits– in terms of exit velocity and extra bases– just like Trout is going to be on page one of the Boras Binder I’m distributing this offseason. And if I’m Tigers GM Al Avila, I’ll make sure every potential trade partner this summer catches a glimpse of it too.

Sure, some still want Detroit to make another all-in push in 2017, but the proverbial contention window is hanging as heavy and tenuously in its frame as it ever has for this crew, and it’s tough to imagine a world in which they can retain Martinez. In five years, after seeing him mash in pinstripes or Dodger blue, Tigers fans may look back and see Martinez’s delayed, Trout-esque offensive prime as one of the largest costs of their now-overleveraged roster.

Sports Law Roundup – 1/13/2017

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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.

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

  • College football head injuries: A group of former Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and TCU football players has sued the NCAA and Big XII conference, alleging that those entities breached contractual obligations to warn players of and take adequate steps to prevent head injuries. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status, and their lawyer has said that he expects to file similar lawsuits on behalf of more players this year.
  • Olympic surveillance: Two years ago, the former mayor of Salt Lake City and six SLC residents filed a proposed class action against George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, David Addington, Michael Hayden, the FBI, and the NSA, alleging that the federal government improperly spied upon people attending the 2002 Winter Olympics. Now, a judge has denied the NSA’s motion to dismiss the case and will allow it to proceed.
  • Gymnast abuse: In more Olympic news, eighteen women sued USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for gymnastics in the United States; Michigan State University; and a gym in the Lansing area. Their complaint alleges that an affiliated doctor molested and sexually assaulted the plaintiffs, some of whom were as young as nine years old when the alleged attacks occurred, and that the defendants failed to act appropriately upon their knowledge of this doctor’s actions. This is the third civil action involving this doctor, and criminal complaints also have been filed. The FBI reportedly recovered child pornography from the doctor’s electronic devices and is in possession of video evidence of the doctor perpetrating sexual assaults.
  • Baseball land shark attack: The judge overseeing a dispute between the Miami Marlins and a fan who alleges she suffered a serious neck injury in 2013 when a shark mascot, following an on-field race with other mascots, leaned into the stands and pretended to bite her head has ordered the parties to participate in mediation in advance of the case’s June trial date.
  • Concert dodgers: A concert promoter sued the Los Angeles Dodgers and Guggenheim Partners, the entity that owns the team, because, the promoter alleges, they failed to pay him a share of the proceeds from concerts by Paul McCartney and AC/DC hosted at Dodger Stadium for his work in securing those performances. The promoter says he’s owed $2 million, while a leaked draft response from the defendants reportedly tells him to “forget about the check, we’ll get hell to pay.”
  • Sports gambling legalization: Legislators in South Carolina and New York separately proposed amendments to their state constitutions that would legalize sports betting. The South Carolina proposal would allow all forms of gambling, while the New York one would be limited to allowing sports gambling at racetracks and casinos.
  • Preemptive free agency: Last week, we highlighted an article suggesting that a California employment law could allow certain athletes playing for teams in that state to unilaterally opt out of long-term contracts and become free agents. High-profile baseball agent Scott Boras subsequently weighed in on the subject and counseled against the idea largely because the transactional costs of attempting the move (i.e., years of litigation) likely would outweigh– and, due to time delay, probably completely negate– any potential benefit to the player.
  • CTE: This also is not a legal news story, exactly, but this space has highlighted a number of sports-related head-injury lawsuits in the past, which makes sharing this compelling and well-told story of a young person’s struggles with CTE appropriate. If you only click through to one link in this post, make it this one.

Sports court is in recess.

Baseball’s faithless electors

My latest post for Banished to the Pen considers the Tampa Bay Rays, the faithless electors of the vote on the 2016 MLB collective bargaining agreement, and it includes this picture:

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The full post is available here.

Sports Law Roundup – 12/16/2016

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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.

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

  • NBA CBA: Like baseball, the NBA has a new collective-bargaining agreement. Full details are not yet public, but it appears there will be salary cap and luxury tax changes, as well as an increase– from thirteen to fourteen– in the number of guaranteed roster spots for each team. The league also has agreed to shorten the preseason and expand the calendar length of the regular season without increasing the number of regular season games. One aspect that will not change is the manner in which the players and owners divide basketball-related income. The players conceded roughly seven percent (approximately from 57% to 50%) during the last lockout in 2011.
  • NFL concussion settlement: Earlier this year, the NFL settled a class-action lawsuit brought by former players seeking compensation for ongoing problems related to head injuries suffered during their professional football careers by agreeing to provide a fund to compensate former players for the next sixty-five years. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the settlement, but a small subset of the class members– approximately thirty of 22,000– were dissatisfied with the settlement, believing it was underinclusive because it did not provide relief for former players who develop CTE, the disease found in people who suffer from repeated brain trauma that, at this time, is not detectable while the player is alive. Seeking further review of the settlement, these plaintiffs petitioned the Supreme Court. On Monday, the Court declined to grant their petition, leaving in place the Third Circuit’s ruling. It is unclear whether these objecting plaintiffs have any further recourse, though they likely are watching the new lawsuit highlighted in this space last month that specifically addresses CTE.
  • Student-athlete classification: As discussed here last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected claims by a group of former Penn student-athletes that they are employees entitled to minimum-wage compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Now, those students plan to request en banc review, meaning that they will ask the full panel of Seventh Circuit judges to reconsider the decision. (Federal circuit courts typically hear cases in three-judge panels, even though more than three judges make up each of the federal circuit courts. Aside from an appeal to the Supreme Court, which may not even be accepted, the only way to reverse a circuit court ruling is to ask the full court to do so.) The plaintiffs contend that the amateur aspect of collegiate athletics the ruling noted is not pertinent to an FLSA analysis, and that the Seventh Circuit’s decision “conflicts with decisions in this and other circuits on employee status.”
  • Raiders stadium: In an apparent attempt to keep the Raiders from moving to Los Angeles or Las Vegas, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to support the building of a new football stadium in Oakland that– unlike the new basketball arena being built for the NBA’s Warriors that will relocate them from Oakland to San Francisco–  would be funded, in significant part, with public money. The Board’s vote does not guarantee that the Raiders will stay in Oakland.
  • Rams fans: St. Louis-area holders of Rams personal seat licenses suing the team after its move to Los Angeles now have requested class-action status. The plaintiffs are seeking a variety of forms of relief, including reimbursement for tickets and concessions. A judge already has ruled that some of the plaintiffs who want the team to continue to honor the licenses by allowing the St. Louis fans to purchase season tickets at the team’s new home in L.A. are entitled to do so.
  • NFL broadcasting: The plaintiffs in an antitrust lawsuit targeting NFL Sunday Ticket, the product of the exclusive agreement between the NFL and DirecTV for the television broadcasting of out-of-market NFL games, won an apparently significant victory when Fox and CBS agreed to produce documents evidencing their own Sunday-Ticket-related agreements with the league and DirecTV in connection with a judge’s discovery order. The NFL contends that the plaintiffs have failed to allege an antitrust violation because the NFL can decide how to broadcast its games, and the Sunday Ticket package represents an addition to viewers’ existing options (i.e., the one or two games available each Sunday afternoon on Fox and CBS, plus the national Thursday/Sunday night/Monday night broadcasts) rather than a restriction.
  • Secondary ticket market: The President has signed the BOTS Act, a bill that expands the authority of the Federal Trade Commission to regulate the online secondary market for event tickets. The new law seeks to prohibit “ticket bots and other online tools that deliberately circumvent security protocols limiting or restricting online ticket purchases.” Here’s hoping this law will provide a more meaningful benefit to sports fans than the NFL’s practically meaningless agreement to end its league-wide imposition of a price floor on game tickets sold on the secondary market.
  • Formula One acquisition: Liberty Media, the company that owns the Atlanta Braves, will acquire auto-racing series Formula One for $4.4 billion. According to a reputable source, F1 cars are the fastest in the world among road-course racing cars.
  • MLB CBA: I wrote about the new CBA in this space after the league and players union reached their agreement on November 30. Now we have more information about the particularities of the agreement, and this analysis provides a helpful overview. We also learned that the Tampa Bay Rays were the only team to vote against approving the agreement. In a public statement, the Rays’ general managing partner made reference to an “opportunity [that] was missed” to “address the extraordinary and widening competitive gap that exists on-field between higher and lower revenue clubs.”

Sports court is in recess.

Offseason starts with a bang for the Detroit Tigers

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When the Detroit Tigers’ season ended in Atlanta last month, the message from general manager Al Avila was both clear and clearly different than it had been a season ago, when Avila took over the job from his boss, Dave Dombrowski. Then, speaking as the mouthpiece of the team’s owner, Mike Ilitch, he said that “the foot is on the pedal, hard,” and the team continued to make the kind of win-now moves that largely have defined them for the past decade. Now, though, Avila’s taking his foot off the gas and ushering in a period of austerity that’s likely to be painful. It definitely will be different.

The changes began immediately. Yesterday was the first day of the MLB offseason, and Avila wasted no time in making two of his biggest decisions on current player options. First, he “traded” center fielder Cameron Maybin to the Angels for a low-grade relief pitching prospect in a move that essentially amounts to the Tigers declining to exercise Maybin’s option.

Shortly thereafter, the team announced that it would pick up the $6 million option on closer Francisco Rodriguez. (Had they declined K-Rod’s option, they would’ve owed him a $2 million buyout.)

If, as he has said, his new mission is “making this team leaner, younger, more efficient,” I’m not certain this was the way to do it. Given the money, his track record, and his strong performance last season, I like the decision to retain Rodriguez, even considering the general year-to-year unreliability of reliever performance.

The Maybin decision is more confusing, though. By fWAR, Maybin was the Tigers’ most valuable outfielder last year, and he only played in ninety-four games. (He also was their second-best baserunner.) He missed action due to injury, but not really the kind of injury that should make teams worry. He mostly just kept getting beaned on the hands. That’s just bad luck. He’s only twenty-nine. Over the past two seasons with Atlanta and then Detroit, he finally seemed to be approaching the potential he demonstrated eleven years ago that caused the Tigers to spend the tenth overall draft pick on him in 2005. (He also was the team leader in the Instagram handle category.)

Now he’s gone again, leaving behind holes in center field and the top of the batting order. Jeff Sullivan, writing up this transaction largely from the Angels’ perspective, points a finger to JaCoby Jones as the likely replacement Avila is targeting. Jones showed memorable flashes as a late-season call-up this year, but, like many prospects, he’s still young and raw and inconsistent. The other obvious fill-in is Tyler Collins, who has the relative advantage of being a left-handed hitter but the disadvantage of being at an age and experience level where “raw” is not a baseball adjective that incorporates an element of hope.

All of this happened on offseason day number one. There will be more activity involving the Tigers this offseason, and, typically, it is wise to wait to render final judgment on a particular decision until it can be viewed within the full constellation of the team’s moves. Under austerity, though, there should be little hope for or expectation of near-term improvement through an infusion of external resources; doing better must mean doing better with what you already have. There isn’t going to be a Justin Upton trade this year (which, while we’re at it, probably will be the last year J.D. Martinez wears a Detroit uniform). What stings about the Maybin trade– besides the obvious departure of talent and the intangibles of a fun guy who seemed to be having a lot of fun himself– is that it is a move that will make the team worse in 2017, and the Tigers haven’t made too many moves like that in a good while.

Game 162: Talking baseball at the end of the 2016 regular season

Every MLB team is in action beginning at 3:00 this afternoon for the final* day of the 2016 regular season. Before heading down to Turner Field to catch the Tigers and say farewell to baseball in downtown Atlanta, I was a guest on today’s episode of the Banished to the Pen Podcast, in which I rambled about wild card scenarios and made severely underinformed playoff predictions.

Stream or download the podcast here.

* Final as to all except Detroit and Cleveland, which likely will need to play a makeup game tomorrow.

When do baseball teams score runs?

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One of the marks of a smart baseball writer is the ability to sense a trend, research its existence and nature, place her findings in context, and present her conclusions in a way that meaningfully educates readers. Inherent in this ability is the wherewithal to know when to stop researching a trend or pressing on a concept, realizing that the fruits of the work have been or soon will be exhausted. Sometimes a person who is not a “smart baseball writer” by the foregoing definition will noodle about on an idea for so long, he’ll end up with a small pile of research that no longer has any bearing on any meaningful conclusions.

Two years ago, I decided to investigate a hunch that the Detroit Tigers were having trouble scoring runs late in games. My initial research mostly seemed to support my hypothesis, and a follow-up look appeared to confirm it more strongly. More than merely interesting (and fleetingly self-satisfying), it also was informatively concerning, because it placed the team’s well-known bullpen problems in a more nuanced light: relief-pitching woes alone weren’t the problem, because the lack of late-game scoring was compounding the problem of surrendering leads during the final frames. As strange as it seemed, the Tigers had interrelated shortcomings on both sides of the plate.

One comment I received in the course of sharing those findings stuck with me: I needed to place this information in context. After all, there are plausible reasons to believe that all teams might, perhaps to varying extents, experience decreased run production in the late innings.

And so it was that, two years later, I finally discovered Retrosheet, a site that compiles inning-by-inning scoring data to a more useful degree than the resources I’d utilized back in 2013. What follows are two graphs of the inning-by-inning scoring of sixteen teams for the 2014 season. Continue reading

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

Hockeytown, Hockey home

joelouisoustideOn Saturday, January 18, 2014, the Detroit Red Wings beat the visiting Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in a shootout. It was the best hockey game I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched innumerable Red Wings games over the years, including playoff wins over rivals and Stanley Cup wins. I’ve seen them in person before too, watching them lose to their rivals in Denver, Nashville, and Chicago. (I even saw an intra-squad scrimmage.) This was my favorite game.

It was my first trip to Joe Louis Arena, the historic home of hockey in Detroit for only a little while longer, and everything went perfectly. We stayed in Greektown, where we enjoyed an authentic Greek lunch prior to the game. When we were ready to head to the arena, we took the accurately named People Mover and were there before we knew it.

Once inside, we had time to enjoy the statues of great Red Wings past on a full lap around before finding our great seats, where we watched the team warm up and tried to read all of the banners hanging from the rafters. The experience was extremely satisfying and fulfilling, as was the Little Caesar’s pizza, which is better there than it is anywhere else in the world.

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Hockey games are subject to all kinds of random variation, so it was especially wonderful when the game itself matched and then elevated the tenor of the evening. After a scoreless first period, the Red Wings could not kill off successive minor penalties, and the Kings’ power-play goal gave them a 1-0 lead. Less than a minute later, however, Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg tied the game with an even-strength goal. That sequence essentially repeated itself in the third period, when the Kings scored a power-play goal with just 2:15 to go in the game. Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall tied the score at two with just twenty-seven seconds to go in the game, sending it to overtime.    Continue reading