Sports Law Roundup – 2/17/2017

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:

  • Baseball human trafficking: The federal criminal trial began this week in Miami in a case in which an agent and trainer were indicted for their alleged roles in a smuggling network designed to move baseball prospects from Cuba into the MLB system.
  • Boxing non-fight fight: Boxer Alexander Povetkin sued fellow heavyweight Deontay Wilder after the latter withdrew from the pair’s scheduled fight last May following the former’s positive test for meldonium, the same banned substance for which Maria Sharapova was banned from tennis competition. This week, a jury returned a verdict in Wilder’s favor, but Povetkin’s attorney wants to keep fighting, alleging that Wilder’s lawyer engaged in “gross and extensive misconduct” during the litigation and implying that he would seek a mistrial.
  • NFL turf: In what the Houston Texans are calling “a case of first impression,” former NFL linebacker Demeco Ryans is suing the team for damages arising out of an alleged career-ending, noncontact Achilles tendon injury Ryans says he suffered when he landed on a seam in the turf while playing in a game against the Texans as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Ryans is seeking $10 million, but the Texans say the court should dismiss the case because the NFL collective bargaining agreement preempts his claims. Ryans is hoping to avoid CBA preemption by relying on a prior case involving Reggie Bush, in which Bush injured himself after running out of bounds and slipping on a concrete surface surrounding the field during a game in St. Louis. In Bush’s case, the court ruled that the CBA did not apply, since the injury happened outside the field of play. Ryans’ lawsuit, the Texans highlight, deals with the in-bounds playing surface itself, which, the team argues, is a critical distinction that renders the Bush case inapplicable.
  • Lance Armstrong fraud: A False Claims Act lawsuit against Lance Armstrong will proceed after a judge’s ruling on various motions this week. The case involves allegations that Armstrong, while lying about his doping practices, received millions of dollars from the federal government in connection with his cycling team’s sponsorship by the U.S. Postal Service. Although the government’s case can go forward, Armstrong’s side will be able to argue in mitigation that the government’s benefit from the sponsorship reduces the amount of financial harm it actually suffered.
  • Student-athlete scholarships: Last week, we mentioned a settlement agreement under which the NCAA will pay an average of approximately $7,000 to current and former football and men’s and women’s basketball players who played a sport for four years and were affected by alleged athletic scholarship caps. Now, one of the plaintiffs, former USC linebacker Lamar Dawson, has objected to the settlement, which requires court approval before it’s finalized. Dawson’s concern is that the settlement includes a release of certain labor law claims that were not litigated in that particular case and which he is pursuing separately in a wage-and-hour lawsuit against the NCAA.
  • NBA fan app: A court partially dismissed a fan’s lawsuit against the Golden State Warriors, ruling that, although the fan had alleged facts sufficient to show that she had suffered an actual injury as a result of the team’s smartphone app’s alleged secret recording and capturing of her private communications, she had not stated a claim for relief under the federal Wiretap Act because she had not shown how the team intercepted and used her communications. The judge is allowing the fan the opportunity to amend her complaint.
  • Tennis commentator: After ESPN fired him in connection with an on-air remark about Venus Williams during this year’s Australian Open broadcast, Doug Adler, who worked for the network for nearly a decade, has filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against his former employer, alleging that he was dismissed for saying something he never said. While some heard Adler use the word “gorilla” in reference to Williams, he maintains that he used the word “guerrilla” in describing her approach during the match he was broadcasting. Thanks to the magic of the internet, you can render your own judgment after viewing the clip here.
  • Penn State child abuse: Earlier this month, 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. The trial is supposed to begin next month, but the three defendants are attempting an immediate appeal of the ruling that they must face trial, arguing that a two-year statute of limitations bars the charges, and that Pennsylvania’s child-endangerment laws don’t apply to officials in their positions. In other news, Sandusky’s son, Jeff, has himself been charged with sexually abusing a child.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 2/10/2017

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:

  • Wrestling ban: Last week, the Iranian government announced that it would not allow the American wrestling team to compete in the 2017 Freestyle World Cup, which the Iranian city of Kermanshah is hosting this month, in retaliation for President Trump’s executive order temporarily blocking people from entering the United States from Iran and six other majority-Muslim countries. Now, Iran has lifted that ban, saying it will grant visas to the U.S. wrestlers in light of American judicial orders temporarily halting enforcement of the executive order.
  • Student-athlete scholarships: The NCAA, Pac-12, Big XII, Big Ten, SEC, ACC, AAC, C-USA, MAC, MWC, WAC(!), Sun Belt Conference, and a group of student-athletes settled monetary claims in their antitrust dispute for $208.7 million. The suit targeted caps on athletic scholarships. Under the settlement, the NCAA will pay an average of approximately $7,000 to current and former football and men’s and women’s basketball players who played a sport for four years and were affected by the caps between March 2010 and the present.
  • Football painkillers: In a case we have been watching (here and here) between the NFL’s teams and a group of former players alleging improper dispensation of painkillers, the judge dismissed many of the players’ claims, including all of their claims against twenty-four of the league’s thirty-two teams. At this time, some claims remain pending against the Lions, Vikings, Packers, Raiders, Broncos, Seahawks, Chargers, and Dolphins.
  • Hockey head injuries: Last month, the NHL asked the judge overseeing a head-injury lawsuit between the league and a group of former players to issue an order compelling Boston University’s CTE Center to turn over research documents the former players say constitute evidence supporting their claims. Unsurprisingly, the Center now opposes that request, because disclosing the information would violate the privacy of its research subjects, “impos[e] a burden on the center that will functionally prevent it from conducting any work, and creat[e] a chilling effect on research in this field.”
  • Football head injuries: Former NFL player Brian Urlacher sued a hair-restoration clinic alleging unauthorized use of his likeness in advertisements.
  • Athlete advisor fraud: Brian J. Ourand, who worked as a financial advisor to athletes, including Mike Tyson and Glen Rice, admitted stealing over $1 million from his clients and pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud charges.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 1/13/2017

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:

  • 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.

Sports Law Roundup – 1/6/2017

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 first week of 2017:

  • Baseball stadium funding: The Arizona Diamondbacks, seeking the right to “explor[e] other stadium options,” have sued the Maricopa County Stadium District after the District refused to authorize funding for the $185 million needed for capital repairs and improvements to Chase Field, which opened in 1998, according to an assessment completed by the District.The team has expressed willingness to cover all of the District’s expenses, but the District apparently must give its permission to proceed and thus far has declined to do so.
  • Student-athlete classification: In a case we have been monitoring in this space (here and here), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has denied the request of a group of former Penn student-athletes for full-court (en banc) review of that court’s earlier rejection of their claim that they were employees entitled to minimum-wage compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The denial of the request for further review leaves in place the court’s decision handed down last month. It is unclear whether the plaintiffs will request permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
  • Daily Fantasy Sports: A DFS website argued that daily fantasy sports actually are illegal gambling in an attempt to avoid a $1.1 million lawsuit based on an advertising and sponsorship contract with the Minnesota Wild. I wrote more about this case here earlier this week. Meanwhile, a Maryland law authorizing the lawful, regulated conduct of DFS contests in that state, which is regarded as less restrictive than similar measures in other states, went into effect on Monday; a Florida legislator introduced a bill Wednesday that would declare DFS legal in that state; and FanDuel earned another win in a patent-infringement suit brought by two gambling technology companies in Nevada.
  • Preemptive free agency:  Nathaniel Grow has an interesting article on FanGraphs that illuminates a California employment law that could apply to allow even union employees like professional athletes to unilaterally opt out of long-term contracts after seven years of employment. This poses a potentially tantalizing, if legally unproven, opportunity for someone like Mike Trout, a generational talent not yet in his prime who likely could fetch an even more historically large contract were he to hit the open market now, at age twenty-five, rather than after the 2020 season, which is when his current contract ends.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 12/9/2016

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:

  • College football defamation: On Thursday, former Baylor head football coach Art Briles sued three Baylor regents and the university’s senior vice president and CEO claiming that they defamed him by stating that he had knowledge of sex crimes reportedly committed by his players and failed to provide that information to proper authorities. In addition, Briles alleges that the officials sought to prevent him from securing another coaching position elsewhere. He also included a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and, in total, seeks unspecified damages in excess of $1,000,000. Here is a picture of Briles’ longtime attorney, Ernest H. Cannon, riding a horse at a rodeo.
  • Football player suspension challenges: In related stories covered in this space last week, two NFL players represented by the same Ohio law firm launched collateral attacks on the NFL/NFLPA collective bargaining agreement targeting alleged procedural deficiencies in the suspension-appeal process after both were suspended for drug violations. The NFL and NFLPA now have taken action in one of those cases by appointing a third arbitrator to hear a rescheduled appeal by Green Bay Packer Mike Pennel. The absence of a third arbitrator is central to the claims Pennel raised in the lawsuit he filed in Ohio federal court. In connection with that suit, Pennel also sought a temporary restraining order, which the responsive actions by the league and union were designed to moot. On Tuesday, Pennel agreed to drop his lawsuit in exchange for a reduction– from ten games to four– in his suspension, which will allow him to play in the postseason should his Packers secure a playoff berth. (Pennel’s attorneys also represent Philadelphia Eagle Lane Johnson, who filed similar complaints with the National Labor Relations Board and U.S. Department of Labor around the same time Pennel filed his lawsuit.)
  • Student-athlete classification: 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. The trial court granted a motion to dismiss the defendants– the NCAA, Penn, and more than 120 other NCAA member schools– filed, and the appellate court affirmed. The court agreed that dismissal as to the non-Penn defendants was appropriate because of a lack of standing; the plaintiffs had attended only Penn and had no basis to recover wages from any school they didn’t attend. The court also agreed that dismissal was appropriate as to Penn, because the plaintiffs had failed to state a claim for relief from Penn. Noting the “revered tradition of amateurism in college sports” and the weight of judicial and regulatory precedent holding that student-athletes are not employees, the court concluded that the FLSA does not apply to student-athletes. While many disagree with this outcome, it is consistent with the original meaning and purpose behind the “student-athlete” designation. (In a concurring opinion, Judge Hamilton cautioned against broad application of the court’s decision, noting that the plaintiffs participated in a non-revenue sport– track and field– for a school that does not offer athletic scholarships, and suggested that he might have voted differently had the plaintiffs been student-athletes on athletic scholarship in a revenue sport.)
  • Hockey head injuries: A group of former NHL players suing the league for its alleged failure to warn them of known risks of head trauma now have requested class certification in that case for two classes of former players based on the different measures of relief sought: damages for those already diagnosed with neurological injuries and medical monitoring for others. Attorneys from a number of large law firms, including Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, are representing the NHL in this case. Skadden is the anchor tenant in a new commercial real estate development in Manhattan that also will be home to the NHL’s offices when it opens in 2019.
  • Minor League Baseball lobbying: MiLB has created a political action committee in order to boost lobbying efforts. The impetus for this move likely is the class-action lawsuit minor-league players filed alleging that their compensation violates federal wage and hour laws and the leagues’ attempt to snuff out that suit by way of congressional action. The proposed Save America’s Pastime Act would create a carve-out in the Fair Labor Standards Act exempting minor-league players from minimum-wage and overtime protections. There has been essentially no action on the bill since Rep. Brett Guthrie of Kentucky introduced it in June, leaving plenty of time for MLB to say dumb things about it.
  • Soccer ban: The Court of Arbitration for Sport denied former FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s request to overturn his six-year ban from all national and international soccer-related activity and fine of 50,000 Swiss francs for his involvement with bribes and kickbacks during his leadership of FIFA.
  • Canadian Super Bowl commercials: There is a thing in Congress called the House Northern Border Caucus, and four of its members, representing districts in North Dakota, New York, and Washington, sent a letter asking the Canadian government to reverse its decision to block Canadian advertisers from running commercials on the Canadian broadcast of the Super Bowl. Canadian broadcasters used to have an agreement with the NFL that allowed Canadian commercials on the Canadian broadcast of the game, but, in 2015, Canadian regulators changed course in response to viewer demands to see the popular American commercials that run during the game. Canadian broadcasters and advertisers and the NFL, which is losing out on Canadian advertising revenue as a result, all oppose that change. The company that holds the Canadian broadcast rights to the Super Bowl, Bell Media, also has sued the regulatory body in an attempt to reverse the policy.
  • Hockey logo: Things are off to a rough start for Las Vegas’ first major professional sports team after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the Golden Knights’ registration application, citing a “confusing[] similar[ity]” to a mark registered by the College of Saint Rose. Arguable visual similarities aside, I didn’t even know there was a Saint Rose, much less a College of Saint Rose, and I certainly didn’t know the school’s mascot is the Golden Knights, and neither did you, which means that, however similar these marks might be, the likelihood of confusion here is very low. This likely is little more than another instance of the USPTO seeking a moment in the sports sun.
  • Gambling: The nation of Antigua and Barbuda has issued a threat to the United States if the U.S. does not meet a year-end deadline to comply with a 2003 World Trade Organization order ruling that American online sports betting and gambling laws violate international law. If the U.S. does not comply with the WTO order, which also carries an annual noncompliance penalty of $21 million and has accrued to over $250 million, Antigua and Barbuda intends to suspend intellectual property protections for Americans, effectively permitting Antiguans to establish websites hosting royalty-free downloads of American IP (e.g., books, music, movies, television programming, etc.).
  • Baseball ambassador: Bobby Valentine, former MLB player and manager of the Mets and Red Sox, reportedly is under consideration by president-elect Donald Trump for the position of ambassador to Japan. Valentine, who currently serves as athletic director at Sacred Heart University, is popular among Japanese baseball fans thanks to two successful stints as manager of a professional baseball team there.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 11/18/2016

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:

  • Baseball stadium netting: On Wednesday, the trial court dismissed a lawsuit seeking increased fan-safety measures in baseball stadiums, including expanded safety netting behind dugouts and along the foul lines, based on a lack of standing. I previously wrote about this case over at TechGraphs (see here, here, and here), generally discussing the ways in which it– despite the legal weaknesses in the plaintiffs’ position– already was effecting change. Although those legal weaknesses proved to be the downfall of this suit, the court’s ruling was not without its admonitions to Major League Baseball. For example, an early footnote contains this observation: “Why Major League Baseball, knowing of the risk [foul balls pose] to children in particular, does little to highlight this risk to parents remains a mystery.” The order also expressly suggests the possibility that future litigation along these lines may be more availing in other states, where the “Baseball Rule,” which makes it very difficult for fans to recover against baseball teams and leagues, has fallen under attack: “Thus, it is conceivable that, under the right set of circumstances, a plaintiff could obtain the type of relief that plaintiffs seek here. Given the changing nature of both the baseball game experience and the injuries at issue, which are far different from those in 1914, what is a ‘reasonable expectation’ on an ‘ordinary occasion’ is not a static concept.
  • Football painkillers: Attorneys for retired NFL players in a lawsuit against the league alleging that team doctors dispensed painkillers “‘as if they were candy’ regardless of long-term effects” are seeking permission to depose team owners Jerry Jones and Jim Irsay. Outside of football, Irsay, who inherited ownership of the Indianapolis Colts from his father, is known for collecting famous guitars– including Jerry Garcia’s Tiger, Les Paul’s Black Beauty, and Prince’s Yellow Cloud— and having a history of abusing painkillers. The plaintiffs also have amended their complaint to add a RICO claim, which, among other things, introduces the potential for tripling their financial recovery in the lawsuit.
  • NCAA transfer rules: Johnnie Vassar, a former Northwestern basketball player, filed a putative class-action lawsuit against the NCAA, alleging that the rule forcing transferring students to sit out of their sport for their first year at their new school violates antitrust laws. Vassar claims that he attempted to transfer from Northwestern but was unable to do so, because all of his target schools only would accept him if he could play immediately. In recent years, Northwestern has emerged as a cradle of anti-NCAA legal activity.
  • Triathlon death: A wrongful death claim brought in connection with the drowning death of a competitor in the 2010 Philadelphia Triathlon cannot proceed, a Pennsylvania appellate court ruled, concluding that the triathlete knowingly and voluntarily assumed the risk of participating in the event when, in the course of registering for it, he executed a detailed liability waiver.
  • Cuban baseball-player smuggling: In a federal criminal case against a sports agent accused of conspiracy to smuggle Cuban baseball players into the United States, the government has listed numerous professional players, including Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Abreu, as trial witnesses. For more on this general subject, ESPN The Magazine’s feature on Yasiel Puig is a must-read.
  • Boxing fraud: The defendants– Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, HBO, Top Rank, and others– in twenty-six lawsuits alleging that they improperly concealed Pacquiao’s shoulder injury leading up to the fighters’ 2015 bout in order to boost pay-per-view sales admitted that the plaintiffs– fans and bars– had standing to pursue their claims, even as the defendants denied that those claims had any merit.
  • Gambling: West Virginia, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin are asking the United States Supreme Court to review a Third Circuit decision rejecting New Jersey’s attempt to open up sports gambling in its state. The five states, together, filed an amicus brief in support of New Jersey’s cert petition (formal request that the Supreme Court allow them to appeal the Third Circuit’s ruling), arguing that the manner in which Congress has regulated sports gambling is unconstitutional and threatens the balance of power between the federal and state governments. In an unrelated story, daily fantasy leaders FanDuel and DraftKings announced a merger agreement this morning.
  • Secondary football ticket market: Under pressure from state regulators, the NFL agreed to end its league-wide imposition of a price floor on game tickets sold on the secondary market that had prevented the resale of tickets at prices below face value. The agreement does not apply to tickets for the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, nor does it prevent teams from acting “unilaterally” to enforce price floors, meaning that the practice could continue.
  • Campus police records: The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed a trial court’s dismissal  of ESPN’s lawsuit seeking the University of Notre Dame Police Department’s incident reports involving student athletes, deciding that the ND Police Department is not a “public agency” and thus cannot be compelled to produce the requested materials under the state’s open records law.

Sports court is in recess.

Kansas trick kick-return play validates Mountain West’s hazing of Boise State

One of the first stories we covered at this site occurred back in 2011, when the Mountain West Conference hazed new member Boise State by prohibiting them from wearing their blue uniforms in home conference games, claiming that the uniforms gave the Broncos “a competitive edge” in games played on their blue home turf, all while permitting charter conference member Colorado State to wear green uniforms in all of their conference games played on green turf. The MWC position was such a sham that even the NCAA could see it was a bad idea.

On Saturday night, though, the otherwise hapless Kansas Jayhawks showed that there might be something to this turf camouflage concern:

Not bad, but it won’t help KU hide from Charlie Weis, to whom the university still owes money.

Mike Leach Prefers Solo Cougars

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We all know Washington State head football coach Mike Leach to be a sensible and worldly man, and that’s true even when it comes to the selection of his team’s captain. In an age when most teams send out four or more captains (plus honorary captains) to handle the game’s preliminary procedural matters, Leach prefers a simpler and more direct approach:

Makes sense to me. According to contemporary reports, Morrow readied himself for the show like the future D-I football captain he would become by watching lots of film: “Jamal did not come to the show unprepared. A week prior, he watched every Price is Right episode he could get his hands on.” He ended up winning “almost $2,000 worth of clothes.” (If you’re a TV weirdo, here‘s some kind of hyper-detailed breakdown of the episode.) The NCAA investigative report on whether this constituted an improper benefit remains outstanding.

At this time, our staff has been unable to locate video of Morrow’s appearance on “The Price is Right,” but we did find this visual still and commend Morrow’s attire.

Morrow took the over on the price of a Toyota Corolla on the show in 2013 and the over on his BAC in his own car in 2016.

Our staff also has been unable to locate coin toss results for the 2016 season, but, under Leach and Morrow, Washington State has won five games in a row and is undefeated (4-0) in conference play. Only two currently ranked opponents– Colorado and Washington– remain on their schedule. They play Oregon State this Saturday night on ESPN2.

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Previously
Mike Leach: Prospective time traveler
Mike Leach officially ushers in the 2015 college football season
Cougar dating tips from Mike Leach
Mike Leach Favors Cougars

John Calipari, hero anti-NCAA crusader?

NCAA Men's Championship Game - Kansas v Kentucky

Those who oppose the NCAA as an old-fashioned, draconian regulatory body designed for the sole purpose of maintaining profit-driven financial control over a highly valuable workforce are praising yesterday’s comments by University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari, who addressed a basketball-related change in NCAA rules that will allow college players to declare for the NBA draft and, if invited, attend the NBA combine before they have to decide whether to withdraw from the draft in order to maintain their collegiate eligibility as follows:

Met with our team today. Told them that during the season it’s about the team and sacrificing for each other – which they did this year. When the season’s over, it’s about each individual player and what’s right for them and their families.

With that being said, every player who is eligible for the draft, including our walk-ons, will submit their names for the NBA Draft in hopes of being invited to the combine in May. The new rule states they can submit their name a total of three times. If they choose to withdraw, they have until 10 days after the combine. It’s a true win-win for the student-athlete.

Just so you know, having every kid put their name in the draft is about all players getting the right information. Players not invited to the combine know what that means. Players invited to the combine and told to go back to school know that that means. As I said, it’s a win-win for the student athletes. I like the rule.

(Emphasis added.)

On one hand, Calipari is right to encourage his players to gain as much information as they can about their professional prospects, especially where there is no penalty to the player for seeking that information. The new regime– allowing players to wait until after the combine to decide whether to withdraw from the draft– provides players considering continuing their basketball careers on a professional level a valuable option.

Calipari isn’t merely praising this change as a beneficial option for “student-athletes,” however. Continue reading

Madness: The NCAA Tournament’s structural flaw

The organizing principle of a competition arranged in the fashion of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is that better teams should have easier paths for advancement, the goal being for the best teams to meet as late as possible. Tournament organizers therefore employ a seeding system that awards teams believed to be the strongest with the best seeds (i.e., the lowest numbers) and first pits them against teams believed to be the weakest.This is sensible, logical, and good. Anything can happen once the games begin, of course, but if Michigan State and Kansas, for example, are the best teams in this year’s tournament, the tournament should be designed such that those two teams are most likely to face off in the final, championship round. Generally speaking, this is how the NCAA tournament is organized.

From 1985 until 2000, the tournament’s field held steady at sixty-four total teams. In 2001, it expanded to sixty-five teams, adding a single play-in game to determine which team would be the sixteenth seed to face the number one overall seed. In 2011, the tournament field expanded to sixty-eight teams, its current size, with four play-in games.

Many people dislike the fact that the tournament has expanded beyond a seemingly optimal sixty-four-team field, but all should agree that, however many teams and play-in games are included, the tournament should be organized such that the projected difficulty of each team’s path through the tournament is inversely proportional to its seed position. As currently constructed, however, the tournament deviates from this basic principle.

All play-in games are not created equal. Two of the four fill sixteenth-seeded positions, while the other two fill eleventh-seeded positions, and the latter grouping is the culprit here. The NCAA and its broadcast partners no longer refer to the play-in games as the “first round,” thankfully, but, however labeled, these games constitute a significant structural hurdle for their participants. It’s difficult enough to win five consecutive games against the nation’s top competition; adding a sixth game places the play-in teams at a major disadvantage.

If a tournament organized in this fashion is to proceed with sixty-eight participants, play-in games are a necessity. The heavy burden of participating in an extra round of competition should be apportioned in accordance with the tournament’s organizing principle, however. In this instance, that should mean applying it to the lowest-seeded (i.e., highest number) teams. Using two of the play-in games to determine eleventh-seeded positions inappropriately and adversely distorts the degree of difficulty for those two positions.

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This year, the unduly burdened teams are Vanderbilt, Wichita State, Michigan, and Tulsa, which are competing in play-in games for eleventh-seeded spots in the tournament’s first full round. Each of these teams would be better off as a twelfth, thirteenth, or even fourteenth seed (to say nothing of an eleventh seed in the West or Midwest regions, where eleven seeds are not similarly encumbered) than they are as participants in eleventh-seed play-in games.

If the tournament committee really believes each of those four teams belongs in the tournament and is deserving of an eleven seed, or thereabouts, it should pick one from each pairing– Vandy/WSU and Michigan/Tulsa– to be the eleventh seed, make the other the twelfth, bump the remaining lower seeds in the region down by one, and have the existing fifteenth seed play the existing sixteenth seed in a play-in game instead. (This wouldn’t be a clean fix in the East region, which already has a Florida Gulf Coast/Fairleigh Dickinson play-in game for the sixteenth seed, but the Midwest region has no play-in games, so one of Michigan/Tulsa could be moved to the eleventh or twelfth seed there, bumping Hampton and MTSU into a play-in game for the sixteenth-seed position in that region.)

Two of the eleventh-seed play-in participants, Vanderbilt and Michigan, likely were two of the last teams to earn at-large bids to this year’s tournament. Even if that’s true, though, it shouldn’t matter. The in/out decision is binary: a team is either in the tournament or it isn’t. Once the field is determined, the committee then should seed the teams based on their basketball merit. If the committee thinks so little of Vanderbilt, Wichita State, Michigan, and Tulsa that it wants to put them through the paces of a play-in game, it should have seeded them lower than eleventh.

The current arrangement of the NCAA tournament play-in games constitutes a structural flaw not because those preliminary games exist, but because of the seed positions they involve. If the NCAA insists on using the play-in-game arrangement to include sixty-eight teams in the tournament, it should use those play-in games in a manner that aligns with the tournament’s overall organizing principle of strength-based seeding. In practice, no tournament of this sort will be perfectly balanced in its initial arrangement, but the current structure clearly is contrary to that fundamental organizational principle and unnecessarily distorts the balance of the entire tournament.