Sports Law Roundup – 12/15/2017

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

  • Louisville basketball: The fallout from the FBI’s announced investigation of Adidas-sponsored men’s college basketball programs resulted in the termination of Rick Pitino’s  position as the head coach of Louisville’s team. That, in turn, spawned Pitino lawsuits against Louisville for wrongful termination and Adidas for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Louisville now has sued Pitino for breach of contract and negligence and seeks monetary from Pitino arising out of the school’s losses due to vacated wins, potentially including its 2013 national title, and other NCAA sanctions, lost donations, and other financial losses. Louisville’s complaint alleges Pitino admitted liability when he said in a post-termination interview that he knew about NCAA violations but did not report them and took “full responsibility” for his decisions to hire assistants who subsequently engaged in wrongful activity.
  • Television transfer: An announced transaction between 20th Century Fox and Disney involving the latter’s acquisition of more than $50 billion (exclusive of debt) of the former’s assets has potentially significant consequences for the entities’ sports properties. Included among the assets Disney (which already owns ESPN and ABC) is acquiring are all of the Fox Sports Regional Networks (e.g., Fox Sports Detroit, Fox Sports South, etc.) and the YES Network. Disney also is acquiring other substantial assets, including FX Network, Fox’s interest in Hulu, and all of Fox’s film and television studios, which would include the rights to film properties like “The Simpsons,” “Modern Family,” “Avatar” (for which one source reports there are four sequels in the works), “Deadpool,” and “X-Men.” In exchange, Fox shareholders will receive shares of Disney stock. In addition, a spinoff entity will take control of Fox’s primary national networks, including FOX, Fox News, Fox Business, FS1, FS2, and the Big Ten Network. The deal still requires approval from both existing entities’ boards of directors and shareholders, as well as government regulators.
  • Baylor sexual assaults: The flow of evidence of Baylor‘s apparently widespread sexual assault problems seems unlikely to abate anytime soon now that a judge is permitting discovery of sexual assault reports from students who are not parties to pending litigation involving the school, as well as records of third-party Code of Conduct violations limited to violations related to “sex” and is ordering Baylor to produce documents previously provided to independent auditors, those being “32,000 nonparty student records, and hundreds of thousands of additional documents, without regard to” relevance or federal privacy restrictions.
  • Gambler defamation: In June, an alleged “gambling guru” known as RJ Bell (real name: Randall James Busack) sued Deadspin (and its post-Gawker-bankruptcy owner, Gizmodo Media Group, LLC) and freelance writer Ryan Goldberg over an article Goldberg wrote and Deadspin published that was critical of Busack and which Busack alleges was libelous. On Tuesday, a New York bankruptcy judge announced that trial in the case will begin on Valentine’s Day 2018. An important legal question in the case is whether a provision in an order of the bankruptcy court overseeing the Gawker Media bankruptcy intended to operate as a release of third-party claims against Gawker Media writers applies to bar Busack’s claims against Goldberg, which is the position Goldberg takes. Busack contends that the release doesn’t apply to him because he didn’t sue Gawker during the bankruptcy and received no distribution from the Gawker bankruptcy estate. Gawker Media entered bankruptcy as a result of a prior lawsuit Hulk Hogan (real name: Terry Bollea) brought. The attorney who represented Bollea in that case also represents Busack in this case. On Wednesday, the judge, who previously indicated he found the release issue ambiguous, ruled that the release did, in fact, bar most of Busack’s claims.
  • Garbler defamation: Lou Holtz, former head football coach at Notre Dame and South Carolina and former football “analyst” for ESPN, has sued The Daily Beast and one of its writers, Betsy Woodruff, for defamation. Holtz claims that Woodruff’s article about Holtz’s comments during the 2016 Republican National Convention, in which she reported he said immigrants were “deadbeats” and “invading the U.S.,” contained information known to be false and caused Holtz to lose future speaking opportunities.
  • NFL Network sexual harassment: A former NFL Network employee has sued NFL Enterprises, LP (apparently the Los-Angeles-based television and broadcast arm of the NFL), Jessica Lee (allegedly a supervisor at NFL Network whose LinkedIn page describes her as the Network’s director of studio operations), and fifty unnamed defendants. The plaintiff’s lawsuit nominally is one for wrongful termination, but its most newsworthy allegations involve claims of sexual harassment, assault, and battery by other NFL Network employees, including former players Marshall Faulk, Donovan McNabb, Warren Sapp, Ike Taylor, Heath Evans, and Eric Davis and former executive Eric Weinberger, who now works as the president of Bill Simmons Media Group, which owns The Ringer.

Sports court is in recess.

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Sports Law Roundup – 11/18/2016

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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:

  • 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.

2015 College Football Playoff: Opening Rankings and Conflict Conflicts

Last night, for the first time in the 2015 season, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee released its rankings. The Committee ranks twenty-five teams, and their top ten teams are shown in the images below.

These initial rankings offer plenty to critique about the Committee’s decisions this week and its process in general. Continue reading

ND Confessional: Sacrifice for Success

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With thirty-four seconds remaining in their game against Kentucky, Notre Dame called timeout. The score was tied at sixty-six, and the Irish had just turned the ball over to the Wildcats. The shot clock was off.

As soon as Kentucky inbounded the ball, ND fouled, sending the UK ballhandler to the line. He made both shots, giving the ball back to Notre Dame down 68-66, with thirty-three seconds left on the clock and the chance to tie the game or take the lead and claim a berth in the Final Four.

ND could have had the final possession of the game with more than thirty seconds on the clock, down two, down one, or still tied, if they had fouled Kentucky immediately. The preceding paragraph would have described reality. It does not, because they did not.

Instead, the Irish passively allowed Kentucky to write the script for the game’s final seconds, their foul coming with a mere six seconds left on the game clock. Why wait so long? A quick foul seems like the obvious play. Even if Kentucky made both free throws– and they might not!– Notre Dame still would have nearly a full-length possession in which to tie or take the lead. In essence, an immediate foul inverts in ND’s favor the situation that existed coming out of ND’s timeout. Sure, they might be down two points rather than tied, but they seemed content to grant Kentucky that opportunity to score anyway. The only difference is time.

Mike & Mike at Fifteen

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ESPN Radio’s national morning show, Mike & Mike, turns fifteen on Friday, and the guys were kind enough to send some of their fans a gift basket as a way to say thanks for tuning in. Fifteen years is a long time to hold down a national morning radio talk show, and it’s better to start out broadcasting from a supply closet than to end up in one. I can say this about Mike & Mike: you wouldn’t be reading this website without them. Would I write that if we hadn’t just received six pounds of apparel, signed photographs, flavored popcorn, and enough Notre Dame cookies to make me look like Golic? Sure would. Has our coverage of the Worldwide Leader been tainted by the free copies of ESPN The Magazine that started appearing outside our door a couple years ago? Sure hasn’t. (Judge for yourself.) More than cookies, clean laundry, and magazines, though, all I really want from ESPN is for them to bring back the original Mike & Mike theme song (I’ll mail you a cookie if you can find it online), and maybe be a little kinder to Detroit.

College football wrapup: 2014-15

The 2014 college football season is in the books, and Ohio State is the first school to win a national championship determined by a postseason playoff system.

Beyond the usual discussion of champions and coaching legacies (quickly: Urban Meyer– three national championships at two different schools, evil; Nick Saban– four national championships at two different schools, merely soulless), one of the central season-in-review topics of conversation, at least in these parts, is whether the SEC is over. Surprisingly but also not surprisingly, Paul Finebaum, voice of the SEC, answers the question implied in the previous sentence in the affirmative. (UPDATE: PFT Commenter emphatically concurs.) Although he’s been developing his position over the course of his daily radio show since roughly the first of the year, he summed up the general point in his appearance on Keith Olbermann’s show just before the national championship game:

In short: “It was a pretty bad year for the SEC.”

Although I contemplated the notion of Peak SEC at least as early as December 2012 and later pegged the possible date somewhat more recently, I’m not sure I agree that the SEC is over.

The SEC’s bowl record was 7-5. (They were 7-3 last year.) The Pacific Twelve was 6-2 (exclusive of Oregon’s national championship loss), the Big Ten was 5-5 (exclusive of Ohio State’s national championship win), the Big XII was 2-5, and the ACC was 4-7. In other words, among the power five conferences, the SEC had the most teams playing in bowl games and notched the second-best winning percentage.

What seems to concern Finebaum, though, is a sudden lack of championships. That people think the SEC is done for because one of its members hasn’t played for a national championship in a whole year and hasn’t won one in a whole two years is a testament to the never-before-seen degree of dominance the conference produced during the BCS era. Prior to Ohio State’s inaugural CFP championship on Monday, the Big Ten had 1.5 national championships since 1970. The SEC had nine in the BCS era (i.e., since 1998) alone. The ACC had two BCS championships, the ACC had two, the (now-defunct for football purposes) Big East had one, and the then-Pac Ten had one, since vacated.

After the hunt for Mississippi October turned up empty and OSU knocked Alabama out in the semis, the SEC may need to do a little more to earn its seeds next year, but I’m not sure we can say the conference is measurably weaker simply because it failed to produce a national champion this year. If anything, the above suggests the conference is as deep as ever.

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Transitioning toward the offseason and the 2015 season, I’ll use this space to remind everyone that Michigan State’s only losses in 2014 were to Ohio State and Oregon. The Spartans face both teams again in 2015, albeit without the aid of their departed defensive coordinator, Pat Narduzzi. Continue reading

Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker

fairleyALDLAND’s weekly football roundup is back, taking a look at all the highs and lows of the latest round of football action.

College Football

Pregame:

  • In anticipation of the LSU-UGA game, a secret-recipe cheesy bean dip was made. So much was made, in fact, that it lasted much longer than the game, although not quite as long as Georgia coach Mark Richt spent kissing his wife following a win over Kentucky.

The games:

  • LSU-Georgia was a thriller. Georgia continues to lose important players to injury, but it doesn’t seem to slow them down. This week, star running back Todd Gurley sprained his ankle in the second quarter, but backup Keith Marshall filled in and had a career day. In the end, the Dwags outgunned the Tigers 44-41 and are in the driver’s seat on the road to the SEC championship game in Atlanta.
  • I also thought Ole Miss-Alabama would be a good game, but it was not. The Rebels limited Alabama’s scoring early, but they were unable to do any scoring of their own, which is an easy-bake recipe for a loss. Ole Miss 0, Alabama 25.     Continue reading

Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker

tail3ALDLAND’s weekly football review returns after an infamous fall wedding weekend. Bear with us as we attempt to piece together the happenings of the last few days.

College Football

Pregame:

  • After the Game of the Century of the Season of the Week last week in College Station, everybody predicted a scheduling letdown this week. Sports predictions have become (always were?) completely useless and devoid of meaning, but once in a while, the wisdom of the crowd gets it right. Throwing out expired food? No, actually. A soft slate of week-four matchups? For the most part, yes.

The games — That 70s Show:

  • Clemson opened the week of play by getting punchy on Thursday night in a closer-than-it-should-have-been win over North Carolina State. So far as I can tell, the Tigers have played only fellow Carolinians to this point in the season. A check of their schedule confirms this, and the trend will continue this weekend. (EDIT: Except for that little game against UGA in week one.) Clemson 26, North Carolina State 14.
  • A number of teams posted gaudy scores and spreads. Since they already had their fun, they’re all getting grouped in this one paragraph. Ohio State 76, FAMU 0. Louisville 72, FIU 0. Miami 77, Savannah State 7. Washington 56, Idaho State 0. Baylor 70, Louisiana-Monroe 7 (that one’s actually a little surprising). Florida State 54, Bethune-Cook 6. Wisconsin 41, Purdue 10. UCLA 59, New Mexico State 13. Texas A&M 42, SMU 13. And others.

Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker

tailALDLAND’s weekly football roundup is back following week three of college football and week two of the NFL.

College Football

Pregame:

  • I caught snippets of ESPN College Gameday and Fox Sports 1’s college football pregame shows. Gameday remains the leader of the pack, but I’d like more time to see how FS1’s show develops. In the meantime, I’ll join FS1’s Joel Klatt in sending good wishes to the folks in Colorado dealing with major flooding right now.

The games — excitement building:

  • With a couple East Carolina fans in town, we watched the Pirates hang with Virginia Tech for about three quarters. The Hokies did all they could, including badly missing a bunch of close kicks, to hand ECU the game. Frank Beamer looked like he wanted to puke, but his team managed to hold it together in the end. Virginia Tech 15, East Carolina 10.
  • We were flipping between that game and UCLA-Nebraska. When I first checked in on this one, Nebraska had a 21-3 lead, and it looked like the best early game of the day would not materialize into a competitive affair. That turned out to be sort of true, but not in the way I expected. UCLA scored thirty-eight unanswered points to beat the now-mythological blackshirt defense in Lincoln 41-21.
  • The game of the day belonged to Alabama and Texas A&M, and it lived up to the hype. Johnny Manziel and the Aggies started very hot, jumping out to a 14-0 lead and choking the Tide’s early drives. A&M scored touchdowns on its first two drives, which averaged 71.5 yards and 2:06 off the clock. Alabama responded, though, methodically amassing thirty-five temporarily unanswered points and carried a 42-21 lead into the fourth quarter. The Aggie defense had yielded to The System, but Manziel wasn’t through, although twenty-one fourth-quarter points wouldn’t be enough to top Alabama. The Crimson Tide remain undefeated, winning 49-42, but Manziel unequivocally proved that he is must-see football every time he plays, and his cohort, receiver Mike Evans, deserves some credit too.     Continue reading

ALDLAND Podcast

Marcus and I are back to discuss the games we previewed last week, as well as talk about some of the exciting games on this weekend’s slate. Coaches on the hot seat and how hot those seats might be is another topic of discussion, as is our new favorite musical artist, “Mathers.”

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