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Saturday, April 26, 2014
Legal Landscape of College Athletics

Last week was an active one for reform efforts in college athletics. Here's a brief rundown of the events that transpired:

1. As most people know, on Friday, 76 Northwestern football players cast votes on whether or not they would like to unionize. This action follows the NLRB's ruling defining these students as employees. While word is leaking out that the vote to unionize has probably not passed, the count will be sealed until the NLRB, on appeal to the national office, makes a final ruling as to whether or not these college athletes are employees. To be sure, one should expect the NRLB's final ruling to be challenged in federal court.

There is a great article written by sports lawyer Don Yee (agent to Tom Brady among others) on the missed opportunity by Northwestern, a wonderful institution of higher education, to turn these events into a teaching opportunity. This article is definitely worth a read here.

2.  On Thursday it was announced that the NCAA D1 Board of Directors has endorsed a new governance structure which will be voted on in August. According to an NCAA press release, the reform is "aimed at allowing the division to be more nimble, streamlined and responsive to needs--particularly the needs of student-athletes." This is the first indication that the NCAA may allow for different governing rules for the schools that generate significant revenue (i.e. Power 5 Conference members) versus the 1,200 NCAA institutions that do not.

In theory, the Power 5 conferences would be able to provide increased compensation: full cost of attendance, medical insurance, relaxed transfer rules etc. that address the welfare of college athletes in ways that are restricted under the current system.

Side note: For those who are asking what would this system look like, please read my Op Ed piece of last summer in The Chronicle of Higher Education which outlines a proposal that looks strikingly similar to the changes being discussed.

3.  Big news was broken yesterday by SLB's Editor-in-Chief, sports law investigative reporter Michael McCann, that there is a new grant-in-aid antitrust federal lawsuit: Floyd v NCAA. What makes this lawsuit unique is that it includes both male and female plaintiffs.  You can read about this case here.

[Editor's Note: Well done Mike. For those who want to learn how to succeed in "Sports Law Investigative Reporting" don't forget to sign up for a course being offered at UNH Law School by Michael McCann and SI's BJ Schecter this summer. Details can be found here.]

4.  At the beginning of the week, the NCAA drew a line in the sand (yet again) by stating that the O'Bannon litigation was likely going to trial because "we've all drawn our swords." There has been no meaningful dialogue on settlement despite the directive by the judge. To be clear, we are likely to head to trial in June--which should give us plenty of entertainment over the summer months. Here's a nice summary from CBS' Dennis Dodd.

Furthermore, as reported this morning by USA Today's Steve Berkowitz, the NCAA is asking the courts to dismantle or delay the O'Bannon case. Plaintiff's attorney Michael Hausfield indicates that this is a reflection of the NCAA's concern about going to trial on June 9th. Details here.

5.  Finally, a tip of the cap to noted sports economist Andy Schwarz who, in response to Jay Bilas, provided a definitive list of academic literature discussing whether or not the NCAA is an economic cartel.  It's a tremendous effort by Andy which you should definitely take a look at here.

6. To brighten your mood, I leave you with with SouthPark's take on the situation with this video.


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