Sports Law Blog
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Friday, October 13, 2006
Are Sports Different?

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last month signed into law California Assembly Bill 2165, which prohibits athletes from competing for any schools in the state college systems (UC, CSU, and Community College) if they have been convicted of certain violent felonies, unless and until they have completed their sentences. The impetus behind the law, described here, was a 2004 beating of a San Diego State student by three football players from Grossmont College (a nearby junior college); the players pled guilty in May 2005, but remained on the team until October 2005, when they were sentenced to jail time. In signing the bill, Schwarzenegger spoke of it being a privilege, not a right, to play a college sport, so a felony conviction deprives you of the privilege until you serve the time.

The problem is that everything about college is a privilege rather than a right. It arguably is a privilege simply to be admitted as a student and to be able to attend classes. It is a privilege to engage in many extra-curricular activities--playing in the band, playing intramurals, joining a fraternity or other student organization, acting in a school production, living in student housing.

But we do not attach similar conditions to any of these privileges, at least by law, only to sports. Why not?

I imagine that the answer to this basic question, and thus the explanation for this issue, lies in the fact that I am writing on something called "Sports Law Blog," but not something called "Fraternity Law Blog" or "Marching Band Law Blog" or "Chemistry 101 Law Blog." Sports are higher-profile (even at a junior college) and players are seen to "represent" the school. But so does the marching band and, in fact, so does the student body as a whole. Is it any more troubling that one of the school's football players continues to play after pleaing guilty to assault than that the president of Lambda-Lambda-Lambda or the vice president of the Student Government continue to serve after pleading guilty to the same crime?

If we are serious about wanting to deter misconduct by students (as the Governator said in signig the law), why stop with athletes?


I believe the answer is that there is a discernable pattern among athletes to commit violent crimes that you just don't see among members of the marching band. And, of course, the head of the marching band doesn't face the same pressure to win (whatever that means in a marching band context), and therefore isn;t as inclined to allow students charged with a violent crime to continue to participate. And finally, name one member of the Ohio State marching band. Exactly. So, not sure marching bands represent their schools to the same extent as football programs.

Anonymous john -- 10/13/2006 8:48 AM  

Is there any empirical demonstration that athletes are statistically more likely to commit violent crimes than the rest of the university community, marching band or otherwise? What evidence is there of a "discernable pattern" of violent crimes, beyond anecdotes and media stories? I have never seen such a study. Does anyone know?

In any event, it sounds as if some members of the Wisconsin band got pretty rowdy at Michigan a few weeks ago.

And while I cannot name one member of the Ohio State band, I also cannot name one member of the Grossmont College football team. This law applies to more than just the famous athletes at the top D-IA football schools. Below that level, fame is not a divider.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 10/13/2006 10:00 AM  

I wont root for a school if there marching band has dirty players on it. Sure they can sing, but they are sex abusers and drug users and I just cannot tolerate it. While I am being sarastinc, you understand the double standard. At the same time, there should be equal priviledge standards. I am a big advocator of equal punishments for athletes and "mathletes" but you must realize why the fans dont care about "matheltes"

Anonymous Anonymous -- 10/13/2006 10:15 AM  

What this law appears to indicate is that lawmakers do not trust sports coaches and school administrators to mete out sufficient or appropriate punishment to student athletes.

There may be several reasons for this

- Competitive drive may prevent coaches from barring integral players from high profile contests.

- The coaches or administrators do not want to be seen as excessively punitive in fear of driving away prospective students.

- Like we see with academic controversies, there is the inclination to treat athletes differently from other students, absolving them of responsibilities outside the sporting arena.

Why should the California Assembly be addressing this? Shouldn't this be governed by the NCAA?

What this shows me is not that there is a bias against athletes, although I believe a bias against athletes does exist, but rather that, if this kind of legislation is necessary, then the NCAA is an extremely weak institution in need of significant reform.

Blogger Satchmo -- 10/13/2006 2:29 PM  

Actually, there are studies measuring the frequency of violent and sexual crimes by male athletics versus the general population. And there is a higher incidence among male athletes.

Howard may have missed my point about the Ohio State marching band member. It was simply that football and basketball players, as a rule, have a higher profile than band members or chess club members, etc., regardless of the level of competition (NFL, college, junior college, high school). I don't think there's any disputing that. But the other point, and one that Howard didn;t address, is that coaches of athletic teams are under different kinds of pressure than band coaches, and that can lead to skewed decisions as to participation.

Anonymous john -- 10/13/2006 2:34 PM  

Could not agree more with what Satchmo said! Forget all the other "high brow" commentary. Oh, and don't forget it's all about money one way or another.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 10/14/2006 8:14 AM  

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