2019 Sports Law Hot Topics to Watch

The annual January tradition I know y’all look forward to is here - my predictions on what will be the hottest of the sports law hot topics! I settled on selecting six topics this year, and I must say, it was wonderfully hard to narrow down the list because there is a lot of meat we will get to digest over the next 12 months. (Disclaimer: I think #1 will be the hottest of the hot, but that may be my bias talking since that is one of my main wheelhouses!)

That said, I would also like to remind those of you who may be newly acquainted with the concept of “sports law” that, in all honesty, there is technically no such thing as “sports law,” per se. Rather, what a handful of attorneys and I do is specialize in understanding and zealously advocate to resolve diverse legal issues that take place within the sports industry because the law often treats sports in a special way relative to pretty much every other industry out there.

Keep reading for a brief descriptions of each topic’s current status, why I am including it on this list, and a few Twitter handles to follow for the latest news and analysis throughout the year:

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How the NCAA Could Join MLB in an Extremely Exclusive Club

Guest Post by Derek Helling

As the sports world awaits the ruling of Judge Claudia Wilken in Alston v. NCAA, her ruling is likely merely the overture for this drama. Her opinion is almost guaranteed to be appealed to the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals regardless of what it entails.

In the 9th is where the possibility lies for a ruling that could entrench the parameters of college athletics and put the NCAA on equal footing with one of the most powerful entities in the US as far as antitrust law is concerned, Major League Baseball. To understand this possible course of events, it’s necessary to understand the precedent which could be drawn upon.

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Reviewing My "2018 Sports Law Hot Topics to Watch" Predictions

Congratulations, y'all. We made it through 2018! Per our usual routine here on the Sports Law Blonde blog, let’s review the 2018 sports law hot topic predictions I made back in January to (a) see whether there has been any ground made, & (b) if not, speculate on why that might be the case. So, I straight up copy-and-pasted my previous blog post and added my new comments and wisdom at the end of each section in this type style.

LET'S DO THIS.

Per usual, I would like to make my predictions regarding what topics I believe will be extra sizzlin' in 2018, but I will do so in a slightly different way. Here are brief descriptions of what each topic is, some insight as to why I have it on my predictions list, and who you can pay attention to for the latest news, updates, and analysis throughout the upcoming year:

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10 Things to Know Before Before Signing an NLI

Kids are recruited by college athletic programs earlier than ever, and the recent addition of the Early Signing Period There is a lot of excitement surrounding a prospective college athlete’s verbal commitment to attend a certain university, and there is even more pomp and circumstance surrounding a highly recruited prospective college athlete’s “signing day”. Even for those who do not sit in front of a table with five hats and announce the school of choice on national television, signing a commitment letter and accompanying athletic financial aid letter agreement is a big deal (and deserves major congratulations!). Many people have at least heard about the document itself that these athletes sign - the National Letter of Intent (NLI) - but many may not know exactly how it works within the college recruitment process and the overall college athlete experience, generally.

In the spirit of the still controversial Early Signing Period for NCAA Division I Football quickly approaching and taking place December 19-21, here are 10 things prospective college athletes and their families or guardians should know before signing an NLI as well as fans and enthusiasts who want to better understand the nitty-gritty procedures involved

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What Maryland Can Do with DJ Durkin -An Employment Contract Analysis

During a preseason workout, University of Maryland redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jordan McNair collapsed after a conditioning test comprised of ten 100-yard sprints (a.k.a. "suicides," a common athletics drill). From there, he was hospitalized and died two weeks later from heatstroke complications. Exactly what happened on the field during training that day and exactly who was on the field overseeing the workouts is currently under investigation.

The reports so far contain a lot of alleged details, but we will not know more of the full story until the investigations are complete. What we do know comes from a Tuesday press conference [see full transcript], UMD President Wallace D. Loh and Athletic Director Damon Evans stated that McNair's treatment did not include cold-water immersion and that "care we provided was not consistent with best practices." Moreover, Loh went on to say that they met with McNair's family to apologize and take "legal and moral responsibility" for what happened leading up to their son's death. We also know that Maryland Head Football Coach DJ Durkin, along with three of his staff members, were placed on administrative leave and that strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, the man who was running the workout, officially received the boot.

There could be many components at play here that we, unfortunately, need to wait to truly find out: any signs of struggle earlier in the workout; whether proper protocol was followed by the coaches, including those for precautions under certain conditions and medical guidelines for attending to any resulting injuries; whether Durkin was aware of the workout conditions; whether Durkin was aware of any protocols not being followed; whether Durkin was there when it all went down (according to reports, he was there); and whether McNair had any pre-existing health conditions that people were unaware of could also come into play in determining how toxic the football culture at Maryland is under Durkin's watch.

So, what can Maryland do with DJ Durkin, from a legitimate legal perspective?

To figure this out, let's (a) go over why we are focusing on the exact terms of Durkin's contract with Maryland, (b) highlight a few sections that may be triggered in determining what will happen with Durkin's employment status, & (c) use those sections to support the three potential scenarios - firing with "cause", firing without "cause", or keeping him.

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What OSU Can Do With Urban Meyer - An Employment Contract Analysis

Ohio State University is the latest entity trapped in the knotted-up business ethics & moral dilemma of what to do with a person of high authority who could have known about domestic violence allegations against a staffer and failed to do what he was supposed to do. Yesterday afternoon, OSU placed head football coach Urban Meyer on paid administrative leave while the university conducts an investigation into the issue at hand - whether Meyer knew about the domestic violence allegations against his former wide receiver coach, Zach Smith, by his ex-wife Courtney Smith and failed to follow the university's protocol according to the terms of his employment.

Expect a resolution very quickly. The football team starts practices in a few days, and when someone is placed on paid administrative leave, that is a pretty good sign that the parties involved are negotiating terms of separation. Here, it is uncertain at this time whether OSU interprets Meyers possible behavior as violating the terms of his employment. Furthermore, that would absolutely influence how OSU goes about any separation discussions, but at the same time, it would be understandable that both parties want to handle this and move forward in a swift, adequate fashion.

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The Cost of Becoming a Nation of Laputans

In the Jonathan Swift classic Gulliver’s Travels the main character encounters an island in the sky called Laputa. The aristocratic residents of the island were described as being so engrossed in thought that they often required servants to prod them as they were walking so they wouldn’t walk into stationary objects and each other.

All anyone needs to do is look at crowds of United States citizens engrossed in their mobile devices while walking to see how much they represent Laputans in this regard, but the cost of being out of touch with their environment has more serious consequences than needing assistance to navigate walkways.

Governmental bodies, and the individuals with deep pockets who fund their election campaigns, at all levels have taken advantage of citizens’ disinterest and indifference to their activities to turn what was created to be a representative republic into an unconstitutional oligarchy. This has been evidenced at the city level by repeated abuses of “emergency measures” to bypass the need for approval of the populace at large before handing public dollars over to professional sports teams.

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