State of sports law

Panelists discuss collegiate athletic issues at South Texas College of Law

Last Thursday, June 20 the South Texas College of Law hosted a panel conducted by the Jackson Lewis Law Firm discussing some of the recent issues facing collegiate athletics today. John Long is of counsel in Houston at the law firm and conducted the panel which consisted of five members: Gregg Clifton, the Co- Chair of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Industry Practice Group, Taurian Houston, the Associate Athletic Director for Compliance at Rice University, Dr.Trayvean Scott, the Deputy Athletic Director at Southern University, Jake Wonders, the Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance and Academics at Houston Baptist, and Jeff Palmer, the Associate General Council at the University of Houston. All five participants provided unique perspectives on important issues surrounding collegiate athletics currently.

The first issue discussed was the transfer portal now available to student athletes. The portal, which was initiated in the last nine months, is a database for every student athlete who is interested in transferring from his or her current school. It includes every sport, and has been widely used effectively as a "free agency" tracking database that every athletic department, coach and athlete has access to. It is used simply by an athlete going to the school's compliance department and informing them that they would like to be entered in the transfer portal. The athlete then has 48 hours to be entered into the portal, and while the coaching staff and compliance department cannot say no to the athlete, they can delay the request. Panel member Taurian Houston outlined that the portal provides both positive and negative effects for the student athlete if he or she chooses to submit their name. "It now allows freedom for the student athlete to communicate with other institutions without a blockade from a coach saying you cannot talk to other institutions." However he did mention that although this freedom is now available, student athletes must be aware of the ramifications which come from entering your name in the portal. According to Houston, "By entering your name in the portal, the school has the ability to remove you from athletic aid. If you were to submit your name for the fall semester, your current school could remove you from athletic aid for the fall semester." Essentially a student athlete entering his name into the portal is in fact taking a risk. If he or she does not like their current situation, they now have the freedom to try and and be picked up by another institution, however the risk is they may not have a scholarship from their current school if in fact they do not find a fit from the transfer portal. As of right now, the portal is being used heavily. There are over 10,000 student athletes across the board who have used the portal with 1,300 of them being mens college basketball players.

The panel went on to discuss the biggest scandal the NCAA has had to deal with recently. An FBI investigation resulted in an ex - Adidas executive, James Gatto, being sentenced for nine months in prison for bribing the father of a college basketball prospect who attended the University of Louisville. Two other basketball insiders, Meri Code and Christian Dawkins, were sentenced to six months for their role in the scheme. John Long, the panel's conductor, theorized that "Adidas is in effect acting as a booster, a representative of athletics interest, for the institutions for which those companies are attempting to funnel kids." There is a bylaw in the NCAA handbook that does state if corporations or apparel corporations commit a violation regarding interactions with potential student athletes, than the University is in fact on the hook for a violation should that student athlete attend that University. The question for the panel became how to police and enforce these third parties from committing violations for which the University would then become accountable for. Rice University, where Taurian Houston is the Associate Athletic Director for Compliance, is an Adidas school. He said "When I think about a lack of institutional control, we get to the aspect of who's a booster and who's an independent actor? Are they looking at their own independent interests, or in the interests of the corporation." This sometimes can be very hard to decipher for a University, therefore making it more common for violations to occur.

Compliance laws were also discussed by the panel. 30 violations were committed last year in college basketball, 24 of them were done by coaches or assistant coaches. Jeff Palmer, Associate General Council at the University of Houston, talked about how to protect the school from these violations saying "a comprehensive compliance training program is the key." An example was given about a division one swimming coach who simply did not understand compliance protocols and unintentionally committed a violation. Gregg Clifton of Jackson Lewis said two things must be done to prevent coaches from getting a violation. First, when a new coach comes in, they sometimes are not familiar with the law. Each university has to educate their coaches on the laws. Second, universities should be assisting coaches in helping them understand the laws. Violations of all kinds can be avoided with the proper education given by Universities to the coaches.

The final piece of discussion for the panel was pay for play, which is probably the most polarizing issue facing collegiate athletics right now. California has introduced a "Fair Pay for Play Act" which would allow the state's college athletes to be paid for the use of their image, name and likeness. California Senator state senator Nancy Skinner has said "College athletes have been exploited by a deeply unfair system. The NCAA, the universities, the media, they've made billions of dollars on the talent of athletes, while the athletes have not received anything." This has been an ongoing issue, and there could be change coming soon. Taurian Houston said "We have to start having the conversation. I'm not a straight up proponent of paying student athletes because this creates more issues. You deal with title nine, are you going to start taxing scholarships, athletic aid... A lot of student athletes haven't thought of these things. I do think things do need to change though." After the panel concluded I proposed to Taurian that a lack of a unified goal from the "pay for play" crowd may have contributed to a lack of movement on this issue. He agreed and said this will be a step by step process that will probably be an ongoing issue for some time.


Signing Sampson long term, the key to continued hoops success

For U of H, Sampson deal better not turn into Herman 2.0

Kelvin Sampson. Bob Levey/Getty Images

Key cog

Coach Kelvin Sampson has restored and re-built the Cougar Basketball Program

Kelvin Sampson. Getty Images

The University of Houston Men's Basketball team just wrapped up its most successful regular season in the program's history and the deepest NCAA tournament run in over 30 years. Head coach Kelvin Sampson did what he said he was going to do when he took over the program 5 years ago, as the team got better and improved their record every season leading up to this historic campaign. Sampson is now a free agent with his contract expiring after the Cougars fell to the Kentucky Wildcats in a hard fought contest that saw the Coogs fight back from a double-digit deficit and have several chances to win the game. Sampson and his staff constructed a roster of versatile talent that played both ends of the floor, guarded multiple positions and bought into everything Sampson was selling in terms of the desire and effort necessary to play winning basketball on a nightly basis. The coach more than lived up to his end of the bargain and contract he signed with the university. It's now time for the school to step and make sure he stays for the long haul and continues to build on the winning culture he created when he resurrected and re-built the program. Cougar fans have been there and done that when it comes to coaches that came in and found success, only to leave the first chance they got to springboard to a perceived bigger, better situation. The time is now to stop being a stepping stone for up and coming coaches and to send a message that the university is now a premier destination that rewards winning leadership with long term financial security.

Adios, Tom

University of Texas football coach Tom Herman

Tom Herman sold the Coogs out for a big deal with the Horns

Tim Warner/Getty Images

We don't need to look very far back in time when we scan the history of Houston Athletics to find a coach that had immediate success only to mislead the administration and scholarship athletes and jump ship just when everyone thought he was their long term solution that would be in H-town for years to come. Tom Herman had everyone fooled into thinking he loved the city, the school, the success and the opportunity to put the program back on the national scene as a perennial top 25 squad. His players bought into his passion well before he started kissing them as they got off the bus on game day and the administration and the biggest boosters of the athletic department were sold a bill of goods that he was here for the long haul. Just as fast as he had gotten the entire city to buy in and believe the hype train he had ridden into town on, he was gone like a rocket ship, soaring to greener pastures in Austin, when the University of Texas backed up the Brinks truck and made him an offer he wouldn't refuse. His departure would set the program back several years and a few disappointing seasons.

Bring on Dana

Dana Holgorson was brought back to secure stability and success to Cougar Football

After firing Herman's successor, Major Applewhite, the school put its money where it's mouth is and reeled in a big-time leader in West Virginia head man and former U of H offensive coordinator, Dana Holgorson. They were the aggressor and the hunter, instead of the feeding ground that was hunted, as they made him an offer he couldn't refuse and made sure that this time around the Coogs would not be in a position to lose. The move solidified the long term leadership of the program and gave them a chance to compete for every recruit as well as conference titles, major bowl games and potentially a whole lot more. If they use that process as a blueprint, the time is now for them to do the exact same thing with Sampson and the basketball team.

All about Fertitta

Fertitta Center

Tilman Fertitta could be the key in the Coogs keeping Kelvin Sampson

Tilman Fertitta made the Fertitta Center a reality. Houston Cougars Men's Hoops Facebook

We have all heard the rumors that Arkansas wants Sampson and Hunter Yurachek, the AD for the Razorbacks, knows him well and would love to steal him away to do for the Hogs what he has done for the Coogs. After all, Yurachek was the same guy in the same position at U of H, that brought Sampson in to turn around his hoops team. He would get his man and parlay that success, the winning football team, the other nationally recognized programs like track and all the new facilities into a bigger, seemingly better gig in the SEC. Yet another example of a "jumper" that used the opportunity in Houston to springboard him to more money and a better offer elsewhere. There are reports out there that Sampson has been offered a 6 year, 18 million dollar deal to stay on campus and continue coaching the Coogs if that is indeed the case he would be in the rare air of the top 25 highest paid coaches in the sport. He already has his family deeply involved with his son on his coaching staff and daughter in charge of Basketball Operations, which the University happily supports. The family likes Houston as a city and has roots here having been here for over nine years including his four years as a Rockets assistant. As long as the dollars make sense, it seems like a no-brainer that Kelvin can keep it all in the family and stay put on Cullen Boulevard. Let's hope the administration and their biggest booster, Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta, can make the dollars make sense and keep the coach where he belongs in H-town.

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