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.