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.


Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

Keep an eye on Alex Bowman this weekend. Image via: Wiki Commons.

For the first time since July 1984, NASCAR returns to one of its most popular cities in Nashville, Tennessee for the inaugural Ally 400 at Nashville Super Speedway. This track is a 1 1/3rd mile concrete oval that was dormant for nearly ten years and was only used as a testing facility. So it came as a bit of a surprise last season when it was announced that this track would be getting a date. For a lot of drivers, this will be a brand new racetrack, but we will see practice and qualifying, so that will be a huge help for the newcomers that haven't raced here before. Back when the Xfinity and Trucks ran here, this track featured a lot of first time winners. Back in 2008, future NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski shocked the world by jumping in Dale Jr's car and capturing his first win here. There will be a lot of veterans like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick who have plenty of experience at this track, but it will be tough to compare. It should be fun with everyone coming into this race with minimal knowledge.

Last week, Kyle Larson continued his hot streak by winning the All-Star Race. Overall, while Larson and his Hendrick teammates probably enjoyed the race, the feedback from crews and fans was less than positive. As I was walking through the garage area and talking to a few crew members, a lot of them were very critical of the 450 horsepower motor and the tall spoiler to try and keep the cars bunched up. When I asked one of the crew-members what he thought about the package he told me, "Oh it's awful. The track is terrible, the package makes it impossible to pass and it's super hot out here." On green flag runs, it was the same as it ever was as the lead car would pretty much take off and the only time there was really any "pack racing" it came after there were restarts. The whole race was well-intentioned and the fans showed up as it was nearly a capacity crowd, but the whole thing just didn't make any sense. From the start time being in the nearly 100 degree heat to the wacky full-field invert at the end of each stage. Let's hope that next season's All-Star Race is a lot more concise.

In Silly Season news this week, Truck Series regulars GMS racing announced that they would be fielding a full-time cup series team. The team is currently owned by Allegiant Airlines CEO Maurice Gallagher and his son, Spencer, who used to drive for them in the Xfinity Series. This move seemed to come from out of nowhere as there was never any indication that this was a move they were exploring anytime soon after they turned down the opportunity to purchase Furniture Row Racing in 2019. This is certainly a great sight for the sport as there will be more new teams on the track and with their close relationship with Chevy, it wouldn't be a surprise if they step in and help this team become competitive. The favorite to drive their car has to be 2020 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed. He has easily been their best driver in trucks, and it would make the most sense for him to get the promotion.

This week at Nashville, the driver that I have winning is Alex Bowman. Now while this is a brand new racetrack and he has a grand total of zero starts here, this track suits his driving style perfectly. With the inclusion of this track, there are now four tracks with a concrete surface. Nashville, Bristol, Dover and Martinsville. At the three of the tracks they have run at, he has shown a lot of speed, including a victory at Dover this season and a top ten finish at Bristol. This is also a track where crew-chief Greg Ives said Bowman has gravitated towards during testing. In an interview with Sirius XM Ives was quoted as saying "we used to have a lot of fun testing there," so this is clearly a track that they both enjoy going to. Another big factor going into Sunday will be just how fast these Hendrick Motorsports cars are, they have finished 1-2 over the last four points races. He has watched his teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have immense success, and now this week I think he is due for a third win of the season. Look for the bright purple #48 Chevy to go to victory lane this week at Nashville.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome