Professor Andrew Brandt
The Role of the Commissioner and the Law
History – First originated in MLB
Scope of Authority:
-Does not act under the direct supervision and control of the owner
-Employee of the league but is not under direct control of the employer
-Decision Making: May disapprove contracts, establish policies/procedures, etc.
-Dispute Resolution: Power to arbitrate disputes between members of the association
-Disciplinary Power: Power to investigate prosecute and even adjudicate
-Oversees player conduct policy and player discipline
-“Best interests of the league”
-Protect the integrity of the game
-Select and employ referees
-Broadcasting and television
-Arrange and negotiate league contracts
Milwaukee Am. Ass’n v. Landis
Background: Landis was the first true commissioner in sports, hired in 1920. His appointment came on the heels of the famous Black Sox Scandal of 191 where the White Sox and shoeless Joe Jackson had thrown the World Series and put a stain on the reputation of MLB. Due to this, the owners wanted/needed to install someone with an impeccable reputation to give the game standing and credibility, thus judge Landis. In doing so, they gave Landis freedom and carte blanche (very broad) to do what was necessary to restore the integrity of the game.
Facts: Fred Bennett had been transferred several times between St. Louis Browns and several minor league teams.
Rules: Under the Major League Agreement, Commissioner was given jurisdiction to hear and determine any disputes between leagues and clubs or to which a player might be a party and in case of “conduct detrimental to baseball,” (meaning whatever the commissioner wants it to mean) to impose punishment and pursue appropriate legal remedies. Very broad and undefined power.
Rose v. Giamatti
Facts: Early winter 1989, rumors began spreading around Commissioner’s office that Rose, then manager of the Reds, had been betting on games, even those involving his own team. February 23, newly-elected commissioner Giamatti hired Washington lawyer John Dowd to investigate. Dowd delivered a report with copious evidence and testimony that Rose had regularly be on Reds’ games.
Procedure: Rose wanted this in a Cincinnati court b/c he was so popular there, Giamatti wanted it in federal court. Rose argued that the Cincinnati Reds were a party to the case so it could not be in Federal court. The court concludes that for the purposes of determining diversity of citizenship, Rose fraudulently joined the Cincinnati Reds as Defendants in the suit and at best they are a nominal party in this action. Another part of this principle is that the federal court must base this diversity on the citizenship of real parties to the controversy not nominal ones
Charles O. Finley v. Bowie Kuhn (owner suing a commissioner, 1978)
Facts: Finley owns the Oakland A’s, Kuhn was the MLB Commissioner. Finley sold contract rights to services of 3 players to Red Sox and Yankees for total of $3.5 million in effort to invest in young stars who could not command high salaries through free agency. Kuhn disapproved assignments. Finley brought suit challenging Kuhn’s authority to do so.
Outcome: Court found that Kuhn acted within his power “in a manner in which he determined to be in the best interests of baseball.” Court added that it is not court’s jurisdiction to decide whether Kuhn’s decision was right. District court ruled in favor of Commissioner but US Courts of Appeals dismissed case because of waiver of recourse provision.
David Stern v. Chris Paul
Facts: League owned the New Orleans Hornets at the time. Stern, the commissioner, blocked the trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers for “basketball reasons” and in the best interests of the game. Stern argued that he was protecting the interest of small market teams and their ability to retain talent.
Chicago v. Francis Vincent, Jr. (1992)
Facts: NL was expanding with the addition of Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins. Assumed Rockies would go to West, Marlins to
ive Coordinator (indefinite) suspended and many players suspended including Jonathon Vilma. Team argued that this was only a Salary Cap issue (paying in beyond of the contract). Under the CBA, Commissioner Goodell could hand out punishment for “conduct detrimental to the league.” After many appeals by the Player’s Association, Goodell finally appointed an appeals officer (former commissioner Paul Tagliabue) to hear the case. Tagliabue affirmed the factual findings of bounties but he did not uphold the suspensions because he believed this was a team problem and decided to let the players off. Vilma also filed suit against Goodell for defamation – for stating the act he was suspended for. The judge did not allow the suit because of the CBA. There is no coaches union so the head coach sat out the whole year as well as the GM who sat out half the year and did not touch any of the other punishments to the team.
Latrell Sprewell – Coach criticized him at practice and this upset Latrell Sprewell who then attacked his Coach. Sprewell was suspended without pay and then later received a letter that the Warriors had the right to terminate his guaranteed contract b/c it was subject to a clause for anything detrimental to the team/league – voided contract. The league also suspended him for one year. Sprewell took case to arbitration to reduce suspension and filed a grievance against the Warriors for the termination of the contract. The arbitrator spared him $17.3 million in lost salary and cut 5 months off his suspension. Arbitrator did not believe there could be double punishment from the league and the team. CBA set up a system that an arbitrator decision is binding almost like a Supreme Court holding.