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Sports Law
Wayne State University Law School
Schneider, Deborah M.

12/4/12 1:14 PM


What is “sports law”

· Sports law is an amalgamation of other areas of the law applied to sports. Each discipline is applied to facts arising from a sports context and supplemented by case law nuances and statutes specifically related to sports. There is almost no area of the law that does not come into play in the field of “sports law”

o Tension between external legal regulation of a sport and internal governance of a sport.

Professional League Structure

· Commissioner

· Constitution

· Teams forming a league

· Unionization of players

· Competition for a championship

Individual Sport Structure

· Compete as individuals

· Player Associations

· Sports Agents

· Equipment plays a large role

· Individual tournaments, no necessarily competition for a championship

· International

Legal Scope of Commissioner’s Authority

· What is the source of the authority?

· When can authority be used?

· What procedures should be used in exercising the authority?

· What are the remedies that can be used?

· What is the role of the court (or arbitrator) to review the authority? Court system is reviewing a private league decision. What should the standard of review be?

Pete Rose Case

· Bet on baseball games that he managed for the Reds, banned for life. Commissioner banned him from baseball, Pete Rose then claimed the Commissioner could not do that. Rose claimed that it was for the team to decide these issues, not the Commissioner.

· “Best interest of the game”- every commissioner is charged with protecting this

· Court did hold that the Commissioner and Pete Rose were the correct parties for the case and removed it from state court to federal court.

· Sport leagues create their own rules

· He was banned but could reapply after a year for reinstatement, but then that commissioner died and Fay Vincent took over, who denied to reinstate him.

· Arbitrator comes in when it is a grievance between union and franchise or whatever, but in most other issues it is a court issue (contracts for example)

Yankees v. Johnson (1919)

· Sale of Carl Mays after he walks of the field in the middle of the game; commissioner suspended Mays for “deserting his club and breaking contract”. Red Sox traded him to Yankees. Yankees get pissed because commissioner just took away their pitcher, and investigate his authority.

· Team rights v. Commissioner rights. Where does the commissioner’s power stop? Commissioner does not really have much power to step in on K’s and suspensions of this nature. Team issue.

· He was allowed, as president, to suspend players for violating general welfare. Yankees say that each club has power to regulate their own affairs, including player conduct, but not in conflict with national agreement of league constitution.

· Permanent injunction against May’s suspension. Individual team won.

Milwaukee Am. Association v. Landis (1931)

· Landis was given wide authority to hear and decide disputes between leagues and clubs, including player disputes and “conduct detrimental to baseball”

· Intent of the parties was to make Landis a benevolent despot. Landis was the first commissioner, but he wanted total and complete power.

· Nothing in code was to define or limit acts of commissioner. Did not want any infringement on his powers?

· Is this an attempt to eliminate judicial review or does the standard of fair dealing apply?

o He wanted to prove he had discretion as to how baseball should be run, and the courts agreed

· Player kept being traded amongst several minor league teams owned by the same guy, so that the player could not become a free agent.

· Case comes down to what powers did the commissioner have? Nothing in the code defined or limited his powers, so he declared the player a free agent, forfeiting the teams rights. Commissioner won the court case.

· Landis was trying to eliminate judicial review.

Commissioner Authority

· Why is their role so important?

o Allows things to stay out of court

o Supreme power

· Should what extent should public law (judges) overturn or even review decisions by private leagues speaking through their commissioners?

Why no replacement players?

· Not the same level of play


r punishment unreviewable

· General rule is just cause standard

· Where conduct concerns the preservation of the integrity of or maintenance of public confidence in, in the game of basketball, review is based on arbitrary and capricious standard


· Joint-School and NCAA

o Is the NCAA a state actor??

· Investigations

· Hearings

· Suspensions, Sanctions, “death penalty”

Molinas v. NBA (1961) Gambling Case

· Drafted in 1953, admitted to betting on games he played in for the Pistons. Always bet on the Pistons to win, depending on point spread. His decision to bet or not. Banned indefinetly. He went to law school and filed an anti-trust lawsuit.

· Antitrust challenge to commissioner decision

· The court decided that the rule was not unreasonable, because even if he bet on his team to win it still informed the bookies because he had an insider opinion. It was reasonable for the commissioner to decide that his conduct was detrimental to the game, especially because the leagues image was already hurting because of gambling

· Anti-trust case: Why?

o Group boycott because he could not go ply his trade anyway

o Anti-trust allows for triple damages, so there is a lot to gain

Drug Issues

· 4th Amendment Issues

· State Privacy laws

· Collective bargaining agreements

· Privacy issues re:testing

· Substantive issues re: performance enhancing

Major League Baseball Players Association Arbitration Case (Steven Howe)

Howe was disciplined various times for coke use throughout the 80’s. In 1992 while playing for the Yankees, Howe was suspended and subsequently banned from the sport by the new commissioner. The MLBPA had an arbitrator because it was a labor