Select Page

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

Sports Law Outline


I.                   Best Interests of the Sport: The Role of the Commissioner and Other Governing Authorities

–          Long-standing assumption that it is up to the Commissioner to protect the best interests of the sport from detrimental behavior of league members
o       Authority to regulate players
§         Assess fines for conduct, change contracts, eligibility
o       Establish Schedules
o       League Championships
o       Supervise Officials
o       Negotiate Television and Merchandising Contracts

A.                Pete Rose v. Bart Giamatti – pg. 3

–          To what extent should public law, speaking through judges, venture to overturn decisions made by private leagues, speaking through their commissioners?
–          The Cincinnati team was not a true party to the suit for jurisdictional purposes, because the individual member clubs had no control over the commissioner in his exercise of disciplinary authority.
–          The parties agreed in their contract with the MLB that they agree to submit themselves to the discipline of the Commissioner, and to accept his decisions rendered
–          Class Notes:
o       Where does the source of this authority come from to have this type of action?
o       The league constitution (MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL)
o       Do we have a due process requirement? We don’t need due process in sports. You have to follow the procedure of the league constitution.
o       What is the role of courts in reviewing a league’s decision?

B.                 The Legal Scope of the Commissioner’s Authority

–          The Commissioner has to answer in court as to whether his conduct comported with whatever is required by a court respecting due process
–          Commissioner has the job of protecting the best interests of the game and acting as the CEO of an organization.
o       The commissioner is chosen by the owners of the various teams.

Mays case: see victory of individual team rights. Commish only had control over actions on the field

Landis Era
–          Landis took MLB on the condition that he was to be given complete authority and the Major League Agreement was rewritten to reflect these new broad sweeping powers.
o       Landis regulated conducted detrimental to the game.

Milwaukee AM. Ass’n v. Landis (1931) – pg. 10

–          Under the Major League Agreement, the office of commissioner was created, and his functions defined
–          A submission to an arbitrator or an umpire in good faith is proper, and decision under the same is binding,
o       Unless it is unsupported by evidence, or unless the decision is upon some basis without legal foundation or beyond legal recognition
–          The Commissioner has the power to declare a player a free agent and absolve the player of his contract with the club
–          The Commissioner is given almost unlimited discretion in the determination of whether or not a certain state of facts creates a situation detrimental to the national game of baseball
o       Since commissioner was given authority by the player and owners his exercise of those powers can only be reviewed for arbitrariness or fraud.

JUDICIAL INTERVENTION OF PRIVATE ASSOCIATION BYLAWS
Court will not intervene unless:
i) Rules and regulations violate law; or
ii) Parties to decisions are not afforded a degree of due process (thus, courts will still review a decision to ensue some due process has been afforded, however, they will not intervene absent the above)

Even if there is a clause that there is no review by the courts there will always be judicial review to determine if the no judicial review clause is ok

Charles O. Finley v. Bowie Kuhn (1978) – pg. 13

Facts: A’s owner, Finley sold K rights to Yankees and Red Sox. The commissioner disapproved the assignments.
Issue: Can the commissioner void a K that is not the best interests of the game?
Hold: Commissioner has the right to void assignments if it is in the best interests of the game
–          The Commissioner of baseball is vested by contract with the authority to disapprove player assignments which he finds to be not in the best interests of baseball
–          In the absence of a waiver of recourse provision in an association charter, it is generally held that courts will not intervene in questions involving the enforcement of bylaws and matters of discipline in voluntary associations
–          Factors that Determine the Authority of the Commissioner
o       History of insulation from review
o       The Language of the ML Agreement
o       Changes in the language over time
o       Interpretation of the Contract in the past
–          Finley’s theory was based on a breach of contract theory.

National League and Ted Turner v Kuhn- Commissioners authority to discipline owners
Facts: Kuhn suspended Turner and took away draft picks. Reason being Turner tampered with the free agency process by telling another owner that he would go very high for one of his players about to be on the market.
Hold: Commish has authority to act with in possible sanctions, can’t take draft pick
Commissioner can’t act beyond powers prescribed to him
–          MLB agreement now covers moral and financial issues for the best interest of the game

Chicago Cubs v. Vincent
Commish can not unilaterally amend constitutional provision because it is not in the BIOFTG.
–          restructuring of the act is not a reaction to an “act”
–          Cubs win!!
o       Legal Theories we could bring to challenge commissioner’s authority
§         Breach of Contract
§         Tortious interference
§         Labor
§         Antitrust
§         Due process or equal protection
§         American Disability Association cases
§         Worker’s comp

C.                Challenges To the Best Interest of the Sport

–          How should the commissioner address issues raised in contemporary life about the best interests of the sport?
–          Actions that take place off the field of play, but may threaten the welfare of the game.
–          The role of the media and how you deal with the media is very important.
o       Should there be a distinction between on and off the field incidents?

1.         Gambling

Molinas v. National Basketball Ass’n (1961) – pg. 32

–          Molinas, a pro basketball player for the Pistons who has admitted placing several bets on the Pistons to win games, was indefinitely suspended from the NBA and sued the NBA for reinstatement, charging the NBA for a conspiracy to boycott his services in violation of antitrust laws
–          The league was justified in determining that it was absolutely necessary to avoid any connection with gambling, gamblers, and those who had done business with gamblers, in the future.
o       Class Notes:
§         Court looked at this case under the rule of reason analysis
§         Nowadays we would balance the competitive affects of this action. But we’ll get to this later.
–          Professional Sports v. NCAA
o       Rules and Guidelines should be the same
o       Fines and penalties should be different

–          NCAA Anti-Gambling Rule
o       Bars any student athlete from providing gamblers with any game-related information soliciting a bet on any college team, placing a bet on any of his school’s teams, or placing any kind of bet through a bookie
–          1961 Wire Communications Act
o       Illegal for a fan in Boston or New Orleans to use a phone to place a best w/ lawful services located in Vegas
–          Internet Gambling Prohibition Act
o       Not only would internet service providers be required to block access to such gambling operations, whether inside or outside the country, but it would be a crime for an individual to place a bet on a comput

y.
–          Drug Testing Program
o       Athletes must
§         Disclose medications and information about their physical and medical conditions
§         Urinate in the presence of a monitor
§         Provide a urine sample that reveals chemical and other substances in their bodies
–          Advance notice and the opportunity to consent to testing diminishes the student-athlete’s reasonable expectation of privacy
–          Competing Interests: Privacy v. Program
o       Safeguarding the integrity of intercollegiate athletic competition
o       Protecting the health and safety of student-athletes

a) Athletics carries w/ it a diminished right to privacy;
b) The NCAA has a valid goal of integrity of competition and health and safety of the athletes
c) Participation in sports is not an essential right and consent to testing was voluntarily given (Doesn’t seem voluntary when there is little opportunity to play elsewhere)
d) Compared w/ U. of Colorado v. Derdeyn where student athletes have no diminished right to privacy, the university’s athletic interests are not vital, and signing the consent form is not truly voluntary
–          This was different than the Stanford case b/c U of C is a public university and therefore the US Constitution applies and thus under 4th Amendment this was an unreasonable S & S.
–          Stanford is a private univ. therefore they receive no public funds and the constitution won’t come into play.
e) See also Acton v. Veronia School Dist. – Where testing of middle school athletes was permissible as the school was testing childrenwho were in the temporary custody of the state (en loco parentis)

4.         Sports and Social Ethics

–          Testing for the HIV virus
–          Protects the interest of the sport, player infected, teammates, opponents, coaching staff
–          Leagues take seriously its role as an American institution and the important social responsibility that goes with it.
–          A. HIV PROCEDURES
o       Blood tests – Is mandatory blood testing too invasive?
§         i) Athletics carry w/ it a diminished right to privacy, the commissioner would have a valid goal of health and safety of the athletes, and participation in sports is not an essential right and consent to testing would have to be voluntarily given
§         i) Counter, while diminished right to privacy there is still some right to privacy and an invasion of your person may go too far

a.                  Treatment of Minorities by Sports

–          Baseball’s total exclusion of black players from the major leagues for more than half a century
–          Although blacks occupy a large percentage of player positions, they only occupy a small number of key positions in the field and in upper management positions

b.                  Treatment of Women by Sports

–          The segregation of men and women in sporting leagues
–          Title IX debate on the amount of funds spent in collegiate sports for men and women
–          Women reporters access to men locker rooms for sports interviews

Ludtke and Time, Inc. v. Kuhn (1978) – pg. 80