sports law

sports law: an overview

Sports Law encompasses a multitude areas of law brought together in unique ways. Issues such as antitrust, contracts, and torts are quite common. For further information in these areas see:

Sports Law can be roughly divided into the areas of amateur, professional, and international sports. The distinction between a professional and amateur athlete is somewhat tenuous. So-called "amateur" student/athletes at universities often receive scholarships and other forms of compensation. Also, keep in mind that even though an athlete may be defined as an amateur by one organization, he or she may not be an amateur according to another. Of course, this leads to even more confusion. A simplistic, yet useful definition is that amateur athletes participate in sports as an avocation while professional athletes are involved in sports as a vocation.

Amateur Sports

The concept of amateur sports includes a range of activities from an individual casual weekend athlete to high school athletics to extensively organized intercollegiate or international competitions. Athletic activities are often organized and managed by individual groups that establish rules for eligibility and competition, and courts are often unwilling to interfere with the actions of these groups as long as their rules are reasonably applied. Perhaps the most important of these organizations is the National Collegiate Athletic Association ("NCAA"). The NCAA is the governing body for intercollegiate sports and has over 1000 member colleges and universities. Although roughly 50% of the NCAA's members are sponsored by state governments, the Supreme Court has suggested that the eligibility rules of the NCAA are not state action for constitutional law purposes.

See NCAA v. Tarkanian 109 U.S. 454 (1988). State action status may also be a factor in mandatory drug testing rules. On the other hand, most actions of state High School athletic associations have been seen as state action.

Colleges and universities which receive federal aid are also subject to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 ("Title IX") and must not discriminate on the basis of sex in their athletic programs. Compliance with Title IX could have a significant impact on college sports as administrators attempt to balance out the men's and women's sports programs.

Professional Sports

Perhaps the most important relationship in the area of professional sports is that between the individual player and the team owner. This contractual relationship is governed by basic contract principles. Most sports leagues now have a Standard Player's Contract which serves as a model employment contract between players and owners. The model contract can be modified to accommodate the special needs and talents of individual players. With the increase in salaries in professional sports, most players are now represented by agents. Typically, this relationship is governed by a Standard Representation Contract which defines the duties and compensation of the agent. In an attempt to regulate agent activities, many state legislatures now require agents to register with some type of administrative agency.

Antitrust issues have been particularly important to professional sports leagues. While baseball has been able to maintain its exemption from antitrust legislation (See Federal Base Ball Club of Baltimore v. National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, 259 U.S. 200 (1922), which held that baseball isn't interstate commerce) other professional sports have often run into problems in this area.  For example, the Supreme Court unanimously held in American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League that the NFL is capable of engaging in conduct defined by Section 1 of the Sherman Act and does not have to be viewed as a single enterprise.

International Sports

The two major international sports competitions are the Olympics, sponsored by the International Olympic Committee, and the World Cup, sponsored by FIFA. The United States chartered the United States Olympic Committee ("USOC") in 1950. The USOC has charge over Olympic and other related competitions (Pan Am games, etc.) to which the United States sends a team.

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