Sports Law Exciting, Complex, Growing

For that matter, they also wouldn’t realize that legal actions to keep professional teams alive and competitive.
These are legal issues that University of Tulsa Law Professor Ray Yasser has seen and been involved in for at least two decades.
Sports law is a growing segment of the legal profession as parents demand — and get — equal playing facilities for girls athletics, labor disputes by professional teams are resolved more quickly and more people entering law schools are taking an interest in an industry which actually is big business.
Yasser, who came to Tulsa as an assistant dean to Frank T (Tom) Read moved out of administration in 1982.
Read, who served as dean from 1975 to 1980, told his young protege′ that to stay active as a scholar he should pick an area and specialize.
The little known field of sports law attracted Yasser who, in 1982, used a group of TU law students as guinea pigs to test material for his first book.
Their payment was being listed in the credits as people who helped conduct research.
Yasser has completed six books on the subject to date, and with co-authors, will release a seventh in January.
Sports is a billion dollar industry touching all levels of sports, from little league to high school, intercollegiate and professional athletics.
Yasser has been involved in about 50 cases involving Title IX federal law affecting high school sports facilities during the past 15 years.
The classic case is a public high school with a baseball field of such a quality that even a minor baseball league would be jealous, he said. These fields for boys teams have dugouts, team locker rooms and seating for fans.
By contrast, the girls team from the same school is playing at a public park where facilities are marginal at best.
This is when parents get involved and ask ‘‘what is going on?’’ of the school board and administrators.
His efforts have touched Tulsa and Owasso where he sued the school systems seeking adequate facilities for girls sports.
The result was new softball complexes were built for the girls teams under a federal law requiring equal facilities for all.
The Title IX suits are easy to win, he said, because it is so easy to show facility inequality. Similar cases were filed in nine other states — Washington, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi and New Jersey. In every case, school patrons stepped up with bond issues to correct the problem. At no time were boys programs ever diminished.
It ended up being a win-win situation for everyone.
Eligibility challenges at the high school level continue to be issues, Yasser said, recalling the recent Oklahoma case where a high school student was declared ineligible to play in the state championship game.
Professional sports could border on anti trust laws because of the way eligibilities are determined for championship games.
‘‘To my mind, basketball fits the most perfect elimination method in determining who would be a national champion,’’ he said.
Labor law is administered under the National Labor Relations Board and it a fertile ground for negotiating contracts and tort issues, Yasser said. Sports also is a paradox because the industry depends upon the survival of other teams.
It is doubtful that McDonald’s would pay much attention if Burger King or Wendy’s would get into financial trouble, he continued. That contrasts sharply in the sports industry where every team depends upon the success of the other. It is an industry that rewards the worst.
Look at the football and other sports drafts, Yasser continued. The most inept teams get the first picks. This is done to ensure as level a playing field as possible.
Player salaries also are closely watched and the New York Yankees might have a $200 million salary scale while Kansas City’s salary total is between $20 million to $30 million annually.
As a result, some of the top teams are assessed a subsidy to help boost salaries on the lower paid teams.
There are other considerations involving contracts.
Referring to the recent Union High School-Hoover, Alabama football game, Yasser said it took a great deal of contract arrangements by someone to get the Alabama team to Tulsa. Then television contracts had to be worked out.
All of this effort is because sports at all levels provides its own drama and games often aren’t over until after the last play.
That is why some professional players get so much money, he said. It wasn’t always that way.
In 1975 the National Professional Football Players Union went to team management seeking a percentage of the gross revenues as part of payer compensation.
The request was denied, Yasser said, ‘‘Yet, within the blink of an eye — 30 years — every major sports program has had to agree to some form of the plan.
The economic reality may be that professional players will not continue to be getting those large amounts of money in the future. There comes a time when there is a cap on what can be paid and remain viable.
That also is why some labor peace is seen in the professional sports industry.
When here is a strike or lockout, the fan base is damaged, Yasser continued. It takes time to rebuild that support because people turn to other entertainment.
Sports law is a growing section in the legal profession, unlike when Yasser started his work.
Back then, there were about 30 legal academic people involved across the country, he said.
Yasser is quick to admit he is not a pioneer in sports law.
He attributes that honor to Bob Barry, a law professor at Boston University as the true pioneer.
While Yasser follows a variety of sports with interest, he admits he is weak both in hockey and NASCAR.
A couple years ago a student had an interest in racing and asked about writing a paper on the subject, the professor said. ‘‘From that paper, I learned that NASCAR has a rule requiring that all wheels be tethered to the chassis of the car to help prevent spectator injury.’’
It was wheels flying off speeding race cars and into spectator galleries that was causing a high number of injuries.
That information was another part of Yasser’s learning about sports law.
Medical malpractice also is a factor, he said.
Bill Walton who played basketball for the UCLA Bruins claims his career ended because his injury was not properly repaired by a doctor.
Another top legal issue in high school and college sports involves schools hiring coaches away before contracts have ended. These are legal issues and many schools are taking steps to make it tough for coaches to leave.
Drug issues also are a major part of the sports world, he said. This issue must be addressed if the industry is going to retain its credibility. Cycling is in trouble because that sport can’t have its world champion involved in drug issues.
People want to respect the person who has worked hard to be the best in a lawful manner.
Yasser hasn’t tackled the international sports arena.
That is for a future generation, he said. Every nation has its own set of laws that must be reconciled to provide an even playing field.

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