One recurring question in the wake of Jordan McNair’s death has been to ask why the NCAA hasn’t taken the lead in regulating player safety issues. You only get one guess.
The NCAA could end up becoming more liable to lawsuits if proposed measures aimed at protecting student-athletes pass, just one of the barriers to the organization taking a more active role in player health and safety issues.
As the NCAA introduces regulatory policies like guidelines to prevent non-traumatic deaths and improved accreditation standards for strength and conditioning coaches, it might expand its legal duty to provide care, thus making it more vulnerable to civil negligence claims, according to attorney Bob Wallace, who represents athletes and sports teams for national law firm Thompson Coburn. Two Oregon football players hospitalized in a January 2017 workout have filed such cases against the NCAA and the University of Oregon.
“When organizations or companies or industries are regulating conduct,” Wallace said, “there’s always a balancing act of how far can you go, should you go before you shift a bunch of the responsibility onto your organization.”
NCAA spokesman Christopher Radford, however, told Sporting News in a statement that “NCAA health and safety efforts are not calculated by whether there is increased legal liability but on what is in the best interests of our student-athletes.”
Fear of liability is one of several explanations offered by legal analysts, medical experts and college sports officials as to why the NCAA has not substantially addressed the issue of student-athlete fatalities.
Hey, money trumping doing it for the kids, whodathunkit? And we have Mark Emmert to thank for it, according to Jay Bilas.
If the NCAA was worried about how regulation might impact its legal liability before 2013, the events of that year seemingly added to its level of concern, according to ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas and several legal experts.
Penn State took the NCAA to court after the latter imposed heavy sanctions on the Nittany Lions following former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s years of sexual abuse of children (sometimes on Penn State property). At first, the NCAA imposed a $60 million fine, four-year postseason bowl ban, scholarship reduction and vacation of all Penn State wins after 1998. It was forced to rescind many of those penalties, however, as part of a settlement with the school.
“They basically overreacted and they imposed an enormous amount of sanctions that then they had to pull back from,” said a source who has worked with the NCAA as a legal consultant. “Now they’re just hesitant to do anything.”
But he meant well at the time. Of course, there is the one exception that proves the rule.
Scandals that have involved competitive advantages or threats to amateurism, such as an FBI probe into college basketball programs paying athletes through shoe companies, have been met with more forceful responses.
“These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America,” NCAA president Mark Emmert wrote of the FBI probe. “Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports. They are an affront to all those who play by the rules.”
Yeah, I feel affronted, alright. Thanks, Mark, for keeping your eye on the prize.