Sports law in the United States overlaps substantially with labor law, contract law, competition or antitrust law, and tort law. Issues like defamation and privacy rights are also integral aspects of sports law. This area of law was established as a separate and important entity only a few decades ago, coinciding with the rise of player-agents and increased media scrutiny of sports law topics.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) “operates along a series of bylaws that govern the areas of ethical conduct, amateur eligibility, financial aid, recruiting, gender equity, championship events, and academic standards. The NCAA has enforcement power and can introduce a series of punishments up to the death penalty, the company term for the full shut-down of a sporting activity at an offending college. Coaches are offered contracts and if any contractual agreement is violated NCAA has the right to hold any person(s) under the contract liable.
Title IX is an increasingly important issue in college sports law. The act, passed in 1972, makes it illegal for a federally funded institution to discriminate on the basis of sex or gender. In sports law, the piece of legislation often refers to the effort to achieve equality for women’s sports in colleges. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is charged with enforcing this legislation. This agency implemented a three-prong test for schools to adhere to:
- Are the opportunities for female and male athletes proportionate to their enrollment?
- Does the school have a history of expanding athletic opportunities for women?
- Has the school demonstrated success in meeting the needs of its students?
In 1995 the Gender in Equity Disclosure Act was passed to require schools to make an annual, public report on male-female athletic participation rates, recruiting by gender, and financial support. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown University v. Cohen, is an important aspect of litigation for women sports.
A critical piece of federal legislation, the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 guarantees certain due process rights including hearings and appeals for U.S. athletes under the governance of the USOC and its NGBs.”
Sports Law can be distinguished between
- International sports.
It is difficult to explain the difference between amateur and professional sports as it to some extent vague. “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.”
The notion behind amateur sports is that it will consist of a variety “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. In the case of 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.”
To what extent are participants protected from liability for their on-field actions under civil and criminal law? “While civil and criminal laws vary in each state, sports participants are normally protected from liability for their on-field actions. In the civil context, courts have generally held that sports participants assume the ordinary, foreseeable risks of the activity. Thus, injuries that occur as a result of on-field actions that are incidental to participation in the sport do not generally give rise to civil liability (see McKichan v St Louis Hockey Club LP, 967 SW2d 209 (Mo Ct App 1998) holding that a ‘severe body check is a part of professional hockey and is not outside the realm of reasonable anticipation’). Participants may be subject to civil liability; however, when their actions are outside the ordinary scope of the sport, unforeseeable or particularly reckless in nature. For instance, one court described conduct that would give rise to liability in the sports realm as conduct undertaken with a ‘deliberate, willful or [ ] a reckless disregard for the safety of the other player so as to cause injury to that player’ (Nabozny v Barnhill, 334 NE2d 258 (Ill App Ct 1975)).”
The three major professional sports in the United States (the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Basketball Association (NBA)) are each organised into a league that coordinates activity between separate franchises, with each franchise under separate ownership. These leagues have rules limiting the number of partners who can own a franchise, and requiring one individual or family to have sufficient ownership to be the decision-maker. While the franchises themselves are typically organised as partnerships, some are themselves owned by corporations, which may be publicly traded. Some leagues, such as the NBA and MLB, are beginning to allow limited private equity investments into the ownership of franchises. Major League Soccer (MLS) notably instead consists of a single entity that owns and operates each of the separate teams.
Many amateur sports leagues are organised as tax-exempt non-profits, leagues, including the National Hockey League (NHL) and the Professional Golfers’ Association, are also organised as non-profits under Section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code, which covers trade associations. The NFL and MLB each fairly recently renounced this status. College athletic organisations (conferences) are also organised as non-profits, even though many conferences have signed licensing deals worth billions of dollars.
DISPUTE RESOLUTION SYSTEM: “Dispute resolution in professional sports is governed by various contracts: the constitutions of the leagues, the collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) between the player unions and the owners, and the standard player contracts (SPCs) signed by players.13
The major sports leagues have different dispute resolution rules that are each the result of the collective bargaining negotiation process. For example, the NFL’s personal conduct policy forbids both criminal conduct and behaviour that undermines or risks the NFL’s integrity or reputation, stating players are held to a ‘higher standard’.14 Discipline is automatic upon ‘disposition of a criminal proceeding’, but if there is no criminal disposition, the commissioner must conduct an investigation, notify the player and allow a response.15 The policy specifies that violations involving violence call for an automatic suspension from play, and that two such violations will result in permanent banishment from the league.16 Otherwise, the nature of the discipline is determined by a neutral disciplinary officer agreed upon by both parties, although either the player or the NFL can appeal that decision.17 The NBA CBA provides highly detailed rules for handling suspensions of fewer, or more, than 12 games.18 Players may appeal suspensions of fewer than 12 games and fines of less than US$50,000 only if they would cause a detrimental financial impact, but they may appeal longer suspensions and larger fines by right.19
The constitutions and CBAs of each league provide detailed guidance for when arbitration is available.20 Occasionally, these arbitrations have overturned commissioners’ decisions, including, in the MLB, reinstatement of players the commissioner had banned for life.21
Judicial review of disciplinary matters is rare, though it is not impossible. The parties to arbitration may appeal the decision to federal court under the Labour Management Relations Act (LMRA)22 and Federal Arbitration Act.23 This review is extremely deferential, as the courts have no authority to overturn an arbitration on the merits, unless the arbitrator’s decision was baseless or dishonest in light of the language of the disputed contract.24 NFL quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots lost under this standard when he appealed his suspension for deflating footballs, a scandal known as ‘Deflategate’, to federal court under the LMRA. Brady argued there were numerous problems with the arbitration, including lack of notice under the CBA, but the Second Circuit upheld the suspension because ‘this case is not an exceptional one that warrants vacatur’ given the deferential standard.”
The area surrounding sports law is still new. However, there is a substantive legitimacy in the field and a need of the hour. For example, comparable debate has been storming but also giving rise to other new fields of law. This would include environmental law or computer law etc. and even company law for example – it recognizes a company as a body of legal entity. Crimes like doping and gambling or match fixing are common especially seen in sports like cricket or basketball. Making it the need of the hour to create a separate field of law. Certainly, the development of acknowledging a recent legal classification has been considered as gradual process for the reason that it implies the incidence of a structural transformation in the society.
 National Collegiate Athletic Association - Wikipedia  Sports law | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (cornell.edu)  Ibid.  Sports Law in the USA - Lexology  Usman Shaikh, 'Is Major League Soccer's Corporate Structure the Future of Sports Leagues?', US Law Group (last visited 27 July 2021), https://uslawgroupinc.com/is-major-league-soccers-corporate-structure-the-future-of-sports-leagues/.  Anthony Effinger, 'Thinking of Buying a Pro Sports Team? 10 Things Successful Owners Think You Should Know', Robb Report, 1 May 2021, https://robbreport.com/lifestyle/sports-leisure/buying-sports-team-owners-1234608432/.  Weston Blasi, 'Here are the public sports teams you can invest in', MarketWatch, 12 February 2021, www.marketwatch.com/story/the-boston-red-sox-will-no-longer-be-taken-public-here-are-the-sports-franchises-you-can-invest-in-11613070621.  Jabari Young, 'The NBA's private equity plan is in motion and it's betting on the allure of sports ownership', CNBC, 25 January 2021, www.cnbc.com/2021/01/25/the-nbas-private-equity-plan-is-in-motion-and-its-betting-on-the-allure-spownership.html  See Footnote 2.  Alec Fornwalt, 'Should Congress Reconsider the Tax Exemption of Pro Sports Organisations?', Tax Foundation, 20 July 2018, https://taxfoundation.org/congress-reconsider-tax-exemption-pro-sports-organisations/.  Ibid.  Nick Greene, 'The Big Ten's Big Business', Slate, 10 May 2018, https://slate.com/business/2018/05/the-big-ten-ncaa-pac-12-and-other-conferences-are-insanely-lucrative.html.  The Sports Law Review - The Law Reviews