Sports Law Blog
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Thursday, December 31, 2015
Joseph Conti: Aroldis Chapman and Rethinking MLB free agency rules

This post is written by Attorney Joseph Conti



On Monday January 28, 2015 the New York Yankees traded away four prospects to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Aroldis Chapman, but the Yankees acquiring one of baseball’s top closers is only one part of this transaction. Chapman is currently being investigated for an alleged domestic violence incident stemming from an October 30, 2015 confrontation. Due to this investigation, Major League Baseball is contemplating a suspension for Chapman in accordance with collectivley bargained rules.

Baseball's CBA allows teams to control a player’s contract for 6 years prior to the player hitting the free agent market. Chapman is entering his 6th year of service. However, if MLB suspends Chapman for more than 45 days for this upcoming season, the 2016 season will not count against that 6 year time table. Therefore, it is in the Yankees best interest for Chapman to get suspended for more than 45 days in the 2016 so they can pay Chapman a cheaper salary for the 2017. A contract for a superstar in arbitration, before free agency, is much lower than the contract Chapman would receive as a free agent.


Whether the rules delaying of the free agency period because of a domestic violence suspennsion should be altered.

Givens and Variables

A given is that the Yankees did what is best for their organization. Chapman’s contract appears more valuable than the cost of the prospects traded away and the potential negative public relations associated with acquiring a player who is accused of wrongdoing. Also, the Yankees taking full advantage of a rule already in place is not a negative.

Other "givens" include that certain variables may positively or negatively affect any athlete. The list includes performance, injury, and baseball has a new CBA at the end of the 2016 season.

Why this rule is good

The rule imposes a substantial penalty on players who have engaged in wrongdoing, at least "wrongdoing" as determined by MLB. That consequence may, to some degree, deter other players from engaging in that type of wrongdoing. Losing one year of a higher free agent salary during the prime of your career should be a determent. To further illustrate this point: when using the NFL as a comparison, a 45 day+ suspension in baseball is more punishing than 4 game suspension in the NFL.

Why this rule is bad

The rule counterintuitively makes athletes with domestic violence suspensions more valuable as an asset to a team since teams gain an additional year of control over these players. At least in theory, this dynamic could create corruption by players, agents, and teams to avoid free agency for a season in hopes of an additional season to improve their value upon hitting the free agent market. Teams now have players under their control for an additional year for something that is inherently negative.


Being a stat head I believe the best solution would be to create a stat based approach predicting outcomes and values in the future. This way the athletes associated with crime and the temas that employ them do not benefit when all of the above variables are in executed. The statistic solution can show whether or not free agency now or a year from now will result in a net positive for the athlete.

For example, if Chapman breaks his arm the last game of the season next year. He is likely worse off as a free agent in 2016 because someone has to take a risk on him and he should be a free agent avoiding the benefit of a 2017 season before he signs a long term free agent contract. However, if he closes 42 games successfully without a loss he forced into another year of arbitration before his free agent contract.

Attorney Joseph Conti is an associate focusing on high tech patent prosecution at Onello & Mello LLP in Burlington, MA. He is a 2015 graduate from The University of New Hampshire School of Law. During his free time you will see Joe cheering on the Big 4 Philadelphia Sports Teams, and Saint Joseph's University Basketball.

Friday, December 18, 2015
United States v. Klein and NFL Officiating

I no longer watch football, particularly the NFL; the league is just too corrupt and the sport just too gladiatorial for my taste. But I cannot avoid news stories related to the league. I was interested in the league's announcement this week that, in the wake of increasing criticism of the game officiating this season (that may or may not be justified), game officials would be in contact the league vice president of officiating during games about replay and other "administrative" matters. This has sparked concerns among many, including the former VP of officiating, about the lack of accountability and increase in uncertainty from having a league official whispering into the ref's earpiece. One former official worried that we could not know whether a changed call was because the game officials got together or because "someone in New York doesn't like the call." As another former official said, "what it looks like is that the league office is making decisions on who possibly wins or loses the game."

The last concern sounds in the sports-officiating equivalent of United States v. Klein (which returns to SCOTUS later this term with a case challenging a law that may actually be unconstitutional): Just as Congress cannot dictate specific decisions or outcomes in specific cases, the NFL should not be telling officials what calls to make or how to apply the rulebook on specific plays in a specific game.

Monday, December 14, 2015
Pete Rose remains banned from Major League Baseball

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced today that it would not reinstate Pete Rose, concluding that Rose had not presented credible evidence that, if reinstated, he would not again violate the prohibition on gambling on baseball games and on his own team. Manfred emphasized both that Rose continues to bet on baseball and that he has not fully owned up to the full scope of the gambling activities that lead to the ban in the first place (for example, he continues to deny betting on Reds games as a player in 1985-86, despite records indicating that he did, and he continues to insist that he did not selectively bet on the Reds, which is contradicted by documentary evidence). There also is an interesting discussion of how the commissioner should reconcile the mandatory lifetime ban imposed for gambling under Rule 21 with the broad discretion vested in the commissioner under Rule 15 to reinstate a suspended player; Manfred's solution was to say that reinstatement was warranted under Rule 15 only with "objective evidence" that there was no risk of a repeat violation of Rule 21.

Manfred also took a short detour to emphasize that he was not making any determination about Rose's eligibility for the Hall of Fame and that any debate over his eligibility or qualifications "must take place in a different forum" and turn on different questions and policy considerations. This is only partially right, of course. Rose is not in the Hall almost almost entirely because of Rule 3E of the Baseball Writers Association of America Election Rules, which provides that "Any player on Baseball's ineligible list shall not be an eligible candidate;" that rule was passed in 1991 (two years after Rose accepted his lifetime ban) specifically to eliminate any chance that Rose (and, to a lesser extent, Joe Jackson) would slip into the Hall. So while Manfred was not deciding whether Rose is eligible, his decision here basically dictates the outcome of the Hall vote.*
* Hall criteria include integrity and sportsmanship. So there is a chance that sportswriters might decline to vote Rose in because of his gambling misconduct, even if he were not on the ineligible list, just as they have kept out suspected PED users (Clemens, Bonds, etc.) who remain on the eligible list and thus eligible for the Hall.


Apparently, crowdfunding can rely on the adage, "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach." A Baltimore crab house has offered Orioles star Chris Davis free crab cakes for his life and for the next two generations of his family for re-signing with the Orioles. It reminds me that we might have underemphasized the purely symbolic value and benefit to fanfunding. It need not be about raising significant amounts of money or outbidding competing fans, but about expressing support for the player in any way, including unique ways that reflect a connection to the particular city.

Friday, December 11, 2015
Crowdfunding college sports

The New York Times tells of a Clemson fan who has launched UBooster, a site designed to allow college sports fans to pledge money to help attract high school athletes to the donors' preferred schools--in other words, exactly what Dan Markel, Mike, and I proposed. (H/T: Gregg Polsky). According to the story, fans pledge money to a particular recruit, with a note urging him (or her) to choose a particular school; no more money can be contributed once the athlete commits to a school and the money is held in trust until after the player finishes college. The money is not funneled through the university and there is no direct contact between UBooster and either the athlete or any particular school. For that reason, the founder, Dr. Rob Morgan, believes this does not violate NCAA rules and, in fact, offers a way to allow fan involvement while easing the financial burden on universities to do more to help athletes.

The former head of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions calls this "far more sophisticated than the hundred-dollar handshake," but I am not sure it is a meaningful difference in kind. Student-athletes are still receiving money because they are student-athletes and because of their athletic ability, and the lack of a direct connection among student-athlete, school, and donor does not change that; in fact, the NCAA's point is specifically to keep "strangers" from giving student-athletes money, regardless of connection to the school. Nor does the four-year delay in getting the money change much--it is still money for playing a sport, whether the benefit is received immediately or in a few years. I also do not believe the absence of an express quid pro quo (the student-athlete gets the money, regardless of where he ultimately plays) makes a difference; the NCAA regs are designed to avoid bidding wars and allowing the athlete to keep everything is not going to alleviate (or necessarily disincentivize) such bidding wars.

Mind you, I am not speaking in support of the NCAA's regs or the current model of college sports. I am only saying that, under those rules, any student-athlete who participates in this (and any school for which he plays) is in for some problems.

Friday, December 04, 2015
MIT Lecture: The Law and Science of Deflategate

If you're interested in the law and science of Deflategate, we hope that you attend a special lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Friday, Dec 11th from 2:30 to 4 pm. MIT Professor John Leonard--who authored the Taking the Measure of Deflategate study, as presented at UNH Deflategate--will be joined MIT Professor Annette (Peko) Hosoi--the founder and director of STE@M (Sports Technology and Education @ MIT)--and me in a joint lecture. The event will be open to the public but with limited seating and you must register at this Eventbrite page to secure a seat.

Here are more details:

The Law and Science of Deflategate

2:30-4:00pm, Friday December 11th, Room 3-270
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Mass. Ave., Cambridge MA 02139
[Seating is limited]

Speakers: Michael McCann, University of New Hampshire School of Law and Sports Illustrated; John Leonard, MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering; and Annette (Peko) Hosoi, MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering

Abstract: Prof. McCann, Prof. Leonard, and Prof. Hosoi will lead a joint discussion of some of the key legal and scientific questions about the Deflategate Controversy.  Topics will include: (1) a review the key legal theories of Brady vs. NFL case, including a discussion of the constraints imposed by the collective bargaining agreement agreed upon by the NFLPA and an analysis of the NFL Management Council's latest filing to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit against Judge Berman's decision to vacate the discipline imposed on Tom Brady by Roger Goodell; (2) discussion of the findings of the Wells/Exponent report and a review the underlying physical principles at the heart of the case, including the ideal gas law and the transient response of the warming of the Patriots and Colts footballs that occurred during the halftime measurement period; and (3) a critique of the methodology that Exponent, Inc. used to reach its claim that "no set of credible environmental or physical factors that completely accounts for the additional loss in air pressure exhibited by the Patriots game balls as compared to the loss in air pressure exhibited by the Colts game balls measured during halftime of the AFC Championship Game."

Speaker Bios:

Michael McCann is a Professor of Law and the Founding Director of the UNH Law Sports and Entertainment Law Institute (SELI). SELI, which is part of the top-ranked Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property, offers students hands-on training and experiential opportunities in this cutting-edge area of law.  McCann is one of the nation's leading experts in sports law, a seasoned sports attorney, and an award-winning teacher, scholar and journalist. He is Sports Illustrated's Legal Analyst, an Investigative Writer for both Sports Illustrated and, and the on-air Legal Analyst for NBA TV. McCann has authored more than 400 legal columns and investigative articles for Sports Illustrated and and is a key member of Sports Illustrated's investigative team.

John J. Leonard is Samuel C. Collins Professor of Mechanical and Ocean Engineering and Associate Department Head for Research in the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering.  His research addresses the problems of navigation and mapping for autonomous mobile robots.  He holds the degrees of B.S.E.E. in Electrical Engineering and Science from the University of Pennsylvania (1987) and D.Phil. in Engineering Science from the University of Oxford (1994).  Prof. Leonard has been one of the faculty instructors in the MIT Mechanical Engineering subject 2.671 Measurement and Instrumentation since 2005.

Annette (Peko) Hosoi is Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Associate Department Head for Education in the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering.  She is the founder and director of STE@M (Sports Technology and Education @ MIT) which is dedicated to building an interconnected community of faculty, students, industry partners, and athletes who are passionate about tackling challenges that lie at the intersection of engineering and sports.  Prof. Hosoi's research contributions lie at the juncture of nonlinear hydrodynamics,
microfluidics and bio-inspired design.  She is the recipient of numerous teaching awards at MIT and has been elected a MacVicar Fellow, MIT's highest undergraduate teaching award.  She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.