Sports law is a body of law which governs legal issues that include both amateur and professional sports. Sports law may overlap with other areas of law, including:

  • Labor law;
  • Contract law;
  • Antitrust law; and
  • Tort law.

The majority of courts shield athletic associations, coaches, and schools from liability for personal injury lawsuits which are brought by an athlete based on the doctrine of assumption of the risk. For example, pursuant to this legal doctrine, high school baseball players cannot sue their schools or coaches for injuries they sustained from being hit by a baseball while playing.

What Types of Discrimination Are Permissible in Sports?

There is only one permissible form of discrimination which is acceptable in athletic competitions, which is discrimination based upon physical ability. If a college or university receives federal aid, it is subject to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, typically referred to as Title IX.

Title IX prohibits colleges and universities from discriminating on the basis of sex in an athletic program. Equal funding to collegiate male and female athletic programs is mandated.

What is the NCAA?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a voluntary association comprised of over 1,200:

  • Colleges and universities;
  • Sports organizations; and
  • Athletic conferences.

The NCAA describes itself as a “member-led organization dedicated to the well-being and lifelong success of college athletes.” The NCAA is composed of 1,098 colleges and universities and 102 athletic conferences.

There are almost half a million college athletes in the NCAA. There are 19.886 teams which send more than 57,661 individuals to compete in the 90 annual NCAA championships which includes 24 sports across 3 divisions.

The NCAA was established in 1906. It was formed to protect student-athletes from the exploitative practices which were widespread at that time.

Another important reason the NCAA was formed is because there was growing concern at the time and football was too dangerous and was on the verge of being abolished. Representatives gathered in order to develop new safety measures and regulations and an agreement which led to the creation of the Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

In 1910, the Intercollegiate Athletic Association became the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The NCAA rules are developed and maintained by more than 1,500 committee members which represent 450 institutions across the country.

The representatives include:

  • Athletic directors;
  • College athletes; and
  • College presidents.

These members introduce legislation and vote on topics which are related to:

  • Health;
  • Safety; and
  • Sports rules.

The highest governing body of the NCAA is the NCAA Board of Governors. The Board of Governors supervises association-wide issues, which includes determining where to allocate funds and upholding equal opportunity measures.

The Board of Governors is primarily composed of chancellors and presidents. It can implement policies which must be followed by all of the member schools across all of the divisions.

How is the NCAA Organized?

The NCAA is organized by divisions. There are three divisions:

  • Division-I (D-I);
  • Division-II; and
  • Division-III.

Each of these divisions has contest and participant minimums in addition to scheduling criteria for each sport, including:

  • Division I member institutions are required to sponsor at least seven sports for women as well as seven sports for men or eight sports for women and six sports for men with two team sports available for both genders;
  • Division II institutions are required to sponsor at least four sports for men and four for women, with two team sports for each gender, and each playing season represented by each gender; and
  • Division III institutions are required to sponsor at least five sports for women and five for men, including two team sports for each gender as well as each playing season represented by each gender.

Primarily, the NCAA exists to promote amateur sports. Therefore, if the NCAA determines that an athlete is a professional, it will take away their eligibility.

How Does the NCAA Determine if an Athlete is Professional?

The NCAA will deem an athlete to be a professional if they:

  • In any form, use their athletic skills for pay in the sport;
  • Accept a promise of pay even if the promise is to be fulfilled at a later date;
  • Sign a commitment or a contract of any type to play professional athletics, regardless of its legal enforceability or any consideration which is received;
  • Receive, indirectly or directly, a salary, reimbursement of expenses, or any other type of financial assistance from a professional sports organization based upon the individual’s athletics skill or participation, except what is permitted by NCAA rules and regulations;
  • Compete on any professional athletics team and know, or have reason to know, that the team is, in fact, a professional athletics team; and
  • Enter into a professional draft or an agreement with an agent or other entity to negotiate a professional contract.

What is Pay?

  • The NCAA defines pay as including:
  • Salaries;
  • Educational expenses outside those permitted by the NCAA;
  • Expenses for parents; and
  • Payment based on performance, prizes, and preferential treatment, benefits or services.

What are NCAA Student-Athlete Gambling Bylaws?

The NCAA takes its prohibitions on sports wagering, both legal and illegal, very seriously. There are several reasons for these prohibitions, including:

The potential to undermine the integrity of sporting contests; and
Putting in jeopardy of the welfare of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community.

What Do the NCAA Bylaws Regarding Gambling Contain?

The NCAA bylaws prohibit student-athletes and members of athletic departments of member schools from knowingly doing any of the following:

  • Providing information to organized gambling activities regarding college competitions;
  • Soliciting a bet on any college team;
    Accepting a bet on any team that represents an institution;
  • Accepting or soliciting bets on any intercollegiate competition for any item having tangible value; and
  • Participating in any gambling activity that involves intercollegiate athletics or professional athletes using:
    • a bookie;
    • a parlay card; or
    • any other method employed by organized gambling.

What are Other Prohibitions Not Expressly Contained in the NCAA Bylaws Concerning Gambling?

The NCAA Interpretations Committee provides that student-athletes are not permitted to solicit or accept a bet for any material item with tangible value. Institutions that are competing against each other, however, can agree to compete for a tangible item, such as a trophy, as long as the student-athletes do not receive a tangible item.

The Interpretations Committee also prohibits student-athletes and athletic department staff members from participating in gambling activities which are associated with:

  • Professional sports;
  • The NCAA championship competitions;
  • Division I-A football; and
  • Emerging sports.

Can I be Reinstated after Losing Eligibility Due to Gambling?

If an individual is a student-athlete who has lost their NCAA eligibility due to gambling, their reinstatement will be challenging. The NCAA Eligibility Committee provides that higher conditions exist for an individual’s restoration for cases that involve gambling.

The Eligibility Committee examines precedent as well as other factors to determine whether to restore a student-athlete’s eligibility.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

It is essential to have the assistance of an entertainment lawyer for any issues involving the NCAA, student-athlete eligibility, and gambling. An individual gambling on an NCAA event qualifies are one of the most serious offenses related to eligibility.

Your lawyer can provide advice regarding NCAA rules, requirements for reinstatement, and advise you of the possibility of being reinstated. As previously noted, reinstatement after a gambling offense can be extremely difficult. Your lawyer can assist you with regaining your eligibility or with fighting a charge.