Forward Thinking for a “New Season”

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Marquette Law School, Public, Sports & Law

During this time of the year when college football and the NFL are about to start anew, we as sports fans and consumers are inundated with numerous previews from websites and magazines (yes, some people still read things offline) about how the season will play out.

Predictions before the season are like noses—everyone seems to have one.

When I was a sports writer (oh, how long ago it seems), I dreaded the high school season previews. Not because we didn’t have good teams or outstanding players (ask me about current Michigan State junior wide receiver R.J. Shelton and I’ll have about 200 stories on his on-field exploits in high school).

Instead, it was the entire notion of writing about teams and individuals that had not done anything yet on the field. Coaches only had a vague notion about the season (unless they had numerous seniors returning), injuries had yet to come up, and you only had a decent idea of watching teams practice for all of maybe an hour in coming up with your preview.

To paraphrase Missouri’s state motto: “Show me, don’t tell me.”

Needless to say, by week two or three, my preview was mostly rubbish as the team revealed its true identity.

I note that because my thinking about “predictions” has started to change. Not the football aspect of previews—I’m still not in favor of that.

Rather, it’s how we as lawyers are trained to think. We do exactly what football prognosticators do on a case-by-case basis. We take our case (or team) and research the facts of the case (or go through the team’s roster). From there, we see how our case fits with recent mandatory precedent (last year’s record).

Then we check any persuasive precedent from outside our jurisdiction that either supports or refutes our facts (seeing how other teams in the conference or league are shaping up). Finally, we offer a “prediction” to our client as to how our case will play out in front of the court (or how the season will play out).

There are numerous examples of predictions currently happening in sports law. From the Tom Brady “Deflategate” decision to the New Jersey Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on sports gambling in New Jersey casinos, a lot of virtual ink is spilled dissecting the cases. If I were wearing my journalism hat, I’d be mainly focused on who, what, where, when, and why the cases are where they are at. I’d probably note, but not really ponder, the future implications of each case.

However, law school has made me add a new layer of analysis—how these cases impact sports going forward. For Brady and the NFL, it’s about the future power of the commissioner as well as the need for a potential independent third party to hear the case during arbitration, both of which I bet will be topics in the new contract talks by the NFL Players Association.

Meanwhile, in the New Jersey gambling case, I’m thinking about the implications of sports leagues and gambling. Are the leagues only going to agree to sports gambling when they can create the system themselves? Why are the leagues scared of gambling, especially since they allow and promote betting lines from Las Vegas before every game? Could the European model work, or is there some compromise? What about the daily fantasy sports leagues one can sign up for and are promoted by the leagues themselves? Isn’t that just a dressed up version of gambling? Why is that form of “gambling” allowed, but not casino betting? If daily fantasy sports are allowed, why not other internet forms of gambling, such as poker?

I’m sure I’ll hone my skills even more as I delve deeper into my Appellate Writing and Advocacy course, along with Alternative Dispute Resolution courses throughout the semester.

It’s just funny to see how my thinking has already come “forward” in one short year.

Let the new “law season” begin.

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