Thursday, July 21, 2011

Two Thoughts on ESPN

[Sorry for the lack of content over the past couple weeks. It's a combination of being busy at work, followed by vacation, with a splash of the July sports doldrums.]

A Few Belated Thoughts on L'Affaire Feldman

I like Bruce Feldman's work. I like Mike Leach. I dislike Craig James. I dislike Joe Schad. With those preferences, I am naturally inclined to side with the college football blogosphere in its #FreeBruce outrage that followed the report from Sports by Brooks that ESPN had suspended Feldman. After thinking a little bit about the issue, however, I can't say that I find much fault with ESPN. The bottom line is that: Feldman was working closely on a public project with a former coach who was suing ESPN. Is it that hard to imagine that ESPN would be squeamish about one of its employees being in that situation? I'll acknowledge that the timing of the "suspension" was poor, indicating that someone at ESPN only realized belatedly that Feldman was cooperating on the autobiography of a party legally adverse to the network. That said, without knowing what communications went back and forth between Feldman and his superiors, it seems plausible that Feldman deserves some blame in that he should have gotten a definitive answer from ESPN's management when Leach sued his employer.

That said, I co-sign on Blutarsky's reference to the Longhorn Network as a great example of a conflict of interest that ESPN ignores while pontificating on Feldman's relationship with Leach.*

* - I do not co-sign on Blutarksy's argument that the NCAA could not have subpoena power because it is a private organization. Yes, the NCAA is private, as are the American Arbitration Association, FINRA, and a host of other entities that enforce subpoenas in private dispute resolution settings. Those entities are all creatures of contract. An employer and employee sign an arbitration agreement in which they submit to the rules of an arbitration entity and part of those rules provides for compelling the production of documents. If one party refuses to comply with the process, then the arbitration entity can issue an enforceable award against it. Now, I suspect that the Federal Arbitration Act gets involved in the analysis at some point and whether the NCAA would be able to benefit from the FAA is a question that I haven't thought through. That said, it does not seem implausible to me that the NCAA could, for example, enter into agreements with all coaches and players in NCAA-sanctioned sports that they will comply with reasonable requests for documents and information after their eligibility expires. The NCAA can't get subpoena power over unaffiliated entities (read: Cecil Newton's church), but it can expand its ability to get information and documents from former players (read: Cecil's son).

Why Must we Keep Hearing "Back, Back, Back, Back..."

There are few subjects that unite the blogosphere quite like disdain for Chris Berman and Dick Vitale. Good luck finding any online commentary regarding these two along the lines of "yes, Chris, hit me with another reference to the Bay City Rollers" or "I can't wait for Dick to tell me which 17 assistants deserve head coaching jobs, all while he maintains that no coach should ever get the ziggy." I'm halfway through Those Guys Have All the Fun and the infliction of Berman and Vitale on American's eardrums makes more sense to me now: these guys have been around since the very beginning. They made their bones at ESPN when it was losing millions of Getty dollars, so they come with institutional weight.

ESPN faces the same issue that the Yankees faced with Derek Jeter and the Braves faced with Chipper Jones. In both of the latter cases, two successful baseball franchises overpaid to keep iconic stars who were and are well past their best. It is never easy for a sports entity to part with a declining legend. This phenomenon doesn't make it a good idea to pay Chipper $14M per year or send Vitale to Duke-UNC so Dickie V can be the FTD of verbal bouquets, but it does at least explain what would otherwise seem to be inexplicable.


Senator Blutarsky said...

Michael, this may be a situation where I've misunderstood the context of Dodd's question. I assumed he was asking if the NCAA should be granted subpoena powers as to parties not ordinarily under its jurisdiction.

Given that the NCAA already has a pretty effective stick at its disposal to force cooperation from member institutions and student-athletes, I'm not sure how much more it gains from being able to issue subpoenas, although I agree with you that it certainly could contract for that power with schools, at least.

Anonymous said...

The NCAA has subpoena power over schools and their agents now. Extend it any further and you start to move toward "state actor" territory, and the NCAA gets constraints in other areas. In Tarkanian v. NCAA, the Court specifically noted that the NCAA did not have governmental investigatory power because it had "no power to subpoena witnesses, to impose contempt sanctions, or to assert sovereign authority over any individual."