Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax

Readers of our blog have probably noticed that I have a special interest in sports-related legal issues (see https://www.videntpartners.com/blog/sports-law), which of course arises from my strong interest in all sports, both professional and collegiate.  As a University of Kansas alum, I have a uniquely strong interest in the KU basketball team, which I have been following since I was an undergraduate in the early Cenozoic Period.  Unfortunately, there is now a nexus between my interest in sports law and my interest in KU basketball.

For the past couple of years, the NCAA has been aggressively pursuing a few (no doubt carefully selected) major and semi-major basketball programs, including KU, alleging a variety of violations of NCAA regulations.  Some institutions have submitted to the NCAA’s onslaught and accepted punishment.  Others have denied any violations and have fought the NCAA aggressively, with most cases still in a sort of administrative limbo.  

KU has been charged with five Level I violations, which are the most serious.  For details, see https://www.si.com/college/2019/09/24/bill-self-kansas-jayhawks-ncaa-allegations-fbi

The foundational element of these charges is the assertion that Adidas Design Company, a partner of KU’s athletic department, is not just a partner, but rather a “booster” of KU’s athletic program.  In essence, the financial and material support that Adidas provides to KU violates the NCAA’s prohibition against institutional boosters providing financial/material support in order to promote KU to athletic recruits.  The fact that all major colleges and universities have similar relationships with all kinds of corporate sponsors, and have for decades, and that everyone connected to college sports knows this, is irrelevant as far as the NCAA is concerned.  As the case moves through the convoluted and brand-new appeal process that the NCAA has created, I’m sure that Duke, Kentucky, UCLA, Oregon and many other major universities will be watching this one carefully, as will Nike, UnderArmor and Adidas.

If and when KU is found “guilty” of one or more of these charges, KU will almost certainly sue the NCAA, as will other similarly situated colleges and universities, which could potentially destroy the NCAA and change the college sports landscape in unpredictable ways, including the way college sports is financed.  Such lawsuits will raise interesting issues and are likely to require expert witnesses.  As a lover of college sports and the managing partner of Vident Partners, I look forward to providing one or more experts for this potential litigation.

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