The Need for Cutting-Edge Information
For school and athletics administrators in the modern educational environment, understanding contemporary issues in sports law,
ensuring up-to-date knowledge of legal standards and proactively applying sports law principles to policy development and implementation have become core functions of their profession.
The following are 10 of the most useful sports law resources for school and athletics administrators who are striving to ensure that they are aware of the most current legal standards relevant to the day-to-day management of their schools’ athletics programs.
1. NFHS & NIAAA
Two of the most valuable sports law resources available to support the efforts of schools to ensure that all athletics personnel satisfy their duties to student-athletes are the professional development courses offered by the NFHS and the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA).
The NFHSLearning Center offers a wide range of core courses, sport-specific courses, and elective courses designed for administrators, coaches, officials, parents, and students. At present, 41 courses are available, many of which are free, and to-date, more than 4 million classes have been delivered, including more than 2.4 million completions of Concussion in Sport, a collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) providing protocols for concussion recognition and management; more than 54,000 of Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment, designed to address issues related to hazing, bullying and other forms of harassment; and more than 106,000 of Sportsmanship, structured to provide a better understanding of the impact of the issue on education-based athletics and strategies for creating positive game environments for participants and spectators. To learn more, go to www.nfhslearn.com.
The NIAAA Leadership Training Institute offers a similarly wide range of courses designed for athletics personnel to engage in professional development focused on better serving the young people participating in school sports programs, to pursue designation as a Certified Athletic Administrator (CAA) or a Certified Master Athletic Administrator (CMAA), or to earn graduate level academic credit that may be applied towards advanced degrees. At present, 39 courses are available dealing with every aspect of the philosophy, principles, strategies and methods related to the management of scholastic athletics programs. To learn more, go to www.niaaa.org/niaaa-programs/leadership-training-institute.
2. National Athletic Trainers’ Association
The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) regularly issues position statements, best-practices guidelines and executive summaries of protocols regarding the prevention, recognition and treatment of sports injuries – pronouncements which are recognized as best practices for athletics programs and which, as they become widely adopted and implemented across the country, establish a baseline for the “reasonable care” standard required of athletics personnel with regard to fulfilling their duties to student-athletes related to sports injuries.
For instance, in June 2013, NATA issued at its annual conference and then published in the August 2013 issue of the Journal of Athletic Training an inter-association task force position statement, endorsed by both the NFHS and the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA), titled Preventing Sudden Death in Secondary School Athletics Programs: Best Practices Recommendations. Although the policy guidance does not exhaustively cover all of the conditions leading to the death of high school student-athletes, it addresses in detail the four leading causes: catastrophic brain and neck injuries, exertional heat stroke, sudden cardiac arrest, and exertional sickling. It is a resource that should be read by every scholastic athletics administrator, coach and trainer, because it represents a nationwide consensus of experts regarding best practices and the exercise of reasonable care to safeguard athletes.
This pronouncement, along with many others highly relevant for school athletics programs, may be found in the archives for the Journal of Athletic Training under the News & Publications link on the NATA website at www.nata.org.
3. Google Scholar
Google Scholar is a search engine designed to provide free access to scholarly research across many disciplines, including the law, and from many sources, including libraries, academic publishers, universities, online repositories and websites. With regard to sports law, searches may be specifically limited to court case opinions (from all courts or from any particular federal court or state court system) or may be exclusively targeted at finding articles, theses or books on a desired topic.
For instance, school or athletics administrators interested in ensuring compliance by their institutions with Title IX’s gender equity mandates for sports programs might happen upon a brief snippet in a newspaper or magazine mentioning a recent landmark Title IX court case titled Ollier v. Sweetwater Union School District. A quick search on Google Scholar, first clicking the button labeled Case Law and then using the name of the case, would reveal four separate judicial decisions between 2009 and 2014, culminating in a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit – 768 F.3d 843 (2014) – that when read provides a clear blueprint for school and athletics administrators illustrating how to ensure compliance with Title IX. An additional search, this time clicking on the button for Articles and using the search term Title IX, yields dozens of journal and law review features explaining the Title IX compliance framework as it applies to educational institutions. Google Scholar may be found at http://scholar.google.com.
4. National Conference of State Legislatures
The National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), in addition to providing a wide range of support services for state law-making bodies, serves as a portal through which interested parties may access state legislation on a variety of topics, learn about the precise requirements of state laws, and monitor the seemingly-constant updates and amendments to state statutes.
For school and athletics administrators, the NCSL provides a tool to stay current on those state mandates relevant to sports programs. For instance, one NCSL database provides a summary of the concussion laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with active links within the abstract for each jurisdiction to the language of the actual bill. The concussion statute database is available at www.ncsl.org/research/health/traumatic-brain-injury-legislation.aspx.
Another useful NCSL resource is a compendium of state child abuse reporting laws, of value to school and athletics administrators with regard to understanding the situations that might arise in a school sports program that might trigger mandatory reporting requirements for athletic directors, coaches, athletic trainers and other personnel, including instances of hazing, sexual harassment, abusive behavior by coaches and other circumstances falling within a particular state law’s definition of child abuse. The database is available at www.ncslorg/research/human-services/child-welfare-what-is-new-in-child-welfare-101.aspx.
Given the pervasiveness of hazing incidents in high school sports programs; the frequency of civil lawsuits against schools, administrators and athletics personnel arising from episodes of sports hazing; and the regularity of criminal prosecutions pursuant to state anti-hazing laws, school districts nationwide are increasingly focused on developing strong and effective hazing prevention strategies, anti-hazing policies, and hazing education programs.
StopHazing is an organization whose mission is to promote safe schools through research, information sharing and the development of strategies for hazing prevention. Its website at www.stophazing.org provides access to a national study of hazing titled Hazing in View that includes data from more than 11,000 students, sample anti-hazing policies, education strategies to prevent hazing, a 17-minute documentary titled We Don’t Haze, a one-hour webinar titled Recognizing & Preventing Hazing, and a database of state anti-hazing laws.
6. Office for Civil Rights Reading Room
It is essential for school and athletic administrators seeking to ensure that their institutions are in compliance with Title IX to understand the precise mandates of the law as interpreted by the federal agency charged with the responsibility for enforcing Title IX, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
At its website, the OCR maintains a Reading Room indexed into sections in which may be found Title IX policy guidances, case resolutions, laws, administrative regulations and publications. For instance, because most Title IX disputes are resolved through “Resolution Agreements” between the OCR and the school that was the subject of the complaint filed with the agency, one of the most useful strategies for school officials in the early stages of a dispute is to read several recent settlements in order to gain a more thorough appreciation for the agency’s expectations. As one example, the July 9, 2015 OCR Resolution
Agreement of a complaint originally filed in 2010 against the Chicago Public Schools provides a detailed blueprint for Title IX compliance by scholastic athletics programs. Dozens of Resolution Agreements, along with extensive other Title IX resources, are available at in the OCR Reading Room at www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/frontpage/faq/readingroom.html.
7. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Reading Room
For school and athletics administrators embroiled in an employment law-related dispute with a coach, athletic trainer or other employee alleging some type of unfair treatment, the EEOC – the agency of the United States Government that enforces federal employment discrimination laws – maintains a Reading Room on its website at www.eeoc.gov in which may be found a variety of policy statements and publications intended to provide guidance for employers. As an example, if a coach was to complain that he or she was the victim of an Equal Pay Act violation and was being paid less than a similarly-situated coach of the opposite gender, a useful resource for school officials would be the policy statement titled EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Sex Discrimination in the Compensation of Sports Coaches in Educational Institutions, available full-text at www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/coaches.html.
8. U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division
An ongoing challenge for schools and athletics programs is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) issue regarding the compensation of non-exempt school personnel who serve in a supporting role for their school’s sports program, either as coaches or in event management positions such as ticket-sellers, ticket-takers, concession workers, game supervisors or the like. Extensive guidance for employers is available at the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division website at www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/index.htm, including an Opinion Letter specifically addressing the athletics issue at https://www.dol.gov/whd/opinion/FLSANA/2006/2006_10_20_22NA_FLSA.htm.
9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC has partnered with the Heads Up Program and provides on its website at www.cdc.gov/headsup an extensive set of free resources for schools and athletics programs, including customizable materials such as a concussion main message poster, a concussion protocol action plan, a fact sheet for high school athletes, a fact sheet for coaches, a fact sheet for parents, a fact sheet for school professionals/administrators, an online training course for high school athletics personnel, a concussion and helmet safety “app” to assist in spotting head injuries that also contains a 3D helmet fit feature, a 16-page pamphlet titled Concussion At Play: Opportunities to Reshape the Culture Around Concussion, and an extensive set of short videos covering all aspects of traumatic brain injuries, return-to-play protocols, return-to-learn strategies and the perspectives of youth athletes, high school athletes, coaches, and parents on concussion issues.
10. Office for Civil Rights Disabilities Law Resources
Issues continue to arise in school athletics programs involving the application to sports of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The OCR provides extensive resources and publications on its website at www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr to assist schools in fulfilling their duties under those federal disability statutes, including a January 2013 “Dear Colleague Letter” clarifying the obligations of schools with regard to providing sports participation opportunities for students with disabilities. The core message of the directive is that students with disabilities should be granted equal opportunity to participate alongside their peers in school athletics programs, club sports, intramural sports and physical education courses. The letter also provides strategies for providing “adapted” athletics programs – ones specifically developed for students with disabilities – or “allied” programs – ones designed to combine students with and without disabilities together in a physical activity. A fact sheet and the full-text of the letter is available at www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-factsheet-201301-504.html.
Lee Green is an attorney and a professor at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas, where he teaches courses in sports law, business law and constitutional law. He is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee. He may be contacted at Lee.Green@BakerU.Edu.