My latest for Saturday Down South throws some cold water on the recent petition by Northwestern University football players to organize as a labor union.
My post this week at Bonham’s Cases looks at a Northern Ireland defendant’s right to obtain new counsel after his barristers–fancy English word for trial lawyers–quit on him mid-trial.
The National Football League recently announced that 98 underclassmen have been “granted special eligibility” to enter the 2014 NFL Draft. The “special eligibility” language refers to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. Under the CBA, no player may enter the Draft “until three regular NFL seasons have begun and ended following either his graduation from high school or graduation of the class with which he entered high school, whichever is earlier.”
The CBA actually modified an even stricter rule in the NFL’s Constitution that dates back to the 1920s. This rule states that before a player can enter the Draft, he must either (1) graduate from college, (2) have no more college football eligibility or (3) wait five years from the date he first entered college. Since the modified, three-year eligibility rule is part of a labor agreement, federal law protects it from challenges under antitrust law.
Not that players haven’t tried. Most famously, former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett attempted to enter the NFL Draft after his freshman year. He sued the NFL in New York, claiming the three-year wait illegally restrained competition for “player services.” Future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for a federal appeals court panel in 2004, rejected Clarett’s arguments, noting that federal labor law—which protects unions over individual workers—overruled Clarett’s right to seek employment. She noted that the eligibility rule, in particular, protects “veteran players” whose jobs may be threatened by the unrestricted entry of cheaper, younger college players.
Obviously, the NFLPA has little incentive to challenge the three-year rule. Indeed, the rule was expressly reaffirmed in the two CBAs negotiated after Justice Sotomayor’s decision. In the most recent CBA, the NFLPA even agreed to further NFL restrictions on rookie salaries and contracts. (In fairness, the NFLPA has negotiated down the length of the NFL Draft from what was 17 rounds in the 1960s to just seven today.)
But while the union may be content with the status quo, what about the NFL? That may seem like an odd question since it’s the league’s rule we’re talking about. Consider, however, the NFL’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for expansion. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has hinted at new teams in Los Angeles and London. It’s not unreasonable to project the NFL may add as many as four clubs by the end of this decade. Given each NFL team currently has 61 players—53 active and eight practice squad members—that would require nearly 250 additional players annually.
Add to that the likelihood that individual player careers will only get shorter as the decade continues. The impact of repeated brain injuries will continue to challenge football at the NFL, college, high school and even youth levels. No doubt health concerns played a part in the record number of underclassmen who entered the 2014 Draft. Players are more acutely aware the clock is running on their football careers; there’s little sense in wasting their potentially valuable time in college.
At some point, the NFL’s high player turnover will make continued enforcement of the three-year eligibility rule impractical. By 2020, there’s a good chance the NFL and the NFLPA will agree to a two-year rule. Even a one-year rule may not be off the table before the decade is out.
That said, the NFL is unlikely to abolish college eligibility altogether. The league does not want “raw” high school players. And the major college programs serve as a valuable filtering and scouting service. If the NFL tried to bypass the colleges altogether, it would then have to expend additional resources to scout high schools. As any college recruiter will tell you, that’s an enormous undertaking, even with the NFL’s resources.
Would allowing freshman and sophomores to enter the NFL Draft negatively impact college football? Probably not. Even this year’s record exodus of talent is unlikely to reduce the quality of college football this fall. Football is not basketball, where one or two star players produce an immediate difference. Even at the critical quarterback position, the different set of skills required in the college and NFL games will offset the early loss of a Johnny Manziel-type player.
There’s also an important upside for college football if the NFL moves to admit first- and second-year players: It reduces the critical demand for the schools to “pay” the players. Many of the problems associated with amateurism are, in fact, a consequence of the NFL-NFLPA eligibility restrictions. If and when they allow younger players to leave school, it robs the media of their perennial sob stories about “exploited” athletes.
…there’s a bunch of lawyers and British Supreme Court judges, as I explain in my Bonham’s Cases post for today.
My latest article at Bonham’s Cases explores a decision by the British Privy Council regarding a 10-year-old manslaughter conviction in the Bahamas. Apparently the Brits don’t believe in speedy justice.
I published a pair of unrelated articles recently. The first, at Saturday Down South, examines critics of newly hired Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. The other, my weekly post at Bonham’s Cases, addresses the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom’s recent holding that the Church of Scientology is a bona fide religion for purposes of performing marriage ceremonies in England and Wales.
My latest post at Bonham’s Cases deals with a New Zealand Supreme Court decision on the meaning of the word “living” in a probate statute.
My latest post at Bonham’s Cases explains why the Supreme Court of Canada has to decide whether the appointment of one of its own justices is legal.
As a new side project for 2014, I’ve launched Bonham’s Cases, a lawblog covering the non-U.S. supreme courts of the English-speaking world. My first post today deals with a same-sex marriage case from Australia.