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Informal Athletic Team Workouts: Risk Management, Athletics Compliance and Sports Medicine Issues [Higher-Ed Note (March 2014)]

Author: Michael L. Buckner, Esquire (Shareholder)

A recent state court decision in Louisiana provides colleges and universities with lessons that can be used to improve university risk management, NCAA rules-compliance and sports medicine programs. Specifically, on February 26, 2014, the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal issued its decision in Williams v. Board of Supervisors of the University of Louisiana System, No. 48,763-CA (La. Ct. App., Feb. 26, 2014). The court decision concluded the appeal of the University of Louisiana System of an adverse judgment in a tort case arising out of the death of student-athlete Henry L. White, III. White suffered a heatstroke following an intensive outdoor run, which was part of an “unorganized” and “unauthorized” Grambling State University men’s basketball team training workout on August 14, 2009. During the January 28-February 4, 2013, trial, the jury: (a) ruled in favor of White’s representatives; (b) allocated 100 percent fault to the university system; and (c) awarded approximately $1.5 million in damages.

Buckner provides the following recommendations an institution can use to address some of the issues in the case:

1. Risk Management: Engage risk management professionals to: analyze the institution’s exposure to risk regarding countable and uncountable athletically-related activities; and determine the best methods to address the identified risk exposure. The risk management exercise should: identify the most significant risks arising from countable and uncountable athletically-related activities; rank the risks based on the probability of an incident and the potential impact; develop and implement strategies to mitigate risks; and monitor the effectiveness of the risk management program and specific strategies.

2. NCAA Rules-Compliance: Review (and, if necessary, enhance) athletics compliance policies and procedures regarding NCAA Bylaw 17 (Playing and Practice Seasons). Further, develop on-site monitoring procedures within the NCAA rules-compliance program—a comprehensive monitoring program ensures coaches and student-athletes are complying with NCAA practice season legislation and campus regulations. Finally, incorporate in the rules-education program for coaches and student-athletes helpful reminders of the limitations imposed by Bylaw 17 on countable and uncountable athletically-related activities.

3. Sports Medicine: Establish written policies, procedures and protocols regarding the scheduling, organization, supervision and medical coverage of athletically-related activities. Further, conduct an external assessment of the sports medicine department’s compliance with National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) guidelines and other applicable standards on a regular basis.

Note: Buckner provides colleges and universities with legal consulting services in the areas of risk-management, NCAA compliance and sports medicine.

Contact Michael L. Buckner (954-941-1844; mbuckner@bucknersportslaw.com) for additional information on higher-education legal issues.