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NCAA’s Southern Comfort: Judge Geography Affects Legal Outcomes

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Today’s guest columnist is Chris Corr of Troy University.

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When the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma and the University of Georgia initially filed an antitrust lawsuit against NCAA in 1981, U.S. District Judge Lee Roy West immediately recused himself. The watershed lawsuit in NCAA litigation history involved the association’s monopoly of television rights and was the first case to challenge the NCAA’s authority before the United States Supreme Court.

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As a native of Oklahoma and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, West had no doubts about his inability to separate his loyalty to the school from his duty to make an impartial decision. AT interview since April 2011, West has detailed that his OU allegiance began there when he was a student and has grown through Oklahoma’s success in football; his personal friendship with the Sooners head football coach, three-time national champion, Barry Switzer; and his close friendship with All-American and Oklahoma football team captain Norman McNabb.

Like most students, Lee Roy West was very proud of his alma mater. Unlike most of his colleagues, Judge West could change the legal scales with his opinions and rulings.

West’s recusal in 1981 highlights new findings from researchers at Troy University and the University of South Carolina College Athletic Research Institute (CSRI), who examined the demographics and peer networks of judges who ruled NCAA-related cases.

Between 1973 and 2020, a total of 174 federal judges issued 234 NCAA decisions. Of these decisions, judges sided with the university sports governing body in 63% of cases.

The study showed that the demographic and educational background of judges play an important role in this group of cases. For example, judges born in states that host the Southeastern Conference sports program were 43% more likely to rule in favor of the NCAA than judges born outside the country. SPK track. Also of note, judges who attended an NCAA Division I facility were 15% more likely to rule in favor of the NCAA, while those who attended a Power Five facility were 19% more likely to rule in favor of the NCAA.

Although analysis of the context and merits of each case requires nuance, it seems that SEC-born judges have historically shown more respect for the NCAA and its practices.

Such recognition can be found in a number of cases challenging the NCAA filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, presided over by Judge Claudia Wilken. Judge Wilken, a Minnesota native who attended both Stanford and UC Berkeley Law School. declared that the acronym SEC made her think of the Securities and Exchange Commission rather than a sports conference. Insolence.

In 2021, SCOTUS unanimously rules against the NCAA and its practices. Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a DC native and a Yale graduate, said “the NCAA is not above the law,” while adding that “nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate based on the theory that that their product is determined by the fact that they do not pay their workers the fair market rate.”

Such fiery comments illustrate the dubious legality of many NCAA practices. However, some referees may not be able to impartially make decisions regarding the NCAA due to the impact collegiate athletics has on identity in the United States. Unlike Lee Roy West in 1981, most judges probably don’t see their State of U fandom as a legitimate reason to recuse themselves in an NCAA case.

Recent history tells us that this conflict of interest assumption may not be so far-fetched. In 2009, an Alabama court judge granted a request to delay an upcoming civil lawsuit in January. Why? Thus, lawyers could attend the BCS national championship involving Alabama and Texas. In 2010, another judge from Alabama delayed trial due to the BCS National Championship involving Auburn and Oregon. Again in 2012 Alabama third judge granted a request for a stay of the trial so lawyers can attend the BCS national championship game involving Alabama and Notre Dame. Not to be outdone, Georgia state court judge granted delay in 2017 due to CFP title game between Georgia and Alabama.

How about 2018 study Louisiana State University economists who found that umpires hand out harsher penalties after their favorite college football team is defeated, or if the defendant is affiliated with a rival university? And don’t forget Chief Judge John Roberts, who in 2008, as guest judge at the University of Florida law student competition, made sure to stay over the weekend to catch Tim Tebow and the Gators battling the Miami hurricanes. . I was there and met him in the Presidential Suite. He stayed throughout the game.

It is not a crime to be a college football fan, but the possible consequences of such fanaticism should be noted. As the Troy/CSRI study shows, referees closely associated with college football—or geographies where college football is more like a religion than a fandom—may have been the biggest opponent of NCAA lawsuits in the past four decades.

Bailiffs, take note.

Corr, a former football club employee, is an assistant professor in the School of Hospitality, Sports and Tourism Management at Troy University. Additional information about the CSRI and their annual Adjusted Release Reports can be found at

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