In the recent months we have seen several examples of fans taking a more active role when it comes to their sports teams. Billboards have been constructed urging a team to start a different quarterback and protests have been erupted outside baseball stadiums. College sport fans have expressed their disgust for team violations resulting from conduct of ex-players and coaches. Such violations have usually resulted in sanctions that take years for a team to recover while the people directly responsible for the violations walk free.
Though such demonstrations make for good publicity, they rarely move a team to act or achieve the fans’ ultimate objective. This trend could be changing.
Last Thursday, The Commercial Appeal, a local Memphis, Tennessee news outlet, obtained copies of a settlement dated May 28, 2010 involving former Memphis basketball star Derrick Rose, former coach John Calipari, and Memphis Athletic director R.C. Johnson. The settlement was reached in order to avoid a lawsuit brought by “certain ticket holders” who were unhappy with the aftermath of the 2008 Memphis basketball season. That year, Memphis reached the national championship game only to lose to Kansas in overtime. The school would later be forced to vacate all wins from that season and would be put on probation for three years. The penalties resulted from an investigation that found that freshman standout Derrick Rose did not have a valid SAT score (someone took the SAT for him), and that the team provided travel and lodging benefits to Rose’s brother.
In the fans’ lawsuit, they argued that they bought tickets and donated money to the program without knowledge of the programs infractions and that the sanctions imposed would hurt the value of their tickets for future seasons.
It’s amazing what fans can do when they get mad enough (and have a good lawyer).
After all is said and done, the fans got what they wanted: the culprits aren’t going free; they have to pay the school back. In the settlement, Calipari is required to pay back his Final Four bonus to the Memphis scholarship fund and another $100,000 to the fans that threatened the lawsuit. Rose has agreed to make a sizeable donations to the university and R.C. Johnson agreed to pay back his bonus check.
And good for those fans. In today’s college sports world where it seems like every major sports program is under investigation for something, the people most responsible get off too easy. At signs of trouble coaches can leave and take another job, leaving the fans to suffer the consequences (Pete Carroll, anybody?).
I expect to see more of these kinds of lawsuits and settlements in the future. Fans are getting more vocal and are tired of paying high prices for tickets only to have to endure years of sanctions while players and coaches can move on to bigger and better things without even a slap on the wrist.