The Colonial Column: McCown Leads Return of Pro Football to Connecticut

September 21, 2010

By Dan Canavan

On a day that the UConn Huskies were run out of Philadelphia by Temple, the Hartford Colonials were celebrating a new kind of football at Rentschler Field.  It wasn’t the Patriots, but the militia was stationed in the end zone.  There was tailgating and cheerleaders, inflatable helmets and cannon fire.  And the fireworks didn’t stop at the conclusion of the pregame warm-ups.  Professional football debuted in Hartford on Saturday, and the Hartford Colonials brought their “A game,”  defeating the Sacramento Mountain Lions 27-10.  They also brought a quarterback that can really spread the ball around the field.

Quarterback and team Captain Josh McCown looked sharp, and not just with the Colonial’s classic gold helmets and dark blue jerseys.  McCown, a player with significant NFL experience, threw for over 265 yards, 178 of which were registered in the first half.  Although McCown shared time under center with Ryan Perrilloux, McCown was clearly the best player of the field Saturday, treating fans with a passing game not regularly displayed on UConn’s home field.  Colonials running back Lorenzo Booker ran through the end zone and literally out of the stadium after a 80 yard completion from McCown early in the second half.  Husky standout Andre Dixon carried the ball 21 times, rushing for 94 yards.  

On defense, Tank Daniels led a linebacking corps that shut down the Sacramento offense.  Lead by NFL veteran quarterback Dante Culpepper, the Mountain Lions struggled in the first half, registering only 3 first downs, and zero points.  Culpepper’s climb back to the NFL could be a long one.  His first toss looked minor league, and he completed only 6 of 18 passing attempts in the first half.

And while the Colonials are working out the kinks, fans seemed pleased with the game day experience, which was more big league than collegiate.  Tailgaters arrived early and stayed late, youth groups had their run of the stadium, and the Colonials cheerleaders didn’t want for attention.  And not so quietly, UFL officials were pleased with the turnout.  14,384 football fans showed up to Rentschler Field to set a UFL attendance record.  Most were UConn Huskies fans, others were not.  Many were serious football fans, others were just curious about the upstart UFL.  But all were treated with a few former NFL and collegiate stars, a big league experience, and a new kind of Connecticut football.  

McCown and his Colonials blew out the opposition on Saturday afternoon, but the real competition between Rentschler Field tenants for Connecticut football fans has just begun.  Game on.


Friday Night Rights: Heat and High School Athletics

September 16, 2010

Doug Malan of the Connecticut Law Tribune recently interviewed me for his story “School Sports Aren’t All Fun And Games”, concerning the liability of high school coaches.  The story touched upon the arrest of two assistant football coaches in Middletown (Conn.) after a player collapsed during a workout on a particularly hot day.

Even basic physical activity, such as running, can turn into a question of liability for coaches.  This especially comes into focus in the early days of football training, when players often are sweating through extreme conditions wearing heavy equipment.

But liability issues can pop up anywhere in athletics and coaches are discovering that there is no shortage of situations that could land them in legal trouble.

“It’s added a lot of responsibility for the coach,” said Daniel B. Fitzgerald, a sports and entertainment law associate at Updike, Kelly & Spellacy in New Haven. “There are some coaches I’ve spoken with informally who say it’s not worth it anymore” to coach for little or no pay at a time when lawsuits are a real threat.

Fred Balsamo, executive director of the Connecticut Coaching Education Program at the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), discussed the risk that coaches face in allowing students to try new positions:

“If you’re putting a kid in a position he’s never played before, you’re exposed” to potential liability as a coach, Balsamo said. “Not everyone is going to file a lawsuit, but you don’t want that risk.”

Stay tuned for more Friday Night Lights coverage on liability and high school coaching.


The Colonial Column: Captains Named as Opening Day Approaches

September 16, 2010

By Dan Canavan

This week, the UFL’s Hartford Colonials announced the team captains for the 2010 football season.

Quarterback Josh McCown, and linebackers Tank Daniels and Frantz Joseph were selected as captains to lead the Colonials in their inaugural season.  “Our team today selected three captains that represent the Colonials in a positive fashion both on and off the field,” Head Coach and General Manager Chris Palmer said. “I’m excited for all three and look forward to working with them for the rest of the season.”

McCown, 31, signed with the Colonials this Summer after spending the past eight years in the NFL with the Cardinals, Lions, Raiders, Dolphins and Panthers.  Daniels has played for the Eagles, Jaguars and has earned a Super Bowl ring with the Giants in 2007.  Joseph spent part of 2009 with Edmonton of the Canadian Football League.

Also on Monday, Coach Palmer and eight local businesses also announced the Colonials Kids Program, a charitable ticket program designed to provide youngsters with an opportunity to attend a live professional football game.  Sponsors will purchase a minimum 100 tickets to a Hartford Colonials home game at Rentschler Field for the 2010 season, and the tickets will be distributed to youth and non-profit organizations.

The Colonials’ inaugural game will be played on Saturday, September 18, against Daunte Culpepper and the Sacramento Mountain Lions.


Will UConn Basketball Be Banned from Postseason?

August 31, 2010

David Borges of the New Haven Register quoted me in his article “The Nate wait continues: UConn’s response to Miles allegations upcoming” which appeared in today’s paper.  The article focuses on the potential sanctions that UConn may be faced with, and particularly focuses on the possibility of a postseason ban.  Here are some of my comments:

The chances of the Huskies being banned from NCAA (or NIT) appearances seem slim, but not entirely out of the question.

“I think based on the allegations, there’s probably a remote possibility,” said Dan Fitzgerald, a New Haven attorney who specializes in sports law. “I would never say never, when you’re dealing with the NCAA. But these are recruiting violations. To me, the most logical sanctions would be recruiting sanctions, punishment parallel to the act.”

“The only way a postseason ban would come up,” Fitzgerald said, “is if the lack of compliance was so pronounced — the failure to monitor was more than just negligent, it was reckless. I certainly don’t think they would find that with a program like UConn, that for the most part has been very clean and on the up-and-up.”

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

For more on this topic, see the following Connecticut Sports Law coverage:

UConn’s Response to NCAA Forthcoming

UConn: Breaking Down the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations

UConn Recruiting Violations Links

UConn Assistants Resign Amid NCAA Probe

Monday Sports Briefs: UConn Basketball Edition

3 Points on UConn’s Alleged NCAA Violations

NCAA Compliance and the Role of Attorneys

Yahoo! Reports that UConn Broke Recruiting Rules


Friday Night Rights: Middletown Football Coaches Cleared of Charges

August 26, 2010

The Middletown High School football coaches charged with reckless endangerment after a student-athlete collapsed during a workout on a particularly hot and humid day have been cleared of all charges.  Paul Doyle of the Hartford Courant has the story:

School assistant football coaches were dismissed Tuesday after defense attorneys proved water was provided for a player who collapsed during a workout last month.

Christopher K. Ellis and Joshua Hamilton were cleared based on evidence that included security video. Attorney Christopher Morano, who represented Hamilton, said the evidence clearly showed there was no criminal negligence.

“There should never have been an arrest in this situation,” Morano said.

Questions still remain in this now-closed case.  For instance, why were these coaches arrested when there were numerous witnesses on the scene who could have vouched for the coaches’ claims that the players did in fact have access to water?  What witnesses were interviewed?  How did the fact that one player was feeling ill after working out lead to reckless endangerment charges?  Was the alleged lack of water the only factor that led to the charges?

Although this case might present more questions than answers, it does focus attention on the issue of heat-related concerns in high school athletics.  For more on this issue, see the following Connecticut Sports Law articles:

Friday Night Rights: Arrest of Middletown Coaches Evokes Lessons of Stinson Case

Friday Night Rights: Trial of Coach in Player’s Death May Change High School Athletics

Friday Night Rights: Kentucky High School Coach Acquitted


Friday Night Rights: Arrest of Middletown Coaches Evokes Lessons of Stinson Case

July 13, 2010

Last week, two Middletown (Conn.) assistant football coaches were arrested on misdemeanor charges of second-degree reckless endangerment after allegedly withholding water from players during a strength and conditioning workout.  One of the players allegedly collapsed during the workout, which was held in 93 degree temperatures.  On that day that the National Weather Service placed sections of the state under a high-heat advisory.  Conflicting accounts of the story followed, including that of the school, which claims that the players each had their own water bottle and that the player in question did not collapse, but merely felt queasy and light-headed. 

The facts of this case are unclear and the school appears satisfied that the coaches acted appropriately.  Nevertheless, it serves as a timely reminder of the liability that coaches, athletic directors and schools face with respect to the safety of their student athletes. 

Last fall, Connecticut Sports Law discussed the tragic case of Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Jason David Stinson,  the first reported criminal case brought against a coach in connection with a player’s on-field death.  The coach was ultimately acquitted.  However, the well-publicized case was bound to trigger changes in high school athletics.  

With two-a-days fast approaching, properly dealing with hydration and the heat is of the utmost importance. Coaches, Athletic Directors and School Districts should evaluate their programs to ensure that the lessons from the Stinson case have been heeded.  Here are some of the changes that Connecticut Sports Law discussed:

1.  Legislative and Administrative Changes

The Stinson case gives cause for state legislatures, school boards and interest groups to examine their policies and procedures in an attempt to provide a safer environment for student-athletes.  New laws and rules will surely result.  In fact, the Commonwealth of Kentucky passed a law aimed at protecting players before the Stinson case was even tried.  Coaches in the Commonwealth now must take a 4-hour online course that covers topics from temperature-related illnesses to head, neck and facial injuries. 

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association recommended more stringent heat-related guidelines at the high school level.  Among the recommendations were eliminating two-a-day practices during the first week of August drills and giving players more time to recuperate.

2.  Contractual Changes

Although the Stinson case was prosecuted in criminal court (a civil claim has also been filed), civil claims are much more common at the high school level.  Coaches, more cognizant of the liability they face, will want to ensure that their employers will  provide indemnification in the event of a lawsuit.  Of course, employers are highly unlikely to indemnify coaches for claims that allege beyond mere negligence and rise to the level of recklessness.

Schools, on the other hand, may require that coaches complete first-aid training as a prerequisite to employment.  In addition, schools may require that a coach’s practice plans be approved by an athletic director or physician.  Although such measures may appear to be over the top, schools and towns recognize that they are likely to be included in any lawsuit against a coach in the event of a player injury or death.  Including such requirements into coaching contracts not only encourages compliance, but demonstrates that the school has made an attempt to protect its student-athletes by implementing a specific policy.  The existence of such a policy may help protect a school if litigation arises.

3.  Coaching Changes

The culture of coaching is bound to change.  The tough, old-school methods of toughening a team up – especially in football- are likely to become relics of the past.  Two-a-days, if they are even allowed to continue, will be carefully monitored.  Coaches will have to consider the heat, whether players are properly hydrated, and whether any players have complained of not feeling well, before ordering wind sprints.  Another issue, which was demonstrated by the New York Little League case discussed by Rick Reilly, concerns the teaching elements of coaching.  Coaches will not only have to teach players how to tackle, but how to avoid dangerous supplements and recognize signs of heat-related problems in teammates and themselves.  Documentation of the lessons taught may be equally important.  Smart coaches will keep practice logs detailing the nature of drills, time of practice, performance of players and any complaints of student-athletes.


Is Connecticut’s Public Policy of Voiding Liability Waivers Misplaced?

July 8, 2010

Legal Issues in High School Athletics recently featured my article concerning Furlani v. Town of East Lyme, a lawsuit arising from the injury of an East Lyme (Conn.) high school track athlete.  In that case, a Connecticut Superior Court found a waiver, signed by the plaintiff’s parent, invalid with respect to the student athlete’s personal injury claim against town and school officials.

The rationale for the court’s decision in Furlani v. Town of East Lyme was rooted in the policy adopted by the Connecticut Supreme Court.  In fact, the Connecticut Supreme Court has consistently held that there is an important public policy in promoting participation in recreational and athletic activities, which “constitute an important and healthy part of everyday life.”  Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314 (2005).  In so holding, the Court has voided exculpatory agreements in connection with snow tubing and horseback riding.  See Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp. and Reardon v. Windswept Farm, LLC, 280 Conn. 153 (2006)In addition, a Superior Court voided such an agreement between a health club and its memberSchneeloch v. Glastonbury Fitness & Wellness, Inc., 2009 WL 416645 (Conn. Super. Ct. Feb. 2, 2009). 

But does the Court accomplish its public policy of promoting participation in athletic and recreational activities by refusing to enforce liability waivers.  A Connecticut Sports Law reader, who also happens to be an attorney, thinks not:

I agree with the public policy [of promoting athletics and recreation] but would reach the exact opposite conclusion - liability interferes with the promotion of recreational activities.  The school will have less activities if it gets sued over them.  Does somebody on the Court think that parents or kids are avoiding athletics because they’re concerned that they won’t recover if they sue the school down the road?  Nobody who has every played a sport in their life could take that position seriously.

This argument has merit.  Does the Court’s policy limit opportunities for athletic activity?  Or does the policy ensure that schools and other providers of athletic activity take all steps to ensure participant safety, knowing that any liability waivers are unlikely to be enforced?

What do you think?

 


Jim Calhoun Receives Public Service Award from CBA

June 23, 2010

The Connecticut Bar Association honored UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun last week by awarding him the 2010 Distinguished Public Service Award.  Although Calhoun is best known for building the UConn basketball program into a national power, he has made significant contributions to Connecticut charities.  Here are some the highlights of Coach Calhoun’s charitable work:

  • In 1998, Coach Calhoun and his wife, Pat, established the Calhoun Cardiology Research Fund for the cardiology program at the University of Connecticut Health Center.
  • In 1999, the Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic Golf Tournament was launched and has raised more than $2.75 million for the Jim and Pat Calhoun Cardiology Research Endowment Fund. 
  • In 2006, Coach Calhoun and Mrs. Calhoun became involved with raising public awareness and research funding for Autism Speaks.  
  • For the last 10 years, the Jim Calhoun Holiday Food Drive has supported food assistance agencies throughout the state.  Nearly $1 million has been raised to help families in need.  Each year, the food drive culminates with Coach Calhoun, his family and his players delivering meals to hundreds of families.  
  • His “Hoops for Hope” black-tie galas have raised more than $400,000 for the American Cancer Society.
  • In June 2007, the Jim Calhoun Cancer Challenge Ride and Walk celebrated its first year as an annual statewide event to benefit the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Connecticut Health Center and Coaches vs. Cancer, a program established in 1993 by the American Cancer Society. The ride raised more than $225,000 in the fight against cancer.  
  • For the past 13 years, Coach Calhoun has served as honorary chair of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, helping raise more than $4.5 million to fund diabetes research.  
  • Finally, Coach Calhoun and Mrs. Calhoun have a long-standing involvement with the Franciscan Life Center in Meriden, a counseling and education center operated by the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist.  The Calhoun family has been involved each year in fund-raising activities by the Franciscan Sisters.  
  • Other charitable programs that the coach and his family are involved in include the Ronald McDonald House Kids Classic Golf Tournament, the Ray of Hope Foundation Golf Tournament, the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and the “Character Counts” program in Connecticut.

Congratulations to Coach Calhoun and Mrs. Calhoun for their exemplary public service.

Thanks to Tom Ciuba of the Connecticut Bar Association for providing the information contained in this post.


Hartford Colonials to Open Mini-Camp to Public

June 11, 2010

The United Football League’s (UFL) Hartford Colonials kick off a three-day mini camp this morning at 9 am, at Sage Park in Berlin.  Team workouts are scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  There will be two practices on Friday and Saturday, with a morning session from 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. and an afternoon session from 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. on both days. Mini Camp will conclude with a morning session on Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
 
Continuing with the UFL’s fan-friendly theme, all sessions are open to the public.  Parking and admission are free.
 
“I think it will be a good situation for fans to come down,” Colonials Head Coach and General Manager Chris Palmer said. “It will be nice for the fans to get to know the Colonials. We’re excited about it. The players are excited about it.”

For UConn football fans, there are plenty of former Huskies to cheer on.  The roster includes former UConn players Dahna Deleston, Andre Dixon, Keith Gray, Mike Hicks and Danny Lansanah. 
 
Mini Camp schedule:
 
Friday, June 11:   9-11 a.m. and 2:30-4:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 12:   9-11 a.m. and 2:30-4:30 p.m.
Sunday, June 13:   9-11 a.m.
 
For ticket information and team news, go to www.HartfordColonials.com.


From the Vault: Criticism of Eric Mangini and his Hartford Football Camp Should Stop

June 7, 2010

This past weekend Eric Mangini returned to Hartford for his Football Fundamentals camp.  The camp, which welcomes all players regardless of ability to pay, was once again a success.  News of camp, however, reminded me of the controversy that surrounded last year’s event.  I have posted last year’s article below.  Thankfully there was no such controversy this year.  Congratulations to Eric Mangini and his foundation for another job well done.   

Mark Mirko, Hartford Courant

 

A few years back,  my wife and I volunteered at Eric Mangini’s Football Fundamentals camp in Hartford.  Despite torrential downpours, the camp attracted somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 players, some from wealthy suburbs, others from poor urban areas, and even a busload of players from New Jersey (Mangini had just taken over the Jets).  All received instruction from an all-star roster of players and coaches from the New York Jets and New England Patriots.  After speaking with many long-time volunteers, we learned one of the most basic principles of the camp: every player can participate, regardless of his ability to pay the registration fee. 

 Following the conclusion of the day-long camp, we watched Corwin Brown, former Patriots defensive back and current Notre Dame assistant coach, interact with a high school player who attended the afternoon session of the camp. As I recall,  the player had missed the entire morning session of camp, on account of attending the funeral of a teammate who was killed in a drive-by shooting.  Brown asked the player if he’d ever been to an NFL game.  He said no.  Brown gave him his cell phone number and told the player to pick a game and Brown would get him tickets for him and a few of his friends.  As impressive as Brown’s gesture was, it was just a small example of players and coaches trying to help these young players in any way they could.

 This past weekend Mangini returned to Hartford to hold his camp.  An astounding 800 players attended the camp, and spent a beautiful Saturday learning football from the pros, including the rookie class of the Cleveland Browns, Mangini’s new team.  The attendance of the Brown’s rookies, and their method of transportation - bus – have attracted considerable attention.  Michael Lombardi, of the National Football Post writes as follows: 

According to some of the Cleveland rookies who made the 10-hour one-way bus ride this weekend to work in Eric Mangini’s camp, there was much discontent.  The trip to Hartford, Conn., was not a happy one. Let’s face it: All the talk about the camp being voluntary was hogwash.  What unsigned rookie is going to tell his head coach no and then expect to get a good deal?  Mangini controls everything in that building; you piss him off and you’ve pissed off the entire Browns kingdom.  I love the idea of Mangini having a camp in Hartford, but to make his rookies feel obligated to attend isn’t right.  I’m sure the NFLPA will look into this one.  

 It’s difficult to dispute the assertion, or at least the perception, that attendance of the camp was not voluntary for the Browns’ rookies.  Having once taken a bus to Buffalo to see the Patriots play with my Natick High School buddies, I can also attest that 10-hour bus trips are not my preferred way of travel.  Nevertheless, the criticism of Mangini accomplishes nothing.  It merely overshadows a great opportunity for these players to give something back and help some younger players.  

 The Browns have responded to the criticism by speaking of the other ways in which Mangini has attempted to instill a spirit of community service in his players: 

Since the rookies have been back, we have a lot of programs that are set up for them which are designed to improve them professionally, build team unity and also help serve the community. In fact, since they have been back in mid-May, they have visited a Veterans hospital and are scheduled to visit a school next week. 

Neither Mangini nor the Browns should have to defend themselves for encouraging players the engage in community service.  We have all heard the stories of the NFL off-season, during which nothing is truly optional.  But we’re not talking about players forced to place their health in jeopardy by engaging in full-contact drills.  We’re talking about a football camp for kids, many of whom are underprivileged. In virtually every profession, employees end up attending charitable events of their supervisors, managers and partners, knowing that failure to attend could be career-limiting.  It’s part of business, and its part of life.  And more often than not, we leave these events better for having attended. 

 Although a 10-hour bus ride may not be up to NFL standards, the outcry over this situation should stop.  The players, agents and NFLPA need to pass on this fight, whether the Browns violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement or not.  If the Browns’ rookies reflect upon their experience, they may just find that they gained something in Hartford this weekend, irrespective of their mode of travel.