Anyone working in any organization knows that so-called “whistle-blowers’ who report allegations of wrongdoing in their organization to outside sources face a significant change of retaliation from people within the organization being attacked.
The world of sports is no different. Anyone who has a job in sports administration or management has to be aware of the ethical dilemma anyone could face. An employee of an athletic department or of a non-profit sports organization becomes aware of inappropriate and/or illegal activity by persons within the organization. The person either talks to someone inside the organization and gets nowhere or talks to someone and is told to keep the information quiet.
What to do? Doing “what’s right” can come with serious consequences for the person coming forward. If no action is taken not only does the person with the information have to deal with his or her own conscience; but that person can eventually become ensnared in any subsequent investigation into wrongdoing.
This brings us to the case of Ms. Amy Christofferson. From 1998 to 2007 she was employed at Boise State University as an assistant women’s track & field head coach. In 2007 she was reassigned to a non-coaching job within the athletic department processing insurance paperwork. In 2008 she was terminated from that job when her contract was not renewed.
Ms. Christofferson filed suit in federal court following the university’s failure to renew her contract. She alleged sexual discrimination and wrongful dismissal/retaliation.
The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a short story online on July 7 reporting that Ms. Christofferson recently settled her lawsuit with the university and received a payment of $40,000. A quick review of local news outlets in Idaho revealed further details.
It seems that Ms. Christofferson began in 2005 and 2006 to report violations of NCAA rules by the men’s and women’s track & field programs to her bosses. After two years of feeling ignored by university officials she sent an email to the NCAA staff on April 22, 2008 outlining her claims of at least 21 rule violations in the two programs. An NCAA official visited Boise on May 8, 2008 and interviewed her. Nothing else was heard from the NCAA until a new investigator was assigned to the case in February, 2009.
Ms. Christofferson had sent three more emails between May, 2008 and February, 2009 alleging further rules violations. The NCAA Committee on Infractions eventually opened a full-scale investigation which has recently spread to include allegations involving the football program.
An AP report and an article published by the Idaho Statesman both indicate that a $40,000 payment was given by the school to Ms. Christofferson in June, 2011, about a month before the trial date in her lawsuit. Settlement documents are currently sealed; but it is believed that other payments by the university to her are part of the settlement in the case.
It is also possible that terms of the settlement include a non-disclosure agreement prohibiting both sides from discussing details of the settlement. This could ultimately preclude any further testimony by Ms. Christofferson to anyone associated with the NCAA, which of course has no subpoena powers. It should be noted that this tactic was in fact used in a lawsuit filed against former USC Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush after he was sued by a “runner” for an agent who was found by the NCAA to have paid thousands of dollars in impermissible benefits to Bush’s parents while he was playing for USC.
This case highlights two major issues facing NCAA member schools. First, Boise State joins the long list of prominent athletic programs to be dragged before the NCAA Infractions Committee over the past 10 years. As the money involved in big-time college athletics dramatically increases so do the pressures to win. There are so many NCAA cases being brought that a new specialty has emerged in the field of law—attorneys who do little else but represent and advise clients who are dealing with the NCAA over allegations of rules violations.
Second, anyone working for an athletic department is on a hot seat. All school employees who deal regularly with athletics must annually sign an NCAA form stating that they have no personal knowledge of any NCAA rule violations at their school. Signing this form is one of the things that came back to haunt recently deposed Ohio State football coach, Jim Tressel.
Failure to sign a form can open up an employee to scrutiny by superiors. This scrutiny can often have serious job consequences. Boise State back in 2008 denied any wrongdoing in its initial report to the NCAA and painted Ms. Christofferson as bitter and disgruntled former employee with an axe to grind.
These problems are also present in the high school ranks. Several people lost their jobs at Hoover High School in the aftermath of the 2008 scandal surrounding improprieties in its juggernaut football program. The City Board of Education in Birmingham, Alabama has had to deal with several wrongful termination lawsuits over the past 10 years where people have alleged retaliation by school personnel after problems were brought to public attention.
The Westside Little League 12-year old all-star team in Mobile, Alabama is currently in litigation with Little League, Inc. over the recent decision to disqualify all league all-star teams from tournament competition this year because of allege rule violations. The issue really revolves around the oldest group of all-stars, who won the Southeastern Regional tournament two years running in younger age brackets; but whose team this year could qualify for the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The league went to court and obtained a temporary restraining order allowing its teams to play, at least until a July 8 hearing in Mobile.
Anyone desiring a career in sports administration has to make themselves aware of these kinds of issues. Law and sport are inextricably linked together in today’s world. It seems more and more as though referees don’t wear field uniforms; but rather wear suits and ties and carry briefcases.
To read more about the Boise State case please see the following links: