Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jennifer Capriati and the "Capriati Rule"

Yesterday, various media outlets reported that Jennifer Capriati was rushed to a hospitial for a possible overdose of prescription drugs.

At the age of 34, Capriati has not played professional tennis for 5+ years following shoulder surgery. However, she has yet to officially retire from the sport. Her career record is impressive. Among the numerous highlights - a gold medal in 1992, three Grand Slams titles, and a top ten world ranking at the age of 14.

Capriati's career is also tied to sports law. In 1995, the WTA Tour (the governing body for women's professional tennis worldwide) enacted a minimum age rule. The WTA Tour age eligibility rule is sometimes dubbed the "Capriati Rule" given that it was adopted shortly after Capriati burst onto the tennis scene as a prodigious 13-year-old. Numerous law review articles have been written about the legality of minimum age rules under antitrust law. However, the number of actual legal challenges has been minimal. The most prominent case, of course, was Maurice Clarett's lawsuit against the NFL. In tennis, Mirjana Lucic filed a 1997 lawsuit in Australia, but did not find any success. In 1999, American teenager Monique Viele threatened to file an antitrust suit against the WTA Tour, but never made good on her threats.

In my research on the issue, I have generally found such age-based policies to pass antitrust muster. As such, I am not surprised by the dearth of actual litigation on the issue. However, I remain curious about the effects such policies have on the careers of players subject to the rule's requirements. Over the course of the past two years I undertook a research line that tests the impact of minimum age rules in various sports empirically. Using the tools of econometrics, I investigated the impact of such rules. Dan Stone and I recently finished the first stand-alone paper to come from this research line and are presenting our findings at the Western Economic Association's annual conference tomorrow. We look forward to receiving feedback from other researchers.

Next up is applying similar research methods to the NBA and building on Mike McCann's work. I recently finished compiling a data set that includes every first and second round NBA draft pick since 1975. In the case of women's tennis, we found the 1995 age rule to have very little impact on the labor market outcomes of players subject to the rule. I have yet to run the regressions for the NBA data, but look forward to seeing if there is any evidence to disprove the null hypothesis.