Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Risks of Putting New York Out of Commission

Early last month, Michael Marley reported on Boxing Scene.com that Melvina Lathan, the distinguished Chairperson of the New York State Athletic Commission (the “Commission”), is likely on her way out as a result of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s need to address New York State’s $10 billion budget deficit. Marley reported that Lathan is but one of up to 10,000 state employees that may or will find themselves without a job in the coming months, unless she opts to offer her services on a pro bono basis. While cutting Lathan loose may make sense to some in the context of New York’s bigger problems, the question is begged as to what happens to the Commission, and the New York boxing scene as a whole, if both Lathan departs and the Commission is no longer provided the budget it needs to stay fully and capably staffed. A quick look at some of the potential issues and fall-out follows.

Who Will Step Up to be the Chief ?

Lathan’s salary is/was allegedly in the low six figure range, a respectable salary for someone who is charged with making certain that everything runs smoothly at every boxing event staged in New York State in a given year. If New York State is now unable or unwilling to pay a similar (or any) salary to her replacement in the midst of its budget crisis, who would step up and accept the throne? Marley suggested that someone such as retired heavyweight contender “Baby” Joe Mesi may be in the running. As articulate and well-liked as Mesi is in New York boxing circles, one has to believe that he does not have the grasp on boxing’s legal and regulatory niceties that either Lathan, or a veteran from boxing’s legal community in New York, would have if a respectable salary could be guaranteed. Without a strong Chairperson, the Commission is at risk of losing its edge in terms of continuing to take decisive steps to keep the bouts under its jurisdiction fair and safe, and doing its part to take the lead in suspending boxers it feels should not be participating in the Sweet Science any longer.

Lose the Battle, Lose the Wars?

If the Commission finds itself wholly unable to budget for a solid Chairperson or staff, will New York State as a whole begin to fall out of the running for major fight cards? In the past year, several notable boxing cards took place at Madison Square Garden, boxing made its reemergence at (the new) Yankees Stadium with a tremendous action bout between Miguel Cotto and Yuri Foreman, and Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions entered into an agreement to stage monthly cards at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. With a fractured Commission, does the annual number of bouts dwindle at the Garden and its smaller counterpart, the Wamu Theater? Does boxing become a one-off event at the new Yankees Stadium? Does Golden Boy decide that New York’s house is in too much disarray to make the Barclays Center deal worthwhile? Probably not, as New York can house major events like few other states, but the undercurrent of uncertainty may be create concern for some.

No Addition Given the Subtraction?

The Chief Justice of Standing 8 Court recently moderated a forum at the headquarters of the New York County Lawyers Association during which the panelists discussed and debated the legal and regulatory issues surrounding the legalization of mixed martial arts in New York. Given the recentness of Marley’s report at that time, the inevitable question came up: how would the Commission be able to handle the increase in the number of combat sports events if MMA were legalized, yet the budget cuts made as to the Commission continued? One answer is that with the estimated $1.3 million in direct revenue and $23 million in economic impact that MMA events can bring to New York State in a given year, the windfall alone could help pay for the upkeep of a respectable Commission. Indeed, it is beyond question that venues from Nassau Coliseum, to Madison Square Garden, to University at Buffalo Stadium would sell out in a matter of minutes in the face of a UFC or Strike Force card. Unfortunately, however, any direct revenue generated would likely go straight into the more general budget pool, and likely not be earmarked exclusively for the Commission. In sum, the recent subtraction could make the addition of more combat sporting events a daunting prospect for the Commission unless MMA’s legalization was attached to a revamped budget for the Commission. As an aside, here’s hoping that the day is near where East Meadow, Long Island’s own Matt Serra and other New York-raised MMA talent will finally get the opportunity to dazzle their hometown fans without having to place them all on a bus back from Atlantic City or Newark afterwards.

Who’d be There to Keep the Foxes Out of the Hen House?

One strong feature of the Commission is the arbitration/ mediation mechanism that it has been in place to handle the contractual disputes that arise between boxers and their management. The result is an economical way to avoid costly litigation in New York State, a tremendous benefit to the many boxers whom toil away at their craft for minimal pay in New York’s gyms while awaiting their breakthrough opportunities. Many of these boxers already rely on the goodwill of area attorneys/ boxing enthusiasts to look over their agreements on the arm and make sure they are not being robbed by their prospective manager or promoter. Many of those same enthusiasts, however, may be not be as generous with their otherwise billable time if it meant having to stage a full-blown litigation if the Commission one day did not have the budget to stay up to speed with its arbitrations and mediations. Perhaps New York law firms could handle such disputes on a per diem or pro bono basis for the Commission if it came to that, or perhaps a law school’s sports law clinic, such as those at Valparaiso or University of Vermont, could step in. Without the Commission staying on top of such dispute resolution itself, however, it is very likely that some New York-based boxers would fall through the cracks and be subject to abuse without any economical source of recourse if the Commission could one day no longer attend to their needs due to budget cuts.

Standing 8 Court could probably continue on for a long time with the unsettling potential implications of the recent budget cuts on the future of boxing in New York State. These above issues, however, should be enough of a contribution for one night to the healthy debate as to why New York State should give some thought to not putting Lathan, and the Commission as a whole, out of commission. On behalf of the New York State combat sports community, Standing 8 Court asks that New York State find a way to keep the Mecca of Boxing, Madison Square Garden, and boxing’s smaller houses of worship throughout New York, flush with events, fans, and Commission employees capable of making sure everything runs smoothly. Maybe boxing and MMA will not knock out the budget deficit themselves, but at least they can be given the opportunity to do their small part to provide an escape to the New York taxpayers who look forward to attending their events.

This article is also available at this link.