Current Legal Practices in Collegiate Club Sport Programs

May 12, 2011

Steve Kampf
Recreational Sports
Bowling Green State University

Scott Haines
Recreational Services
The College at Brockport, SUNY

Robert C. Schneider
The Department of Physical Education and Sport
The College at Brockport, SUNY

William F. Stier Jr.
The Department of Physical Education and Sport
The College at Brockport, SUNY

Brady Gaskins
Office of Residential Life
Bowling Green State University
Legal liability practices within a college recreation program have long been an apprehension for the personnel who oversee programming. In particular, club sport activities have been a concern as to what the true legal liability benchmarks were in the field of college recreational sports. A review of current literature revealed a lack of benchmarking information relating to legal liability practices in collegiate club sport programs. Specifically, the information gained from this study provides programmatic direction in reviewing and proposing changes to policies and procedures relating to club sport safety.

A comprehensive research study was recently completed on the subject of legal liability that relates to club sports. Areas that were studied included the use of waivers, travel, coaching, first aid/CPR, and supervision. The following information serves as a reference point for those who oversee college club sport programs and could help in developing or reviewing policies and procedures.

Research Procedures
A questionnaire was designed with the assistance of professionals in the field of college recreational programs as well as a thorough review of current and past literature. A pilot study was conducted for the purpose of seeking feedback and to help validate the survey instrument. Six professional members of the National Intramural Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA), with over ten years of professional experience, were used for piloting the study. After making the appropriate modifications based on expert feedback, the survey questionnaire was mailed to all campus recreation directors who held an institutional membership in NIRSA, which totaled 563. Of the 563 questionnaires mailed to campus recreation directors, 213 were returned for a response rate of 38%.

The use of a waiver for club sport participation was found to be common practice within a campus recreation department. Ninety-one percent of those who responded to the survey indicated that a signed waiver was required. Overall, there was not general agreement as to the method of obtaining signatures. Most often, however, the responsibility to obtain signatures to waivers was found to be held by the officers for each club (44%). The second most common method of obtaining a signed waiver was to have the participant sign the waiver when registering for a team (19%) and during a club sport team meeting (18%). Surprisingly, it was found that on-line registration was not reported as a widely held practice in campus recreation with only 4% of the respondents reporting.

Travel has been and will most likely be one of the most difficult issues related to supervision of club sports. The use of an independent contractor offers the club sport participants the “best legal option, since the contract for service shifts liability to the contractor” (Pittman & Lehr, 2003, p.159). However, most campuses do not have the resources to regularly hire private contractors to transport their participants. Overall, campus recreation directors indicate that the most common form of transporting for away competitions was renting vans from an outside vendor (95%), the use of private transportation (95%), driving personal vehicles (94%) and finally, renting vans from the campus fleet (70%). It is important to differentiate between types of vans. While use of a van is a common form of transportation, the use of a 15-passenger van was not regarded as a common method of travel (40%). Surprisingly, only two respondents reported requiring van safety training or any type of certification prior to transportation.
The practice of requiring an institutional employee to travel with the club sport was examined. Thirty percent of those who responded indicated they never require an institutional employee to travel to away competitions. Conversely, only 9% indicated requiring a professional employee to accompany teams during away travel. Other criteria where campus recreation directors require institutional employees to travel include travelling out of country (16%), travelling out of state/province (11%) and nine percent considered length and time of trip in their decisions.

Coaches/Athletic Trainers
The type of coach used for club sport teams was also examined in this study. A non-student volunteer was found to be the most common type of coach used with campus recreation club sport programs (40%), followed by the player coach (29%), paid coach (15%), and student volunteer (15%). However, a difference was seen in those programs whose budget exceeded $78,000. Surprisingly, it was found that these institutions relied more on voluntary coaches (58%) versus the paid coach (15%).
Overall, 35% of directors who responded indicated they had access to professional athletic trainers from their institution for club sports. Specifically, the use of professional certified trainers (35%) was used more than a student trainer (29%). However, a difference was seen with institutions whose budget exceeded $37,000. In general, those institutions with budgets over $37,000 had greater access to athletic training services.

First Aid/CPR/AED
A majority of campus recreation directors do not require club sport coaches to be certified in CPR, first aid and AED‘s. That is, campus recreation directors reported that CPR was required by 32% of the club sport coaches, 27% were certified in first aid, and only 13% were AED certified. Overall, 17% of campus recreation directors indicated they required AED’s at their home competitions.

Finally, campus recreation directors were asked if they require physical supervision at home competitions. Less than half (41%) indicated they have some sort of physical supervision for home club sport competitions. The most frequent form of supervision was found to be student employees (18%), with a campus recreation professional being used the second most frequently (12%). Other methods of supervising home competitions are the use of graduate assistants (7%) and campus safety/university police (4%).

The purpose of this study was to determine the current legal practices in collegiate club sport programs. It can be concluded that most club sport programs are maintaining a philosophy of allowing participants to self-administer and self-regulate their programs. The use of a waiver was found to be a consistent common practice and the manner in which waivers are collected were found to differs from program to program. Most club sport participants are traveling to away competitions in personal cars, rental vans and chartered buses. However, supervision of away travel by a professional campus recreation employee was not seen as a common practice. Club sport programs are not requiring physical supervision at home events. Additionally, it was found that club sport programs are not requiring a coach to have certifications (First Aid, CPR, AED), professional supervision at home competitions, or access to athletic trainers. The question remains as to who is responsible to address emergency procedures at home events.

Disclaimer: The results of this study are for informational purposes only and are not to be used as a legal basis for decisions. Campus recreation directors should always seek professional legal counsel when making liability related decisions.

Pittman, A. & Lehr, C. (2003). Transportation. In Cotton, D. J. & Wolohan, J. T. (Eds.), Law for Recreation and Sport Managers (pp. 157-168). Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing.

Note: The complete study referenced in this report can be found in – Schneider, R. C., Stier, W. F., Kampf, S., Haines, S. G., & Gaskins, B. (2008). ‘Club sport legal liability practices at NIRSA institutions’. Recreational Sports Journal, 22 (1), 62-77.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Steve Kampf, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, Director of Rec. Sports, Bowling Green State University, Student Recreation Center, Bowling Green, OH 43403-0146 E-mail:; Work: 419-372-7485; Fax: 419-372-8454.

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