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A Lesson In Arbitration From A Weird College Basketball Story

College basketball coach Billy Gillispie is no stranger to the news.  He’s been the coach at Texas A&M, Kentucky, and Texas Tech, among others.  But this story is a little odd.

Having been fired from his last two jobs, Gillispie finds himself the coach of Ranger College, a Texas junior college.  In his first year, Gillispie created quite the turn-around, taking the program from a 2-23 record to a 31-7 record in his first year.

Or so he thought.

The National Junior College Athletic Association had different ideas.

Joshua Simmons was one of the players on Gillispie’s team.  Prior to joining Ranger College, Simmons played (very sparingly) for Spartansburg Methodist College.  While there, a team trainer filled out an NBA draft declaration form on Simmons’ behalf, signed Simmons’ name, and submitted the form to the NBA.

After the season, the NJCAA began investigating whether Simmons was an ineligible player, potentially having violated the NJCAA’s rules that students who have entered the NBA draft are not eligible to play.

After an investigation, the NJCAA ruled Simmons was ineligible and ordered Ranger College to forfeit all of its wins for the season.

Ranger College appealed the decision to an arbitrator, and that’s where the lessons come in.

This case seems like a no-brainer.  Simmons didn’t enter the draft himself, the evidence established that Simmons never filled out  the NBA’s packet of information to try and become draft-eligible, and prior to the draft, Simmons’ family sent a letter to the NBA trying to clarify that he did not want to be considered draft-eligible.

Surely an arbitrator would do what’s right.

Of course not.  Ranger College learned hard lessons about arbitration that we often warn our clients about.

Arbitrators often don’t do what is right or fair.  Too often, arbitrators are biased in favor of the parties whom they routinely see before them — whether that’s the NJCAA, an insurance company, or a credit card company.

Lesson number two: you can’t appeal the arbitrator’s opinion.  In the court system, if the judge or jury makes an error, then the party can appeal the wrong decision.  That’s not true with arbitration.  Arbitrators have an almost unbridled authority to do what they want.  They make a mistake?  No appeal.  They don’t understand evidence? No appeal.  They refuse to listen to you? No appeal.  A party to arbitration is stuck with a decision no matter how big a mistake an arbitrator makes.

Those are hard lessons to accept for clients who have to endure arbitrations, whatever the nature.



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