Did You Know Your Athletic Director Has 14 Legal Duties?

by Jim Wright, Ed.D., CMAA
Associate Executive Director, NYSAAA

We would all like to think that our Athletic Director has everything well under control. Yet,
every year there is either an incident or a tragedy that puts a school district on the evening
news. Of course the usual suspect is negligence as that is the only course of action a plaintiff
may take should there be litigation. In the athletic world there are dozens of situations that
can lead to a lawsuit and if looked at through a proactive lens, they are preventable. In fact,
to define our proactiveness, we in the New York State Athletic Administrators Association
focus our efforts in mentoring and professional development on the 14 Legal Duties of
Athletic Administrators through workshops and a specific four-hour course written by sports
law attorneys. The course, LTC 504, is one of 60 courses made for Athletic Directors with
four of those courses dealing with sports law.

Over the years the NYSAAA has collaborated with hundreds of Athletic Directors about their
legal responsibilities and their number one mission…”To keep their district free from
vulnerability to litigation”. It is here where Superintendents can focus their attention on the
athletic program other than taking negative phone calls about playing time or trying to find
the time to go to a game.

After reading this, the first thing you may want to do is have a meeting with your Athletic
Director and ask questions about what they are doing to reduce risk? Ask specific questions
related to the job such as, “Is our Parent Handbook up to date?”, “Do we use and practice
Emergency Action Plans?”, “Do coaches have all their certifications in place, especially
CPR/AED and First Aid?”, “Do we keep an up to date inventory of equipment and is it fitted
properly on each athlete?”, “Are we providing appropriate medical care should an athlete
become injured?”, and “What is our Emergency Plan for Game Management?”.

These questions only scratch the surface of an Athletic Director’s responsibilities but carry
with them a major responsibility to provide a safe, effective playing experience for
student-athletes. Too many times we fail to see potential consequences based on actions
that have not been planned for which brings us to the primary duty of an Athletic Director…


Built within this statement is the responsibility of the coach to do the same. In fact,
according to a recent study, the lack of recording and storing practice plans is the main
reason why lawsuits are successful. Consider how we rely on a teacher’s lesson plan to
determine how the curriculum is presented. The same applies to coaching. Practice plans
prove that a coach conducted a practice that meets appropriate guidelines and any
deviations from the plan could lead to negligent actions. In fact, the failure to refer to a
practice plan when defending a lawsuit based on negligence is bound to lose the case for
the district. If a coach and AD cannot prove their actions were within approved guidelines,
there is no defense.

Additionally, it is your responsibility as Superintendent to be aware of the standards of care
an Athletic Director needs to implement in order to maintain that safe environment. An
example may be related to transporting athletes to contests by an outside contractor.
Someone needs to be assured that all drivers have passed the required tests and have a safe
driving record and that their equipment has been DOT inspected and approved for

Another may be in how we provide medical care. Do you have an athletic trainer or do you
use an outside agent to supply one? Yes, as is the case with bus drivers, officials, teachers,
and coaches there just is not enough to go around, but if you have done all that you can to
provide a trainer, it becomes more difficult to litigate successfully. The common
denominator is that you can document your efforts.
To provide more context into the role of the Athletic Director, here are the 14 Legal Duties as
codified by Janis K. Doleschal in Managing Risk in Interscholastic Athletic Programs (2006).

Athletic Directors have the DUTY TO….

  1. Plan
  2. Supervise
  3. Assess and athlete’s physical readiness and academic eligibility for practice and
  4. Maintain safe playing conditions
  5. Provide proper equipment
  6. Instruct properly
  7. Match athletes
  8. Warn
  9. Provide and supervise proper physical conditioning
  10. Ensure that athletes are covered by injury insurance
  11. Develop an Emergency Response Plan
  12. Provide proper emergency care
  13. Provide safe transportation
  14. Select, train, and supervise coaches

Think about it. Is your AD aware that adhering to these duties is their primary job and the
responsibility to prevent litigation? If not, how can we fill the existing gaps?

The obvious is being overstated in your opinion that the position of Athletic Director carries
with it a tremendous amount of responsibility and should not be taken lightly. It is your
obligation to allow your Athletic Director the time to attend conferences, go to workshops,
take courses that are available through their professional organization, the NYSAAA, and
ultimately guide your Athletic Director to become fully certified by the National
Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association as over 300 currently are in New York.

We may have different roles and responsibilities, but we are in this together.