Plancher appeal reflects poorly
Published: Monday, May 28, 2012
Updated: Monday, May 28, 2012 13:05
Last week, the UCF Athletics Association filed an appeal in the Ereck Plancher case in an attempt to overturn the guilty verdict that could set UCFAA back $10 million if granted. The appeal was filed on the grounds of a waiver liability and the ruling of whether or not UCFAA is a state agency. None of the faculty members who were on site when Plancher collapsed were aware that he had tested positive for sickle cell trait, and the association has no documentation that states Plancher knew either. This type of negligence on behalf of an organization like UCFAA is the exact reason vague and open-ended liability waivers should not exist. The association should not be absolved of all responsibility when a player dies under its care, especially when steps to prevent this were apparently not taken by those who knew Plancher’s condition. Circuit Judge Robert M. Evans’ ruling should be applauded; it sets a precedent of care for football programs of other state universities. With the Florida A&M University hazing incident, organized sports are becoming an increasingly troublesome and controversial staple among Florida’s colleges, and strict regulations need to be set in place to prevent another tragedy.
Grant Heston, associate vice president of communications and public affairs for UCF, said that the appeal stands on two points: “The judge erred in ruling the UCF Athletics Association is not a state agency subject to liability limits. Every public university in Florida has supported UCF in this motion. The judge erred in not allowing a waiver signed by Ereck that absolved UCFAA of all liability. The judge made in-trial decisions that harmed the ability of UCFAA to present its case.”
What this appeal motion boils down to is money and reputation. UCFAA is essentially calling foul play on the judge’s part, with little support to back that claim. First, the judge ruled that UCFAA is not a state agency. The asterisk that should be seen at the end of this phrase states this: If UCFAA is ruled as a state agency, a $200,000 sovereign immunity cap is in place — a significant price cut from the $10 million that was initially demanded that the association shell out to Plancher’s parents. Second, in the event that UCFAA’s insurance company refuses to pay the initial requested amount, it is unclear how the association will persevere under such a hefty loss. UCFAA’s legal strategy is understandable and necessary in order to keep the association afloat, but does it set a positive moral precedent for its current and future players? Not exactly. The message this sends to its players is, “You can play sports for us, and we’ll test you for any health abnormalities, but we won’t tell you about them or take any preventative measures to ensure the safety of our players.”
Former UCF football player Cody Minnich testified that players like Plancher could face negative consequences, such as coaches deciding not to renew a compliant player’s scholarship. This explains Plancher’s attempt to continue the exercises, possibly past the point of fatigue. The fact that water was deliberately removed from the training area, which Minnich described as a “human microwave,” is also negligent behavior on behalf of the UCFAA.
As George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel acknowledged, by appealing, the UCFAA is causing the case to remain in media spotlight. “It is keeping its darkest tragedy in the news, building a clip file for every single recruiter in the nation,” Diaz wrote. The association needs to understand the future fiscal implications, as well as the mark that is now left on its integrity by motioning for appeal.