Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Analyzing New York's 2014 MMA Bills


The New York State Senate voted to approve a bill that would allow sanctioned pro MMA into the state yesterday. Meanwhile, the Assembly may or may not do anything with their versions of the bill. But just what exactly is getting approved (or not, as the case may be)? To answer that question, here's a breakdown of the most salient points of what the Senate approved and what's likely be voted on or outright ignored by the Assembly.

The Senate voted 44-16 that Bill S06501 should pass, and the piece of legislation is virtually a mirror image of A08775, which is the bill that has the greatest shot at success in the Assembly. Given that there are a total of six MMA bills being kicked around in the Assembly, you might be wondering what makes A08775 the most promising of the bunch. Well, the answer to that lies with who is sponsoring it: Assemblyman Joseph Morelle, who is the Majority Leader - a title that lends a lot of juice to his legislative efforts. In addition, there are 56 other Assemblymen who've signed their name to the bill, so if anything makes it to a vote in the Assembly, chances are it will be this one.

As for the nittygritty of what S06502 and A08775 will do, there's the obvious stuff, such as giving the New York State Athletic Commission the power to oversee mixed martial arts, putting MMA under the purview of the medical advisory board, etc. But the bills also:

  1. Kill the ability of third-party sanctioning organizations to sanction MMA events by stressing that such approved organizations must deal only in "single disciplines";
  2. Empower the athletic commission to add, review and remove third-party sanctioning organizations, including those already on the approved list;
  3. Change the definition of "professional mixed martial arts bout" to include both matches where competitors receive consideration (i.e., money or a prize) and events where admission is charged;
  4. Define professional combative sports participants as anyone who competes for a money prize, OR who teaches or pursues or assists in the practice of MMA for money.
If these bills were signed into law, what sort of changes would be inflicted on the current New York MMA scene?

First, the "single discipline" caveat would destroy amateur MMA as we know it. Under current law, events sanctioned by certain third-party organizations are permitted to have alcohol served at them. But removing those third-party organizations from the equation suddenly makes it economically unfeasible to stage such events, especially since alcohol sales are a vital revenue stream for venues. Kickboxing events, which can be labeled as single discipline, would still be a go, but amateur MMA? No dice.

Second, the amateur "loophole" would be completely sewn up by changing the definition of a pro MMA bout to include events were admission is charged. Currently, amateur status is defined by the compensation (or lack thereof) competitors receive. Altering the definition to include shows where the spectators had to pay to get in pretty much makes all events pro under the law.

Lastly, making a participant out of anyone who teaches or assists in the practice of MMA for money puts a big target on the backs of many people who don't deserve it. Should the instructor at the UFC Gym in Astoria have to worry that he's going to be arrested for breaking the law simply because he teaches morning classes? What about journalists who write about the sport? Or kids who are paid to hand out flyers? This part of the MMA bills is problematic, and so over-broad that it begs for attention by the courts. Regardless, if the bills were to truly become law, it's something to worry about.

Will the Senate and Assembly bills ever make it to the governor's desk for a signature? There's no way of knowing that now. But if they do become statute, at least you'll know what to expect.

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