Business continuation in sports

By - Last modified: February 24, 2012 at 12:14 PM

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Many companies, including the one I work at, have what they refer to as a business continuation policy.

This is a set of rules designed to prevent or react to a sudden, significant loss of employees. These plans are usually designed to consider a natural disaster, transportation accident, disease outbreak or other event that causes a critical interruption to operations. Major sports leagues have to be prepared for these events as well.

Sports teams are especially vulnerable to transportation accidents. Like anyone who travels often, they put themselves at more risk than the average person. Teams don’t have the time or money to spread their players and staff across different flights as a preventative measure, like some companies mandate. Teams in major leagues, or those in large geographic associations, often travel via aircraft.  

As a result, there have been several notable events. Best known are accidents involving the 1970 Marshall University football team (subject of the movie “We Are Marshall”) and the 1980 U.S. boxing team, both of which had high numbers of casualties. The 1961 Minneapolis Lakers crash-landed in an Iowa cornfield but escaped serious harm. Bus accidents are also common, but haven’t made many headlines. Around this time of year, it’s not uncommon to hear about a flu outbreak on a team, where players share close quarters and even water bottles.

Leagues have minimum thresholds of impact where their policies kick in. For example, MLB’s policy comes into effect when at least five players from a team’s roster are permanently disabled. The NBA and NHL are similar — the leagues implement a “disaster draft,” similar to an expansion draft. The team that experienced the loss is allowed to draft from a pool of players made available by other teams. The affected team is also allowed expanded capability to call up minor league players.

The NFL is a bit unique, partially due to the roster size. If the event affects less than 15 players, the affected team is given the first right to players that are waived by other teams for the rest of the season. If the event affects more than 15 players, the league commissioner can choose to cancel that team’s season, call a disaster draft and give the affected team the first pick of the next draft. With the NFL having no minor league, there is a smaller overall pool of football players that are available for teams.

For the NHL, NFL and MLB, where there are more specialized positions, there are additional rules. Teams in these leagues get special assistance to help acquire quarterbacks, goaltenders, pitchers and catchers.

Disaster policies came into focus as recently as September 2011. Lokomotiv Yarosalvl, a team in the Russian equivalent of the NHL, lost its entire team and traveling staff as a result of a plane crash. The incident had ripple effects in the U.S., as several former NHL players were victims of the crash. While U.S. leagues have been spared from recent tragedies, they have prepared themselves for the unfortunate, just like other businesses.

Bill Sayer is a financial analyst in the insurance industry and holds a degree in economics. A native of upstate New York, Bill enjoys watching college football, the NFL, NHL and Premier League soccer from his home in Palmyra. Have a suggestion, link or question?

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