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State Representative asks Ohio Attorney General to sue to keep the Crew in Columbus

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Rep. Mike Duffey has an interesting, though unlikely, plan to keep Precourt from moving the Crew.

Toronto FC v Columbus Crew SC Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

State Representative Mike Duffey (21st District) of Columbus has proposed a legal plan to save the Crew. According to an article in Columbus Business First, Duff asked Attorney General Mike DeWine to sue Anthony Precourt to keep Columbus Crew SC in Columbus.

Duffey bases his idea on Ohio Revised Code 9.67, which was created after Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996.

The ORC, titled “Restrictions on owner of professional sports team that uses a tax-supported facility” reads:

No owner of a professional sports team that uses a tax-supported facility for most of its home games and receives financial assistance from the state or a political subdivision thereof shall cease playing most of its home games at the facility and begin playing most of its home games elsewhere unless the owner either:

(A) Enters into an agreement with the political subdivision permitting the team to play most of its home games elsewhere;

(B) Gives the political subdivision in which the facility is located not less than six months' advance notice of the owner's intention to cease playing most of its home games at the facility and, during the six months after such notice, gives the political subdivision or any individual or group of individuals who reside in the area the opportunity to purchase the team.

Effective Date: 06-20-1996 .

While Duffey’s idea is novel, it is fraught with issues. The most glaring flaw with this plan is that currently, Precourt has not violated this portion of the Ohio Revised Code. At of the time of publishing, Crew SC has neither officially announced a move nor actually moved to Austin. The statute is unclear as to whether a lawsuit would be required AFTER the team moves or if an injunction could be sought to prevent a team from moving.

More issues arise from the vague nature of the wording of this statute.

Duffey would like to argue that MAPFRE Stadium is a “tax-supported facility” because the stadium sits on public land and because public funds have been used for improvements to MAPFRE’s parking. However, there is no definition for the term “facility.” While the land that MAPRE sits on likely fits within the legal definition for “tax-supported facility,” MAPFRE itself is totally owned by Precourt, who would likely argue that the stadium does not fit this within this definition.

Subsection B proves to be the most damaging point against Duffey’s plan. Under 9.67(B), if an owner of a team that plays in a tax-supported facility does intend to move the team to a new facility and has not reached an agreement with the “political subdivision” that permits the move, the owner must only provide six months notice of the move and must provide the opportunity to purchase the team to “any individual or group of individuals who reside in the area.”

Precourt has provided more than six months of notice of a potential move, so the first item of the statute is met. The question is whether he has provided an opportunity to purchase the team, and what “opportunity” even means. MLS and Precourt would likely point to their November 15, 2017 meeting as an “opportunity” for a group in Columbus to buy the team.

The counter argument must be that this meeting, and all other offers that Precourt has rejected, do not constitute an “opportunity” because Precourt never intended to accept any reasonable offers.

Even if Precourt’s plan were determined to be a violation of this statute, there is no guarantee that this, as of yet unchallenged, law would pass constitutional muster. This law is not likely a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition against illegal searches and seizures of private property, but could potentially run afoul of the Ohio Constitution’s 19th Amendment, which protects private property, which Crew SC is, as inviolate.

Either constitutional argument by Precourt would be a stretch, but both illustrate the unlikelihood of success for Duffey’s audacious plan.