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Vick's future up in air (cont.)

Posted: Friday August 24, 2007 3:43PM; Updated: Friday August 24, 2007 5:03PM
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Much like two business actors who come to believe they are better off contracting, both sides in a criminal litigation can come to a belief that they are better off with a plea deal.

Until Judge Hudson actually sentences him in a court hearing, Vick will not know for sure if he will serve several months or several years in prison. He will also not know if the Commonwealth of Virginia will bring charges against him under state law.

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After Judge Hudson's sentencing, Vick will await his prison assignment. Judge Hudson will have considerable influence in that assignment, although the U.S. Bureau of Prisons will ultimately decide where Vick spends the next part of his life. While all prisons are undoubtedly terrible places to spend any time, some, and particularly maximum security ones, are especially harsh. Given Vick's crime, probable sentence, and lack of criminal record, however, he seems poised for a relatively favorable assignment.

When Vick is behind bars, he will likely spend some time thinking about his future as an NFL player. Assuming he remains in good condition and is released by age 29 or 30, he should be able to resume his football career. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, however, will likely impose a significant sentence. But that penalty could have been significantly longer, if not permanent, had Vick admitted to active involvement in gambling.

While Vick will want the suspension to run concurrently with his prison sentence, it is doubtful Goodell would agree to such an arrangement. After all, suspending an imprisoned player from the NFL seems meaningless. Vick's suspension will likely begin after his release from prison.

If that proves true, it will be interesting to see if Vick tries to play professional football while suspended from the NFL. In what might be called the "Ricky Williams Rule," the Canadian Football League recently ruled that its teams cannot employ suspended NFL players, meaning Vick won't be playing up north. But there may be a very different professional football landscape by 2008. If Mark Cuban's new United Football League takes off as planned, Vick could have a home. It would certainly make for good theater. Then again, playing for what may be viewed as the NFL's rival league would probably not place a suspended Vick in commissioner Goodell's best of graces.

Vick's plea agreement will also influence his ability to obtain future endorsement deals. While he will always wear something of a scarlet letter for his involvement in animal abuse, only time will tell whether it is the first thing that we notice about him. If Vick appears apologetic and contrite, serves his time without incident and returns to pro football with success, people's memories might adjust. After all, as outraged as some people are right now, the strength of those emotions will wane over time.

Still, any company with which Vick enters into an endorsement contract will demand flexible language on the morals clause, meaning that the company could terminate the deal with ease.

Michael McCann is a law professor at Mississippi College School of Law. He specializes in sports law.

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