How are disputes handled on your team or in your athletic department or organization? Is the process fair and transparent? Is it cost-effective? Does it identify issues early and create a clear path to resolution?

Dispute Systems Design

Janet Martinez and Stephanie Smith, lecturers at Stanford Law School, present an analytic framework for creating specialized dispute resolution systems to meet the needs of particular groups and institutions. This framework rests upon the following five principles: goals, structure, stakeholders, resources, and success/accountability. SCI expands upon this basic model in the sports context to ensure effective systems are in place in athletic departments, sports organizations, and within teams.


What types of conflict should the system address? What is the system intended to accomplish? What are some examples of goals the system could reasonably achieve?

These goals should:

  • Define success
  • Be as specific as possible
  • Include both team and individual goals
  • Establish measurable success criteria to enable system evaluation

Processes & Structure

What methods will be used to prevent and resolve conflict? How does the system interact with other systems (e.g., the NCAA and the formal legal system)? What are the advantages and disadvantages to participation in the system?


Who should be involved in system design? Whose interests does it represent (e.g., coaches, players, fans, administrators, etc.)? The more stakeholders included in the dispute system design, the more likely that it will gain the credibility necessary to endure over time. The overall cost of any conflict is dispersed among a number of stakeholders. In sport situations, these groups could be roughly divided into the following categories: administrators, coaches, athletes, and supporters.


Does the system have adequate financial and human resources to meet its goals? Are there enough trained neutrals? Is there sufficient access to conflict prevention and resolution education? Are the available procedures appropriate to prevent and resolve the disputes that occur? The investment should be cost-beneficial and should reflect the level and frequency of the organization’s experience with destructive conflict. The system should not introduce a new cost burden; in the end, it should help the organization save money and other valuable resources.

Success & Accountability

What is the level of transparency? Consistency? Is the system able to meet its intended goals? How is the system evaluated? By whom? How do the system implementers utilize evaluation to continuously improve the system? The structure of the system will determine its level of success. If the assessment identifies the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, the stated goals specifically address those weaknesses, and stakeholders at all levels feel they have been afforded an opportunity to shape the system, it will have a good chance of success. A detailed system design also serves as a template from which to act and establishes a consistent method to address particular instances of conflict.

Contact SCI to discuss an assessment of your dispute system