By BRAD KEITH
(December 28, 2015) — The ugly tear in the fabric of the sport of rodeo will be argued in a US District Court in Dallas Tuesday.
The new Elite Rodeo Athletes, or ERA, has filed a antitrust class-action lawsuit against the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, PRCA, saying recent changes to bylaws blackballing cowboys with financial interest in other rodeo associations is an attempt to form an illegal monopoly over the sport.
The PRCA argues it does not have to allow athletes with financial interest in competing associations to continue to hold membership in the PRCA, and plans to deny the renewal of memberships for approximately 80 of its top competitors who have agreed to compete in the ERA next year. Each have been given an ownership share in the new franchise, according to a report published December 10 by the New York Times.
That’s a violation of the changed PRCA bylaws, meaning without the support of a judge, those athletes will not be allowed to compete in PRCA sanctioned rodeos beginning January 1.
Bobby Mote, who resides with his family in Huckabay, is among the ERA board of directors and is expected to testify Tuesday, a source says.
The four-time world champion bareback rider is joined on the board by Stephenville team roper Martin Lucero. Other members of the board of directors are Trevor Brazile, who has won more money and world titles than any athlete in the sport’s history, team roper Ryan Motes, bareback rider Wes Stevenson and CEO and President Tony Garritano.
Brazile, Motes, Garatano and perhaps others are also expected to testify for ERA, while PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman, steer wrestler and nine time National Finals Rodeo qualifier K.C. Jones and Rural Media Group CEO Randy Bernard are among those expected to testify for PRCA.
Bernard oversees RFD-TV, which puts on The American, the richest single event in the sport, each year with its own qualifying schedule and finals at luxurious AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
But while the PRCA and The American appear to work together cordially, that is not the case between the PRCA and ERA. It is more similar to the parting of ways between the PRCA and Professional Bull Riders, or PBR, back in 1995.
Several local athletes and stock contractors were part of the forming of the PBR, believing the PRCA was limiting their earning potential, as worded in the New York Times report. The Times went on to cite PBR champ JB Mauney making more than $1.5 million, about five times the $300,000 plus earned by PRCA bull riding champ Sage Kimzey.
Now athletes in other rodeo events – bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping and barrel racing – feel the same way. Steer roping, which has its own PRCA-sanctioned national finals and is not included in the National Finals Rodeo, is not listed on the rodeo events page within the official ERA website, eraprorodeo.com.
Mote and Lucero, a 16 time NFR qualifier, are far from the only local athletes with a great deal at stake, and they and the PRCA alike are in a time crunch. The Times report suggests a decision is expected quickly, and that is important with prestigious PRCA events such as the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver and the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show rodeo in Fort Worth coming up in January.
The ERA has a 2016 schedule of eight mostly two-day regular season rodeos, the last four in September and early October before a five-day championship event November 9-13 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. ERA also has a broadcast agreement with Fox Sports, including same night finals coverage.
Local athletes listed as competitors on the ERA website include:
*Richmond Champion, bareback riding, past Tarleton athlete
*Jade Corkill, team roping heeler, Huckabay (Three-time world champ)
*Charly Crawford, team roping header, Stephenville
*Kaleb Driggers, team roping header, Huckabay
*Travis Graves, team roping heeler, Morgan Mill
*Chad Masters, team roping header, Lipan (Two-time world champ)
*Patrick Smith, team roping heeler, Lipan (Two-time world champ)
*Turtle Powell, team roping header, Stephenville, past Tarleton athlete (World champ)
*Martin Lucero, team roping heeler, Stephenville
*Bobby Mote, bareback riding, Stephenville (Four-time world champ)
*Cort Scheer, saddle bronc riding, Huckabay
*Cody Ohl, tie-down roping, Hico (Six-time world champ)
*Clay Tryan, team roping header, Lipan (Three-time world champ)
*Kollin VonAhn, team roping header (Two-time world champ)
*Speed Williams, team roping header, De Leon (Eight-time world champ)
*Marty Yates, tie-down roping, Stephenville
There could be other local athletes affected, as the ERA website lists 54 athletes but the Times report says it has approximately 80 total athletes. Approximately 50 of those, The Times said, were qualifiers for the 2015 NFR, the Super Bowl of rodeo with a $10 million purse and world championships awarded over 10 days in Las Vegas.
But for these and other ERA competitors, the first hurdle to getting back to the NFR won’t be winning PRCA sanctioned rodeos, but convincing a district judge to allow them to compete in them at all,.