Feb. 11, 2011
Law school helps students study the legal side of sports
The Super Bowl is over and the attention of pro football fans now moves to the negotiating room, as players and owners try to reach a new contract agreement that most observers predict will be long and nasty and could possibly cancel next season.
The situation is a reminder that for a pro sports team to be successful, it needs talented attorneys to go along with great athletes and innovative coaches. A new student group and class are helping University of Iowa law students who want to pursue careers in the field.
The College of Law recently started offering its Sports Law class again after several years hiatus, when the students approached professor Nicholas Johnson about teaching it. “When you encounter students who want to learn about something, a professor should oblige,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile, a new student group—the Sports Law Society—was recently formed and has more than 50 members who are interested in the issue at some level, mostly as a possible career path.
Johnson said that unlike many law courses, sports law requires an understanding of law across the fields. There’s the obvious, such as contract, labor and intellectual property. Then there's the less obvious. For instance, securities law and criminal law are factoring into the woes currently faced by the New York Mets, whose owner was bilked out of millions by Bernard Madoff. And family law will dictate the future of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are currently caught up in a bitter divorce battle between the team's owner and his wife.
“It’s an application of every course in the law school curriculum, only in this case it applies to professional sports,” Johnson said.
Sports and law was not a natural connection for most fans until Curt Flood put law on the sports page in 1969, when he sued to stop his trade from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies. Flood argued that baseball’s contracts were an unconstitutional restraint of trade because the reserve clause built into every major league player’s contract gave team owners the right to determine what team he would play for.
Flood eventually lost his lawsuit, but it set in motion a series of events that led to free agency for all professional athletes, turning pro sports from a million dollar business into a billion dollar business. With so much more money at stake, teams and leagues hired more and more attorneys to protect it.
“Everything is law in sports administration,” said Ki Park, a second year law student taking Johnson’s class and a co-founder of the Sports Law Society. “Most commissioners are lawyers, agents are lawyers. I interned at the PGA Tour, and more than half of the its executives are lawyers whether legal work is required of their job or not.”
Park said some of the group members were athletes as undergraduates—including some at Division I schools—and most also have an interest in sports law as a career. He earned his own undergraduate degree in sports marketing and is interested in building international sports networks after earning his law degree.
The group has lined up guest speakers through the year, and on Feb. 25 several students will visit Indianapolis for a day-long series of meetings with administrators at NCAA headquarters.
“The NCAA has never done a program like this before so we’re looking forward to it,” Park said. “We’ll hear about peoples’ backgrounds, their jobs, and any advice they might have on how we get to be where they’re at.”
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500
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