On Friday, March 25, 2011, Harvard Law School’s Committee on Sports and Entertainment Law hosted the 2011 Sports Law Symposium, focusing on the legal and business issues surrounding intercollegiate athletics and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The keynote speaker for the symposium was Sonny Vaccaro, a former sports marketing executive with Nike, Adidas, and Reebok, who discussed his current role as an advocate for NCAA student-athletes, including his role as a consultant in O’Bannon v. NCAA.

HLS Lecturer on Law Peter Carfagna and 2L Dave Zucker were part of panel discussion on the Sports Legacy Institute’s research and community outreach efforts to address the concussion crisis as it relates to intercollegiate athletes. SLI, co-founded by former Harvard College football player Chris Nowinski, seeks to advance the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups.

A number of HLS alumni also participated in several of the sports law panels, including:

  • Roger Abrams ’70, professor, Northeastern University Law School: A prolific author and leading authority on sports and labor law and legal education, Abrams has served as a salary arbitrator for major league baseball and as a permanent arbitrator for the television, communications, electronics and coal industries, for the US Customs Service, Internal Revenue Service, Walt Disney World and Lockheed-Martin Company. He has also published five books on the business and history of sports.
  • Matthew Henshon ’95founding partner of Henshon Parker Vyadro: In 2000, Henshon formed Allerton Law Group, the predecessor firm to Henshon Parker Vyadro. His practice encompasses a wide range of issues affecting corporations including governance, intellectual property and licensing, and mergers and acquisitions, and his experience includes representation of all sides of the privately-held, emerging company: founders, investors, and employees. A 1991 graduate of Princeton University, he was a starter at forward for Princeton’s Ivy League champion basketball team (ranked Top 25 in the country) and was twice named a District II Academic All-American. In 1990, he played in the most-watched men’s college basketball game in the history of ESPN (Princeton vs. Arkansas , NCAA First Round), a record that lasted for 16 years (broken by Duke vs. UNC, 2006).
  • Ron Katz ’72, partner, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips: Katz, who heads the litigation group in the Palo Alto office of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, specializes in complex commercial dispute resolution with an emphasis on intellectual property, antitrust and technology matters.  In 2011 he argued a trademark appeal before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of football great Jim Brown, regarding the use of Mr. Brown’s image by Electronic Arts in the Madden football videogames, and he won a jury verdict of •8,100,000 on behalf of a class of 2062 retired National Football League players against their union.
  • Michael McCann LL.M. ’05, professor, Vermont Law School and columnist for SI.com: A nationally recognized expert in the fields of sports law, antitrust, and behavioral law and economics, McCann is also a legal analyst for Sports Illustrated, the “Sports and the Law” columnist on SI.com, and, along with Harvard Law School professor Jon Hanson, a co-founder ofThe Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School.
  • Mike Zarren ’04, Assistant General Manager of the Boston Celtics: Now in his eighth year with the team, Zarren is the Celtics’ Assistant General Manager and Associate Team Counsel.  Zarren is widely recognized as one of the leaders in the field of advanced statistical analysis of basketball players and teams, and is an important part of the team’s player personnel evaluation and strategic planning processes.

Panel and Panelists Overview

Panel #1 – Amateurism Panel

This panel took a “comparative” approach to amateurism and looked at how domestic and international sports organizations and entities (e.g., NCAA, IOC, and other sports regulatory bodies) define “amateurism.”  The panel discussed how each type of organization defines “amateur” differently, and asked, normatively, what is the best way to define “amateurism.”

  • PANELISTS: Roger Abrams (Northeastern University Law School), Jeremy Bloom (World Champion Skier), Christian Dennie (Barlow, Garsek & Simon LLP), Paul Haagen (Duke University), Michael McCann (Vermont Law School and SI.com), John Nichols (Penn State University and Co-Chair of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics)
Panel #2 – Conference Realignment Panel

Over the past year, the landscape of college athletics has been dramatically altered with the movement of numerous teams to new conferences, including Nebraska to the Big 10, Colorado and Utah to the Pacific 10, Boise State to the Mountain West, and Brigham Young to independent status.  This raises issues about amateurism and the role of the NCAA in either facilitating or impeding conference realignment. This panel explored legal and ethical issues related to amateurism and the role of the NCAA in conference realignment.

  • PANELISTS: Bubba Cunningham (Athletics Director, University of Tulsa), Kristi Dosh (Taylor English Duma LLP and Forbes.com), Patti Ohlendorf (VP of Legal Affairs for the University of Texas at Austin), Patrick Rishe (Webster University and Forbes.com), Jason Russell (Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom), Glenn Wong (UMass Isenberg School of Management)
Sports Legacy Institute Luncheon

The mission of the Sports Legacy Institute is to advance the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups.  SLI was founded on June 14, 2007 by Chris Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu in reaction to new medical research indicating brain trauma in sports had become a public health crisis.  SLI has formalized groundbreaking neuropathological research by partnering with Boston University School of Medicine to form the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.  SLI President and CEO Chris Nowinski and other panelists discussed SLI’s research and community outreach efforts and addressed the concussion crisis as it relates to intercollegiate athletes.

  • PANELISTS: Dave Bergeron (Stanford University, NFL) Peter Carfagna (Harvard Law School), Matt Henshon (Princeton University, Harvard Law School), Isaiah Kacyvenski (Harvard College, NFL), Pete Kendall (Boston College, NFL), Chris Nowinski (Harvard College, WWE, SLI President and CEO), Dave Zucker (Harvard Law School)
Panel #3 – Athlete-Agent Panel

The relationship between player agents and college athletes remains a hot topic for colleges, players, agents, players’ unions, and state governments.  Assuming we want to retain a model in which student-athletes are amateurs, how should colleges, unions, and states prevent agents from engaging in impermissible relationships with athletes?  More importantly, what role should colleges and universities play in assisting student-athletes who “go pro” in sports? This panel discussed the athlete-agent issue by exploring agent regulation, how student-athletes and agents interact under the current regulatory regime, and what programs are in place to assist student-athletes who “go pro” in sports.

  • PANELISTS: Peter Carfagna (Harvard Law School), David Cornwell (DNK Cornwell), David Dunn (Athletes First), Dan Fitzgerald (Brody Wilkinson PC, Connecticut Sports Law Blog), Jason Levien (Agent and Former General Counsel, Senior Vice President and Assistant General Manager of the Sacramento Kings), Mike Zarren (Assistant General Manager of the Boston Celtics), Warren Zola (Boston College)
Panel #4 – Litigating Against The NCAA – O’Bannon/Keller/Agnew Lawsuits

Three pending class action lawsuits (O’Bannon v. NCAAKeller v. EA Sports, and Agnew v. NCAA) have the potential to forever change college sports.  The O’Bannon and Keller lawsuits attack the NCAA’s licensing practices as violations of antitrust laws and the players’ rights of publicity, while Agnew’s lawsuit challenges the NCAA’s 37-year-old practice of giving one-year scholarships.  This panel explored the merits of the pending lawsuits and the potential impact of a successful outcome for any of the plaintiffs.

  • PANELISTS: Gabe Feldman (Tulane University Law School), Rick Karcher (Florida Coastal School of Law), Ron Katz (Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP), Jon King (Hausfeld LLP), Ed O’Bannon (Former NCAA Men’s Basketball Player and Lead Plaintiff in O’Bannon v. NCAA), Libby Sander (Chronicle of Higher Education)
Panel #5 – BCS Panel

The Bowl Championship Series has been attacked by legal scholars, state attorney generals, and other interested parties as violating federal antitrust law.  In 2010-11, however, non automatic-qualifying schools took home a record $24.7 million.  Additionally, Playoff PAC recently submitted a report to the Internal Revenue Service challenging the tax-exempt status of the Fiesta, Orange, and Sugar Bowls and arguing that the three BCS bowls should not be considered Section 501(c)(3) charities.  This panel explored the antitrust and tax issues associated with the BCS.

  • PANELISTS: Marc Edelman (Barry University’s Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law), Brian Frederick (Sports Fans Coalition), Alan Fishel (Arent Fox), Nathaniel Grow (University of Georgia), Stephen Ross (Penn State University Law School), Mark Shurtleff (Utah Attorney General), Katie Thomas (New York Times)