Friday, April 1st, 2011...9:56 am

Sports and Entertainment Law Symposium

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9:55 AM: Good morning! Welcome to William and Mary Law School’s Annual Sports and Entertainment Law Society. We are very excited to bring you live coverage of this special event. The sports law panel will begin shortly, with the entertainment law panel to follow at 11:30 AM.

Today we are pleased to welcome our distinguished sports law panel:

Joe Sraba, a Richmond based sports agent with 25 years of experience representing NFL and MLB players. Mr. Sraba graduated from the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business.

David Maraghy, the CEO of Sports Management International, INC a Richmond-based professional sports management and marketing firm, specializing in golf. Mr. Maraghy earned his J.D. from Wake Forest University.

Ryan Fleischer, the Assistant Director of Compliance for Athletics at the College of William & Mary. Mr. Fleischer is a Bucknell University Graduate.

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10:10: Today’s panel is focused on issues between college athletes, universities and agents involving illegal conduct between players and agents, particularly in the wake of NFLPA de-certification and the lack of regulation.

Mr. Sraba, once very involved with NFL players, dropped out of representing football players about six years ago, in part because the dirtiness of the industry. He says the main issues are drugs, money and women; in fact, he began to believe that the only way to sign premium talent was to have them on your payroll during their Senior Year. While he says the NFLPA has tried to institute regulations, but just don’t enforce the way they should. Mr. Sraba is considering rejoining the football world, but only if the regulations are enforced.

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10:22: Much of the discussion has focused on who is in the best position to regulate agents and help “clean up” the industry: the NCAA or the NFLPA (or their counterparts in other sports.) The consensus on the panel seems to be that neither is truly equipped to do so, but the union is probably the best actor, because the NCAA has no recourse as to agents. Perhaps the best alternative is to further educate the players, and to increase contact with the agents who do follow the rules.

The problem seems to be enforcement. Mr. Sraba has said that the NFLPA has passed many regulations, but have chosen not to enforce, particularly against the bigger agents and firms. Interestingly, he believes that the union de-certification is all window-dressing and will return in the same capacity as soon as the labor dispute is settled. (I agree. De-certification and antitrust suits are all about leverage in the negotiations that will no doubt happen in August as training camp nears.)

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10:36: The discussion has turned to the recent instances of the NCAA disciplining high-profile college athletes like Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel, AJ Green, Dez Bryant, Jim Calhoun, et. al. The panel has questioned the NCAA’s credibility, suggesting that they pick their spots, and only truly get tough with smaller programs, although USC is perhaps an exception. It will be interesting to see how Tennessee and Connecticut are treated during their infractions hearings this summer.

Mr. Maraghy has suggested that big-time bowl games are in trouble in the wake of the Fiesta Bowl scandal (refer to our March 31st post for further coverage). The other interesting trend is how social media has played a role in breaking these stories. The UNC agent crisis, which led to 14 players suspended last season, started with Marvin Austin’s Twitter account. Perhaps this is not an example of the NCAA cracking down, but rather an increase in information due to technological advances.

What has become clear is that there is no simple answer to this question. The NCAA can’t just close off athletes to professionals. For a while, it attempted to prevent student-athletes from consulting lawyers, accountants and other professionals. That obviously cannot work, and that regulation has since been lifted. But who do we let them speak to? And to what extent? Does intent matter?

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10:44: “Baseball is probably a cleaner sport than football, and basketball is probably uglier than both.” – Mr. Sraba. Baseball by nature is a long-term process, whereas football and basketball players make millions right away, as soon as they are drafted. The rise to the Big Leagues takes 3-5 years for almost all players, even the really good ones.

The way to get into the industry (as an agent), and avoid the pitfalls, is to find a niche, and develop a long-term plan. To hit it big right away, according to our panel, you have to be lucky or dirty.

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10:56: The question was asked whether state governments and/or the federal government can adequately legislate these issues? Number one, is that appropriate for governments to act? Number two, would it even work? However, there are many instances of governmental regulation (see every major labor dispute of the past 25 years, dating back to the 1987 NFL Strike.)

What is the government’s role in sport? There has been a lot of sentiment recently that the government does not need to get involved in these matters, and has more important things to do. It’s hard to argue with these points. At the same time, part of the reason sports exists as we know is it because of the antitrust exemptions and other protections the government gives them. (Baseball is technically the only sport with a full exemption, but the big sports have protections.) Those considerations definitely influence the sports industry. Also consider the implications of interstate commerce. So maybe the government does have a role…

There is no doubt that politicians get involved for the wrong reasons (free airtime, increased campaign contributions, etc.), but government includes the court systems as well. The consensus seems to be that using the court system is more legitimate than legislative action, particularly between private actors. The Congressional hearings and perjury trials of Bonds and Clemens, however, may be less legitimate.

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11:09 Turning back to college sports, Mr. Fleischer has been explaining the process that William and Mary uses for its players and potential contact with agents. Though there is not an official policy on the books, the compliance office attempts to stay involved as much as possible, encouraging the players to communicate with all involved, both agents and college personnel. The coaching staff is also a big part of helping players understand the rules and how to handle contact with agents.

One of the problems may be incentives. The school’s goal, and rightfully so, is keeping players eligible. The agent’s goal is to sign athletes. Those two don’t always go hand in hand. The NCAA’s goal is … well we’re not quite sure.

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11:20 As we conclude this morning’s panel, it is becomes apparent that the “problem” is not just an agent issue. It is an issue that involves universities, players, professional leagues, labor unions and potentially even the fans. This is also an issue with no clear solution. NCAA punishments come well after the fact, vacating wins and titles, but they can’t take the money away. They can’t reverse the influx of applications that follow a National Title. They can’t undo the exposure. There is a whole lot of money at stake in the big time sports, making enforcement very complicated.

The discussion was extremely lively and interesting, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank our panelists for attending and conducting today’s discussion. We would also like to thank the SELS Board for putting on today’s event. Be sure to check out our entertainment law panel, coming up next.

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