Interview With Michael McCann

Michael McCann is an Assistant Professor of Law at Mississippi College School of Law, a columnist for Sports Illustrated.com (SI.com), Co-Founder of The Harvard Law School Project on Law and Mind Sciences, Chair-Elect of the Association of American Law Schools’ Section on Sports and the Law, and the man behind Sports Law Blog. What does the highly influential, Mr. McCann, not do? He also has an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University, a J.D. from the University of Virginia Law School, and an LLM from Harvard Law.

I recently had the privilege of talking to Mr. McCann about some Sports Law related topics.

Darren Heitner: What do you think about the NFLPA rule since 2005 which requires NFL representatives to have an undergraduate AND post graduate degree (Masters or Law) from an accredited college/university?

Michael McCann: I think the rule is rational since, on average, an NFL agent with a post graduate degree probably possesses superior business, legal, and life skills and better judgment than an agent without one. In that respect, the rule probably helps to protect players from less capable and perhaps less scrupulous representation.

Granted, there are plenty of folks without a post graduate degree or even a college degree who have made, or would make, great NFL agents, just as there are many individuals with impressive diplomas who have made incompetent or unscrupulous agents. And there is certainly a selfish benefit for existing agents to impose heightened entry hurdles on prospective agents.

But as a matter of policy, I can see why the NFLPA implemented this rule–much like I can see why those engaged in the practice of law turned to state bar examinations as a way of raising the overall quality of attorneys.

Under the comments in Section 4 of the UAAA, this is mentioned: “Agents must register in each State in which they have established minimum contacts. For example, an individual in State A contacting a student-athlete in State B is acting as an athlete agent in both States and is therefore required to register in both States.” Many agents only register in their home state. Will this section of the UAAA ever be enforced?

It’s possible that Section 4 could be enforced, but it would likely take a particular set of facts, such as an agent losing a client to another agent and the losing agent wanting to vindicate the loss and does so by making a big issue of Section 4 in relation to the gaining agent, or a player suffering from misrepresentation at the hands of an out-of-state agent, to attract enforcement.

Darren Heitner: The UAAA is great legislation, but seems to have very little enforcement. Let’s move on to talking about what is the best route to go to become a sports agent – law school or business school? Are either degrees going to be necessary in the future?

Michael McCann: I’m not sure there is a best route, since it depends on the individual and his or her talents, financial wherewithal, and other career opportunities. But either a J.D. or MBA can certainly help, especially in understanding the legal and business implications of a contract; a J.D. (and bar certification) also enables one to understand potential legal issues faced by a client. No matter the route one takes to become an agent, the key is being in a position to attract clients, that is, pro athletes.

Darren Heitner: How do lawyer agents get around conflict of interest regulations set forth in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct? Will we see more action taken by bar associations in the future against lawyer agents?

Michael McCann: If an attorney expects to practice law, he or she should abide by all of the rules set forth in the MRPC, even when doing so is to his or her detriment as an agent. We could see bar associations adopting a more aggressive approach to regulating lawyer agents, although I have not heard that discussed as something imminent.

Darren Heitner: Enough about the Model Rules. I hear about it every day in class. Tell me, will the MLB ever impose a salary cap?

Michael McCann: My Sports Law Blog colleague, Professor Rick Karcher, has conducted some excellent research on the apparent lack of correlation between payroll and team success. His findings suggest that a cap may not be as necessary as popular logic seems to presume. Also, so long as the MLBPA stays strong, it will effectively fend off efforts by some of the owners to collectively-bargain a cap.

Darren Heitner: What are your feelings on law schools that have a specialized program in Sports Law (i.e. Tulane and Marquette)?

Michael McCann: I believe those programs can help law students break into sports law, particularly in helping them obtain sports law-related internships while in law school. Many of those internships provide practical skills and useful sports law experiences. On occasion, those internships can even become full-time jobs.

Still, in the vast majority of cases, breaking into sports law is extremely difficult and requires serendipity more than anything else. I believe that law students and prospective law students interested in sports law are probably best off viewing the field as the ideal career option rather than the likely one. Along those lines, breaking into the industry is particularly hard to do right out of law school–most sports lawyers start their legal careers doing something else. Sports litigators, for instance, often practice general litigation; lawyers for teams or leagues often have significant career experience at law firms before being hired by teams or leagues. Sports agents are different, since they don’t need to be lawyers, but even the lawyers among them usually do something else in the legal world before trying to become a full-time agent.

With that in mind, an aspiring sports lawyer’s first job out of law school probably won’t be in sports law, and he or she may be in the best professional position by attending the law school that gives him or her the best opportunity to get a good job in a desired legal market and locale.

As a separate but related point, keep in mind that while most law schools do not offer sports law programs, some feature faculty with particularly strong sports law credentials. As an illustration, consider Boston College Law School, which features Professor Alfred Yen, a renowned sports law expert who knows more about the intersection between sports law and intellectual property law than anyone, and two excellent adjunct sports law professors in Professors Joe Rosen and Chris Brown, both of whom run Orpheus Sports and Entertainment in Boston and represent baseball and basketball players, among other professional athletes and entertainers. In other words, prospective law students should carefully research the faculty at each law school when considering the strength of those schools’ sports law offerings.

Darren Heitner: Thanks for answering that question with much depth. It happens to be a question that many viewers wonder about. What inspired you to begin writing about Sports Law, when did you start your blog, and how were you recently approached to write for SI?

Michael McCann: I was inspired to write about sports law largely from my experiences as a law student at the University of Virginia School of Law from 1999 to 2002. During that time, I was the Editor-in-Chief of the Virginia Sports and Entertainment Law Journal and also a student in a sports law course taught by Donald Dell, who formerly represented Michael Jordan and Arthur Ashe (and who now represents Joakim Noah, among other pro athletes). Both of those experiences cemented my interest in writing about sports law. My later experiences as a sports litigator, and particularly my work for Alan Milstein while a member of Maurice Clarett’s legal team, also raised my interest in the field, as did my scholarly work with Professor Paul Weiler of Harvard Law School while I was an LL.M. candidate there from 2004 to 2005.

In terms of Sports Law Blog, back in July 2004, Greg Skidmore, then a Harvard Law student and now a litigator at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C., invited me to guest blog. He had created Sports Law Blog in November 2003 with this post. Greg had read my law review article, “Illegal Defense: The Irrational Economics of Banning High School Players from the NBA Draft,” was impressed by it, and thought I would make a good addition. The guest blogging worked out well–my first post was on July 13, 2004 and it concerned Carlos Boozer and his failure to live up to an apparent oral promise to the Cleveland Cavaliers–and Greg invited me to join the blog as a full-time contributor. It’s been a great experience ever since.

My columnist and legal analyst position for Sports Illustrated.com (SI.com) came about in August 2007 after I was interviewed by SI.com’s Nina Mandell on the slander lawsuit brought by Kia Vaughn against Don Imus. The editors at SI.com liked my interview and also my writings on Sports Law Blog, my law review articles on sports law, and my practical experience as a sports litigator and they offered me the position. I am deeply honored to be part of the SI team.

Darren Heitner: And we are deeply honored to have had the opportunity to conduct this interview. Good luck with all of your ventures!

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  • Loved the interview. Good stuff!

  • jason

    One of the best interviews yet. Great job.

    Believe it or not, “Sports Law” as it’s taught is actually one of the hardest classes from an intellectual standpoint in law school, in my opinion. Labor and Antitrust law is some seriously convoluted and murky stuff. If you need convincing, just head over to the sportslaw blog and try and navigate your way through the N.Y. Rangers-NHL/single entity issue.

  • Thanks for the comments.

    Going back to what McCann said about a cap not necessarily being necessary in the MLB…take a look at this year’s playoffs. Arizona Diamondbacks have a team payroll of $52M. Colorado Rockies – $54M. Cleveland Indians – $61M.

    New York Yankees will be sitting at home watching the rest of the playoffs with their $200M payroll.

  • True. However, what’s tough is for fans in these smaller markets to grasp that they can’t hang onto their stars forever, whereas teams like the Yankees can literally just pick them up whenever. Case in point is Johan Santana for the Twins. One of the faces of the franchise, arguably one of the greatest pitchers in team history, and people are talking about him commanding over $20 mil/season (thank you, Barry Zito) for his next deal.

    Now when our payroll is around $70/mil, there’s little chance to keep him unless he accepts well under his market value. Over the very, very long run, I still give the competitive edge to teams like the Yankees and Red Sox that won’t blink at numbers like that, versus teams like the Twins who have to get somewhat lucky and try and replace stars like Santana via their farm system and cheaper free agents.

  • Jason, I completely agree. Sports law was one of the toughest courses I took in law school. I thought it would be very entertaining and easy, but it turned out to be the complete opposite. It has a mix of every area of law, including labor, intellectual property, anti-trust, licensing, and criminal law. It is basically a course that covers every area of law in the context of the crazy world of sports, which always seems to have its own twist and is often treated differently by courts.

  • Yeah no doubt sports have definitely been treated differently. Specifically though the history of the courts and Major League Baseball, which could’ve been an entire course in and of itself!

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