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Recap: 2010 UF Sports Law Symposium

With the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl XLIV in Florida this year, it is hard to imagine any more star power in the Sunshine State.  However, the 2010 UF Sports Law Symposium defied the norm and did exactly that, bringing some of the top names in the sports industry to Gainesville.

The symposium was titled “Bargaining Collectively,” and covered all areas of collective bargaining agreements in the MLB, NBA, and NFL. For those of you unable to attend or watch the event LIVE on ustream, here is a brief recap of each of the panels.

The moderators for each panel took slightly different approaches on how to conduct the sessions.  This was a great idea and kept the audience and panelists on their toes and active during the discussion.  Dr. Harvey Schiller, President of the IBAF and CEO of GlobalOptions Group started the symposium off with a bang, addressing the crowd of around 60 or more with some opening remarks on professional sports and CBA’s.

Following Dr. Schiller’s opening remarks and a fifteen-minute food and networking break, speakers for the first panel on MLB collective bargaining issues began taking their seats.  The panelists in attendance were Marc Edelman, Gabe Feldman, Bob Ruxin, Nick Ohanesian, and UF Law Professor Thomas Hurst, who served as the moderator.

Mr. Hurst introduced the panel and gave a brief introduction of each of the four astonishing panelists before giving them the floor one at a time to speak.  Each panelist addressed a different issue relating to major league baseball and the current CBA that will expire on December 31st of 2011.  Mr. Ohanesian (Resident Officer at the Jacksonville Resident Office of the NLRB) gave a transitory recap of the labor law process and layed down the foundation to discuss collective bargaining issues.  Following Mr. Ohanesian was Bob Ruxin, Harvard Graduate and astute author of An Athletes Guide to Agents, with contributions by SAB’s own Darren Heitner (this is my plug for everyone to go out and buy the book).

Mr. Ruxin led off with the story of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale’s decision to negotiate their contracts with the Dodgers together in 1966.  After an amazing season by both players, Dodgers management met with the two separately and used their demands against each other. The two stars then sat down for dinner and discussed their contract issues, when Drysdale’s first wife, Ginger, suggested that they negotiate together.  Like any good husband would do, Don listened to his wife and the dynamic duo battled the Dodgers together.  Koufax and Drysdale did not like management’s stance on their contracts and they decided to not report to spring training.  In the mean time, the Dodgers trashed the two stars and their tactics and staged a public relations war against the two in the media.  After four weeks, Koufax told Drysdale he could negotiate new deals for the both of them. Koufax ended up getting $125,000 and Drysdale $110,000, which were the two highest salaries in baseball at the time.  This story is important because it represented one of the first situations in baseball where contracts were collectively negotiated between players and management.  The ramifications and fallout from that deal opened up the eyes of everyone involved in MLB and helped create the first ever collective bargaining agreement in professional sports in 1968 (emphasis added).

Following Mr. Ruxin, Gabe Feldman addressed the group. Each speaker had about 10-15 minutes to speak, which was followed by questions from the audience. The four panelists complimented each other very well and hit on many of the major areas that will be mentioned at MLB collective bargaining negotiations.

All four panelists had some great points to interject.  This session also included some additional commentary from Donald Fehr, the former Executive Director of the MLBPA, who was sitting in the audience enjoying his time and waiting for his turn to speak at the closing ceremonies.

I could obviously write much more about the great comments and suggestions the panelists made during the MLB discussion as well as the rest of the symposium, but in order to save time, I will leave you with a semi brief recap of the remaining panels.  If you have any questions about the symposium feel free to ask Darren or myself any questions (email: [email protected] or Twitter: @zakurtz).  Darren will also be posting video of the event as it becomes available.

After the conclusion of the MLB session, it was time for the NBA to step into the spotlight.  The moderator for this panel discussion was UF Professor, Mark Fenster.  Mr. Fenster took a different approach and directed questions to the panel and specific panelists.  The panelists in this session included Sports Illustrated Legal Analyst and Vermont Law School Professor Michael McCann; renowned author and advisor Marc Isenberg; sports litigator Alan Milstein, and Patrick Muldowney, attorney from Baker Hostetler and counsel for the Orlando Magic.  This panel discussed recent news such as Gilbert Arenas’ gun issue, Brandon Jennings and the “one and done” rule and ended with a discussion on revenue sharing and other possible issues that could cause an NBA lockout.  All of the individuals on this panel were not afraid to share their opinions and beliefs, even if they differed from other panelists.  This caused for some great debates and passionate discussions.  The brilliant minds of Michael McCann and Marc Isenberg worked well together and seemed to agree on many issues…more specifically, revenue sharing and the role of the NCAA on future NBA athletes.  Patrick Muldowney was viewed as the “pro-league” representative, although he did render neutral opinions that covered both sides throughout the discussion.  Professor McCann discussed his research regarding arrests of NBA players and their age, stating that no correlation exists between younger NBA players and arrests (Check out the Sports Law Blog for Professor McCann’s article on this topic).  Overall, the energy from these professionals was great and was certainly palpable by the audience.  Although the NFL panel covered more interesting topic areas to me, the NBA discussion was my favorite panel to listen to.  Not only were the debates exceptionally intelligent, but also each of the four speakers were very spirited while arguing their side.

Last but certainly not least was the NFL panel discussion.  This panel consisted of eight individuals, and like the previous two discussions, the amount of knowledge on the subject areas was overflowing from the UF Law School covered tables.  The moderator was a UF Levin College of Law professor Jeffrey Harrison.  Panelists were Ralph Cindrich of DeBartolo Sports & Entertainment; former VP of the Green Bay Packers and President of the National Football post, Andrew Brandt; J.I. Halsell, salary cap analyst and expert formerly with the Washington Redskins; Ryan Morgan, President & CEO of Morgan Advisory Group; Glenn Schwartzman, CEO of Alliance Sports Management; J. Richard Burnoski, President and CEO of Empire Sports Agency; and Paul J. Healy, Agent/Advisor and Partner at Healy Stone & Zahler.

Mr. Harrison had his own unique approach to moderating his panel.  Mr. Harrison posed several questions throughout the hour and fifteen-minute pane, and allowed any/all panelists to chime in on issues they were familiar with.

Ralph Cindrich kicked off the last panel by showing a marketing video that he and the DeBartolo Sports team made for Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski.  Cindrich went on to talk about how new media outlets such as YouTube are being used by agents to market unknown athletes and even stars with notoriety.  He mentioned that NFL scouts and managers actually do watch these videos.  Using Rex Ryan’s 27 views of the Zbikowski video is a prime example.

This star studded panel tackled the hard issues relating to the upcoming collective bargaining agreement that ends in March of 2011.  The panel unanimously agreed that the owners and NFLPA are unlikely to come to a decision by the end of this March, thus making this next season an uncapped year.  This would mean that the NFL would act like the MLB, with no ceiling or floor in regards to team salaries.  According to the panel, the players are asking for transparency and want to see the books.  They are asking management to take less than the 18% they currently are taking.  Both of the requests are unlikely to be accepted, which will most likely bring an uncapped year to the NFL.

Salary cap expert J.I. Halsell and Andrew Brandt discussed the ramifications of an uncapped year.  Halsell mentioned that this would drastically decrease the number of unrestricted free agents.  The uncapped year will add two more years to player’s contracts, making them unrestricted free agents in six years instead of the usual four years that we are accustomed to.  Mr. Brandt followed with a discussion on revenue sharing and discussed the wide disparity between teams in baseball and how that could occur in the NFL next year.

Glenn Shwartzman, J. Richard Burnoski  or “Bruno” and Paul Healy also discussed the role of agents during collective bargaining agreements.  The three took turns discussing how important it is to communicate effectively with your client right from the start.   Bruno mentioned that if an uncapped year is a likely possibility, like it is here, the agent may handle the players contract differently.  Healy discussed the ability to have players paid over a 30 week period instead of the more traditional 17 week period, which would help tremendously if a lockout were to happen.

Overall, the large NFL panel worked great together and covered almost all areas that I was interested in learning about.  They even threw in some helpful hints to future agents about being honest and truthful at all times with your client, even if it is something he may not want to hear.  The panelists all agreed that they would rather lose a client, than take on someone with unrealistic goals or visions of themselves or their agent.  The panel concluded with a Q and A session that was very informative.

After three great panel discussions, the symposium was finally ready for the great Donald M. Fehr to address the crowd.  The insightful words of Mr. Donald Fehr were an amazing way to end a great symposium.  Mr. Fehr worked as the MLB Players Association’s Executive Director for 26 years.  He recently (2009) passed the title over to Mike Weiner.  During his tenure with the MLB, Mr. Fehr successfully negotiated two collective bargaining agreements with the MLBPA and the league (2002 and 2006) and has a tremendous amount of knowledge in the areas of collective bargaining, contract administration, grievance matters, arbitration issues, and pensions and health care matters.

Mr. Fehr is an amazing speaker.  He not only discussed the many different areas that would be covered in collective bargaining agreements, but was able to connect with the majority in the room (law school students) and all others through his use of specific comparisons and diagrams on the white board.  He began his dialogue talking about the draft and recited one of my favorite comparisons of the day to describe how ludicrous the whole draft thing really is.  He compared the teams taking part in the draft with prestigious law firms and the college or draft eligible athletes with the law students.  He compared the fairness of the draft system on NCAA student athletes with a hypothetical situation where law students could only get a job offer from one of thirty possible law firms.  The law firms would interview with students, research the top students, test the students, and rank them or choose them based on those tested areas.  The students who were picked by those thirty schools would be lawyers while ALL others have to choose something else.

As I mentioned throughout this article, all the panelists were very insightful.  I could not possibly recap all the great speakers or discuss the conference in its entirety.  That is why everyone reading this should plan on attending next year’s symposium at UF and find out for themselves what all the fuss is about.

I would like to thank Darren, Adam and the rest of the UF EASLS crew for putting together such a wonderful symposium.  I would also like to thank all the wonderful speakers who dedicated much of their time and energy to the symposium. It certainly was a success to everyone.

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