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The Great Sports Debate: JD v. JD/MBA vs. MBA

A few weeks ago, Sports Agent Blog received an inquiry asking what degree is more beneficial if one wants to pursue a career in the sports agency industry: a JD vs. a dual-degree JD/MBA vs. just an MBA.

Instead of writing an opinion piece, we decided to reach out to five agents — both current and former — and gauge their thoughts on the constantly-evolving debate.  The consensus?  There frankly is no consensus answer.  Every person’s situation is different, and there is no cookie-cutter path to becoming the next ‘Jerry Maguire’, if you will.  Below is a detailed discussion; it should be noted that all participants obtained law degrees, but their views are not slanted in the least.

Leigh Steinberg, the founder of Steinberg Sports and Entertainment, has represented 60 1st Round NFL Draft Picks and eight No. 1 overall selections.  At the time of this post, Steinberg has spoken at 76 business or law schools.  Yes, 76.  The advice he gives ALL of them?

The combination of a JD and MBA degree is the Gold Standard in preparatory education leading to a career in sports agency,” said Steinberg, a graduate of University of California (Berkeley) law school.  “We both know that classroom education only provides a familiarity with legal and business issues.  An internship provides much more practical experience.  However, the combination is highly impressive on a resume and makes an applicant much more likely to be hired.  In 40 years of working with athletes, virtually none of them has focused on where I went to law school.  I do think that the very fact of the dual degrees provides a comfort factor to parents and athletes.”

Ashley Millerick is an NFLPA certified Contract Advisor working with Willis & Woy Sports Group.
NFLPA Contract Advisor Ashley Millerick says a law school degree isn’t essential to becoming a successful sports agent.

For others like Ashley Millerick, who is an NFLPA certified agent with Willis and Woy Sports Group, a law degree alone is definitely beneficial.

“I feel that my law degree helps me in several aspects of the agent business,” Millerick said.  “Not only has it prepared me for contract negotiating, but it also helps me in times when players reach out to me needing help and advice in areas outside of football.  This is where a legal background makes me more prepared to provide guidance.”

Yet, Millerick doesn’t believe that a law degree is essential to becoming a successful sports agent.  According to the Texas Tech School of Law graduate, if a student-athlete likes and trusts you, then he will sign with you regardless of your schooling credentials.

How about a dual-degree program such as a JD/MBA?

“As far as a dual degree program goes, I would not recommend doing a program that takes additional time on top of the standard three years of law school,” Millerick said.  “If you want to be in the agent business, it is more advantageous to get started in the business and gain experience than to spend the additional years in school.  With that being said, if you are set on a dual-degree track, I would recommend looking into one of the few schools that offer a program allowing you to get a dual MBA and law degree in only three years.”

ESPN’s NFL Business Analyst Andrew Brandt also constantly fields education questions from young sports business professionals.  For the former sports agent, there are certainly arguments for different types of advanced education.

“I will say in my experience negotiating contracts with dozens of different agents, I found that the ones most prepared, organized and able to see both sides are the ones with JDs,” he said.  “On the other hand, an MBA provides perhaps some more real-world case studies to break down issues at a deeper level, and the financial skills learned with can be very helpful for taking more of a holistic view of a contract and how it fits into the team framework.”

Brian Murphy
Athletes First President Brian Murphy went to Harvard Law School, but believes business school helps provide a solid foundation for a career in sports.

NHL Player Agent and Co-Founder of The Will Sports Group, Ian Pulver, expressed similar sentiments concerning the viability of a graduate degree.

“It depends on what type of job a prospective candidate is looking for within the sports agency environment.  Either a law degree or MBA or both would be quite beneficial.  I cannot say one may be better than the other it depends on the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.”

The final comment came from President of Athletes First and NFL Agent, Brian Murphy.  A graduate of Harvard Law School, Murphy suggests individuals follow whatever interests them more — law or business — and then excel in the classroom.  At the same time, though, aspiring sports business professionals should and must obtain internships in order to gain the necessary experience and expand their skill-set.

“Life has so many twists and turns that nobody can be certain where the path may lead, so you should always be guided by your passion and interests,” Murphy added.  “What people really learn in (business and law) is the ability to critically think, to perform at high levels, discipline, teamwork, and how to get along with your peers.  Once you get a job at a sports agency, you will learn all that you need from your mentors in the business, but both law school and business school provide a solid foundation for a career in sports.”