The September 20 conference organized by the Center for Sports Law & Policy at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, led by TJSL Professor and Center Director Rodney K. Smith, began with the presentation of the 2nd annual "Rudolph C. Hasl Leader in Sports Award." The award was presented by TJSL Trustee and Professor Randy Grossman to keynote speaker David Williams II, the Vice Chancellor for University Affairs & Athletics at Vanderbilt University. Professor Rudy Hasl was TJSL's Dean from 2005 through June of this year and was instrumental in the establishment of the Center for Sports Law and Policy.
“We wanted to honor someone on the intercollegiate side and the first person I could think of was David Williams,” said Professor Rod Smith. Williams was honored by TJSL for his exemplary service in college sports.
"I appreciate Mr. Williams’s dedication and commitment to his athletes at Vanderbilt,” said Phylicia Coleman (2L). “I think it's rare to find individuals who truly care about the student part of being a student athlete."
“I’ve always been fascinated by making things change,” said Williams. “I believe that sports bring people together and change lives.” Williams is a strong advocate for the student athlete and Director of Athletics at Vanderbilt. He also serves on the NCAA's Committee on Infractions and has worked with the SEC in negotiating its latest media agreement with ESPN.
“We are very fortunate to have David Williams with us here today,” said Center for Sports Law & Policy student Ryan Larson (3L). “Mr. Williams is a leader and has tremendous passion for Vanderbilt University, intercollegiate athletics and his student-athletes. His experience as a vice chancellor and athletic director serve as a great example for students looking to get into the sports industry. He addressed some of the major issues facing intercollegiate sports such as racial issues, student-athlete compensation, medical issues, the outlook for women in the sports industry and advice for students looking to get into the athletics industry.”
“I found Mr. William's speech to be motivating,” noted Sports Law Society member Andréa Simmons (1L). “I was fascinated with the number of influential people he has met throughout his lifetime. As a woman heading into the profession of Sports Law, I found his words, ‘as a woman in this industry it is possible, but it will be tough,’ to be a motivation for me to be and do the best that I can.”
As Williams closed his keynote speech, he gave one final piece of advice to the students in the audience: “Don’t work in athletics because you worship athletes and be prepared for a job that is 24/7.”
The first panel of the conference addressed the Title IX implications of creating intercollegiate women’s football, the focus of the Center's first white paper. The panel consisted of Professor Smith, Lindsay Demery ‘13, TJSL student Erika Torrez and sports business consultant and attorney Claire Zovko. The panel was moderated by Brandon Leopoldus ’10.
The panel concentrated on the ongoing issue of universities struggling to comply with Title IX and to provide women with opportunities to participate in intercollegiate athletics. The NCAA has suggested adding rowing, bowling and equestrian opportunities.
“Women’s football is the fastest growing sport in Florida,” noted Professor Smith. “New York City and Alaska have seen success as well. Women like to watch and play football. They’ve left some of the other sports because they gravitate toward football. Per capita, there are more women playing football than any other sport. USA Football and the NFL have joined together to create flag football programs for girls.”
“There is definitely interest in women’s flag football,” said Zovko. “It’s blowing up in Florida. Students surveyed wanted to play. The greater interest and resources are in flag football, not tackle.”
Some of the panelists, including Lindsay Demery, researched and assisted in authoring the white paper, titled "Solving the Title IX Conundrum in an Equitable Manner: Starting Women's Intercollegiate Football."
“Women’s football is a stronger alternative because there are more roster spots,” said Demery. “You could remove unpopular programs and this would result in cutting fewer men’s programs.”
According to panelist Erika Torrez, who also assisted with the white paper, "The most difficult issue is gaining NCAA recognition. There must be at least 28 varsity teams around the country.”
"I thought the discussion on the White Paper was fantastic and a great way to showcase the talent coming out of the Center for Sports Law and Policy," said Sam Ehrlich (3L). "I had never really thought about women's football as a potential solution to Title IX issues before but the solutions presented by Lindsey, Erika and Professor Smith really opened my eyes to the possibility. I can tell it was well researched and well thought and a great solution to a huge problem in the sports industry. It was also great to see two of my former classmates on a panel like that presenting solutions to real life problems and it gave me high hopes for the day I will be hopefully doing the same."
The second panel addressed recent updates in head and related sports injuries. The panel included Pro Football Hall of Famer and attorney Ron Mix, trial attorney Ben Coughlin, former head football coach at La Jolla High School Rey Hernandez '86, Australian corporate and sports law attorney James Paterson, TJSL Professor Joy Delman and moderator Jeremy Evans ’11, also a sports law attorney.
“The current trend in all personal injury litigation is concussion litigation,” said Professor Delman. “A recent study found that there are between two and three million sports concussions annually. It is estimated that over 50% of high school athletes have suffered a concussion before entering high school.”
“Different people have different susceptibility to brain injuries, and we don’t know why," said Coughlan. “Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) can only be diagnosed in an autopsy. We’re looking for a way to diagnose during life, which will save lives.”
The conference wrapped up with an opportunity for attendees to talk one-on-one with the panelists at a mixer on the law school's 8th floor terrace. Following the reception, some attendees left for a fun evening at the San Diego Padres baseball game as part of the kick-off of the third annual National Sports Law Negotiation Competition that took place at TJSL over the weekend. Some 36 teams from law schools across the nation participated in the negotiation rounds of the competition.
Watch the Conference