The Changing Face of Intercollegiate Athletics: Amateurs, Academics, and the Athletic Arms Race
Friday, March 25, 2011

Known as “The Godfather of Grassroots Basketball”, Sonny Vaccaro currently serves as an advocate for student-athletes.  Vaccaro is perhaps best known as a sports marketing executive (he signed Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to their first shoe deals) and as a pioneer of the summer basketball circuit (he founded the ABCD Summer Camp and co-founded the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic).  In his second career, however, Vaccaro has taken on a new role as an advocate for student-athletes in an effort to change the NCAA’s treatment of student-athletes.  Vaccaro has been an outspoken critic of the NCAA’s transfer rules, one-year athletic scholarship rule, and commercialization of student-athletes.  Vaccaro also has spoken out against the NBA’s age-limit rule, which prevents amateur basketball players from jumping straight from high school to the NBA.

Vaccaro currently serves as a consultant for the plaintiffs in O’Bannon v. NCAA, a class action lawsuit that could dramatically alter the college sports landscape.  The O’Bannon lawsuit, which survived a motion to dismiss, alleges that that the NCAA violated federal antitrust laws by barring college athletes, once their playing days are over, from profiting off NCAA- or college-licensed products that use players’ images and likenesses.  Vaccaro’s work as an advocate for student-athletes has garnered national media attention, as he will be featured in Money and March Madness, a PBS Frontline special that airs Tuesday, March 29th at 9pm and examines the multi-billion dollar industry of amateur college sports.


PANEL #1 – Amateurism
Different sports entities answer the question “what it means to be an amateur” in different ways.  This panel takes a “comparative” approach to amateurism and look at how domestic and international sports organizations and entities (e.g., NCAA, IOC, and other sports regulatory bodies) define “amateurism.”  This panel will discuss how each type of organization defines “amateur” differently, and ask, normatively, what is the best way to define “amateurism”

Roger Abrams, Northeastern University Law School
Jeremy Bloom, World Champion Skier
Christian Dennie, Barlow, Garsek & Simon LLP
Paul Haagen, Duke University
Michael McCann, Vermont Law School and
John Nichols, Penn State University and Co-Chair of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics


PANEL #2 – Conference Realignment
Over the past year, the landscape of college athletics has been dramatically altered with the movement of numerous teams to new conferences, including Nebraska to the Big 10, Colorado and Utah to the Pacific 10, Boise State to the Mountain West, and Brigham Young to independent status.  This raises issues about amateurism and the role of the NCAA in either facilitating or impeding conference realignment. This panel will explore legal and ethical issues related to amateurism and the role of the NCAA in conference realignment.

Bubba Cunningham, Athletics Director, University of Tulsa
Kristi Dosh, Taylor English Duma LLP and
Patti Ohlendorf, VP of Legal Affairs for the University of Texas at Austin
Patrick Rishe, Webster University and
Jason Russell, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom
Glenn Wong, UMass Isenberg School of Management


The mission of the Sports Legacy Institute is to advance the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups.  SLI was founded on June 14, 2007 by Chris Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu in reaction to new medical research indicating brain trauma in sports had become a public health crisis.  SLI has formalized groundbreaking neuropathological research by partnering with Boston University School of Medicine to form the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.  SLI President and CEO Chris Nowinski and other panelists will discuss SLI’s research and community outreach efforts and address the concussion crisis as it relates to intercollegiate athletes.

Dave Bergeron, Stanford University, NFL
Peter Carfagna, Harvard Law School
Matt Henshon, Princeton University, Harvard Law School
Isaiah Kacyvenski, Harvard College, NFL
Pete Kendall, Boston College, NFL
Chris Nowinski, Harvard College, WWE, SLI President and CEO
Dave Zucker, Harvard Law School


PANEL #3 – Athlete-Agent Relationship
The relationship between player agents and college athletes remains a hot topic for colleges, players, agents, players’ unions, and state governments.  Assuming we want to retain a model in which student-athletes are amateurs, how should colleges, unions, and states prevent agents from engaging in impermissible relationships with athletes?  More importantly, what role should colleges and universities play in assisting student-athletes who “go pro” in sports? This panel will discuss the athlete-agent issue by exploring agent regulation, how student-athletes and agents interact under the current regulatory regime, and what programs are in place to assist student-athletes who “go pro” in sports.

Peter Carfagna, Harvard Law School
David Cornwell, DNK Cornwell
David Dunn, Athletes First
Dan Fitzgerald, Brody Wilkinson PC, Connecticut Sports Law Blog
Jason Levien, Agent and Former General Counsel, Senior Vice President and Assistant General Manager of the Sacramento Kings
Mike Zarren, Assistant General Manager of the Boston Celtics
Warren Zola, Boston College


PANEL #4 – Litigating Against the NCAA – O’Bannon/Keller/Agnew Lawsuits
Three pending class action lawsuits (O’Bannon v. NCAAKeller v. EA Sports, and Agnew v. NCAA) have the potential to forever change college sports.  The O’Bannon and Keller lawsuits attack the NCAA’s licensing practices as violations of antitrust laws and the players’ rights of publicity, while Agnew’s lawsuit challenges the NCAA’s 37-year-old practice of giving one-year scholarships.  This panel will explore the merits of the pending lawsuits and the potential impact of a successful outcome for any of the plaintiffs.

Gabe Feldman, Tulane University Law School
Rick Karcher, Florida Coastal School of Law
Ron Katz, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP
Jon King, Hausfeld LLP
Ed O’Bannon, Former NCAA Men’s Basketball Player and Lead Plaintiff in O’Bannon v. NCAA
Libby Sander, Chronicle of Higher Education


PANEL #5 – The Bowl Championship Series
The Bowl Championship Series has been attacked by legal scholars, state attorney generals, and other interested parties as violating federal antitrust law.  In 2010-11, however, non automatic-qualifying schools took home a record $24.7 million.  Additionally, Playoff PAC recently submitted a report to the Internal Revenue Service challenging the tax-exempt status of the Fiesta, Orange, and Sugar Bowls and arguing that the three BCS bowls should not be considered Section 501(c)(3) charities.  This panel explores the antitrust and tax issues associated with the BCS.

Marc Edelman, Barry University’s Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law
Brian Frederick, Sports Fans Coalition
Alan Fishel, Arent Fox
Nathaniel Grow, University of Georgia
Stephen Ross, Penn State University Law School
Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General
Katie Thomas, New York Times