Sports law conference to draw host of experts from field of athletics

By Lynn Monson

Legal News

The burgeoning field of sports law is the focus of a conference in Ann Arbor in April that will draw legal experts who have worked with professional sports teams, NCAA compliance issues, Title IX litigation, and coaching and licensing contracts.

The day-long conference, on Friday, April 16, is organized by Marissa W. Pollick, an Ann Arbor attorney and consultant who is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Michigan.

Pollick said she organized the conference because of the growing demand nationally in the legal profession, as well as strong career interest she sees regularly from law and business students in the graduate-level course she teaches at the U-M School of Kinesiology.

The global impact of the sports business has created a broad new career opportunities in the fields of law, business and management. Sports team management, player representation, contract law, NCAA regulations, federal Title IX gender equity and athletic administration are some of the areas attracting new attention.

"(Sports law is) clearly a growing field," Pollick said. "I know this first-hand from my students at (U-M) ... and the interest across the country in sports."

The conference--"Sports Law: Recent Developments in Careers and Practice"--is designed for attorneys, law students, business students, athletic administrators and anyone considering a career in sports law.

Presenters include:

* Pollick, an expert on Title IX, who will discuss "Recent Developments in Title IX Litigation."

* Richard T. Hewlett, a Bloomfield Hills attorney and former U-M quarterback, who will discuss "Drafting and Negotiating Coaching and Licensing Contracts."

* James F. Stapleton, an Ann Arbor-area attorney and consultant who is on the Minnesota Vikings Board of Advisors and is a former executive vice president for business operations for the Detroit Tigers. He will discuss: "MLB/NFL: League and Team Business Management."

* Jessica C. Berman, associate counsel with the National Hockey League in New York, who will discuss "Managing Legal Issues in the NHL."

* Judy Van Horn, associate athletic director for compliance at the University of Michigan, who will discuss "Intercollegiate Athletics: NCAA Rules Compliance."

* Hewlett, Stapleton and Berman will also participate in a panel focused on "Sports Law Careers and Networking."

Berman, the NHL counsel, said networking is an important issue for those considering a career path into sports law. Her journey from U-M undergraduate to the New York offices of the NHL is a good example.

A lifelong sports fan with a special interest in hockey, Berman was a manager for the Wolverine hockey team in 1998-99. After earning her undergraduate degree in Sports Management and Communication at U-M in 1999, Berman decided to go on to law school, and received her law degree from Fordham University.

She was with a law firm that worked with the NHL during its work stoppage in 2004-05. Contacts she made during that time eventually led to her associate counsel position with the hockey league.

Now she works on a range of issues including grievance arbitration, immigration regulations and injury trends. Because so many players in the NHL are from other countries, the league works closely with the government, lobbying and helping make policy that facilitates foreign players working in this country.

A native New Yorker, Berman returns to U-M on occasion for her work on the university's Kinesiology Alumni Society Board. She also received an Early Career Achievement Award in 2009 from the U-M kinesiology alumni group.

She said she loves her NHL job and feels lucky to have worked at the right place at the right time to find a position with a sport she has always followed.

"I feel it everyday," she said.

Pollick's expertise in Title IX compliance emanates from groundbreaking she did herself as a high school and college tennis player starting in the early 1970s. She and another girl earned their way onto their high school's boys tennis team because there was no girls team--until the year after they broke the barrier. Then at U-M in the mid-1970s, Pollick's tennis career placed her among the first female letter winners at the university.

Years later, in 1993, Pollick became the first female member of the "M" Club--the group of former standout athletes who support U-M athletics. She later was elected president, the first woman to hold the position.

The field of gender equity is yet another subset of sports law that is creating career opportunities in the legal profession, Pollick said. She cites "a flood of Title IX retaliation cases" in recent years, cases where plaintiffs were fired or disciplined by universities after pointing out disparities between men's and women's sports accommodations.

"Jury verdicts (against universities) have just been staggering," said Pollick, who regularly consults with universities on their gender equity efforts.

Pollick hopes the conference can answer questions from those already in the legal profession and athletic administration, as well as those considering work in those and related areas.

"It's a very distinguished array of panelists ... not often brought together in an event of this kind," she said.

The fee for the conference, which will be held at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Ann Arbor, is $225 for attorneys and $125 for students. Checks payable to MWP Sports, Inc., can be sent Sports Law Conference P.O. Box 131061 Ann Arbor, 48104; or use a credit card to pay online by going to Limited spaces may be available the day of the conference.

For additional information, contact the program coordinator at

Published: Mon, Mar 29, 2010