The emerging field of college sports law has a new player. Goulston & Storrs, a Boston-based law firm with offices in New York and Washington D.C., has launched a College Sports Law Practice. Powered by more than 200 attorneys, the law firm intends to secure a leading position in representing colleges, universities and athletic conferences.
Goulston & Storrs isn’t the first law firm to enter the college sport space, and it won’t be the last. But its entry highlights the widening scope of legal issues facing the industry in the 2020s.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a primary reason for that expansion.
The pandemic has sparked novel legal questions about (among other things) the applicability of force majeure and related clauses; whether insurance policies provide coverage for an infectious disease outbreak that makes it challenging, but not impossible, to play; and the legality of colleges refusing to disclose information about COVID-19 by invoking the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Colleges also face an uncertain landscape over NIL. Under current projections, each of the three NCAA divisions will propose NIL rules by October and have them enacted by January. These rules would go into effect in the 2021-22 academic year.
Yet that timeline is vulnerable to external developments, including the passage of state NIL laws in California, Colorado, New Jersey and Florida and possible enactment of a federal NIL law. These laws could establish rules that the NCAA and conferences find too permissive, which in turn could spark litigation. There are also unsettled questions about how colleges will comply with the eventual NIL rules; how college sports agents will be certified and regulated; and to what extent Title IX will be implicated by NIL policies.
College sports law clearly presents a diverse set of legal issues. It’s one that the practice’s leader, Martin Edel, is confident his firm can handle.
Edel, who teaches sports law at Columbia Law School, tells Sportico a “brave new world” of college sports legal issues awaits. This will be noticeably true, he predicts, when student-athletes “negotiate with third parties for the first time.” Edel envisions opportunities for Goulston & Storrs to “to partner with colleges and conferences by advising them of the athletes’ and agents’ perspectives, how best to maximize the revenue opportunities, how to manage third parties . . . and how to minimize the risk of litigation.”
Edel has substantial experience in sports law matters. He has represented the NBA in a variety of matters ranging from protection of its intellectual property to advising on corporate governance. He has also advised teams, including the Brooklyn Nets, on contract disputes and intellectual property. At the collegiate level, Edel represented football coach Bill O’Brien in renegotiating his contract with Penn State in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky controversy and NCAA penalties.
Edel’s group will include former IMG and ESPN executive Len Deluca and former NCAA associate director Dr. Tim Lewis. These two seasoned professionals, Edel says, “will advise the practice on what issues are ‘top of mind’ so we can offer these decision-makers the advice and guidance they need.”