Wintersession Course Provides Overview of College Sports Law

While most students were wrapping up their winter break, a group of students were immersed in college athletics as part of the College Sports Law Practicum winter intersession course at the University of Mississippi School of Law.

The two-week course, taught by Distinguished Professor of Law Ron Rychlak, provided an overview of collegiate sports law and management, including organizational structures and legal issues. In the first week, students met with and heard from members of leadership within Ole Miss Athletics. The second week of the course was held in San Antonio at the NCAA’s annual meeting.

Throughout the course, students worked on legal questions in college sports relating to public relations, finance, NCAA compliance, gender equity, health and medical issues, academics, and television contracts, among others.

“I’m trying to give the students a broad look at college athletics, so we don’t go into too much detail, but they learn a little about each area that falls under college sports,” he said. “Off the top of your head you wouldn’t realize how many legal issues and legal complications there are in college sports.”

Rychlak introduced the course in 2014 through the Study USA program, initially as an undergraduate class. Since the university’s intersession coincided perfectly with the NCAA meeting, he realized it was a unique opportunity for students to engage in real-time discussions of issues within college athletics. Now rebooted for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic, it has evolved into a law-specific course which helped fulfill elective requirements for the Sports Law Concentration. However, he initially wasn’t how many students would be interested in taking it.

As it turns out, a lot. The class originally had an enrollment maximum of 15, but it was expanded to 25 to accommodate 19 law students, one graduate student, and five undergraduate students.

“The mix between undergrads and law students has some challenges, but has also been fun,” Rychlak said. “We’ve been able to do law school drills both with students who are currently in law school and others who may be contemplating going into law school or athletics administration.”

On the first day of the course, students made a list as a class of all the legal/business issues that were involved in college athletics. Then, the students worked to address those issues through assignments and drills.

Those drills included working through hypothetical negotiation problems, compliance investigations, and crisis management response. Another activity students were required to do was to reach out to an administrator from another school to ask for a 15-minute coffee or introductory meeting while in San Antonio.

“One of the skills that they had to actually write in contact and request a meeting with an administrator from some other school other than Ole Miss. So, I’m trying to teach a little assertiveness, a little creativity, and the ability to do the things lawyers have to do,” he said.

Second-year law student Alex Egan, from Portland, Oregon, is also interested in sports law.

“I want to work in the industry and reached out to as many people as I could to meet others in college sports,” Egan said. “Some people I just stopped in the hallway or talked to them in line. Going to the convention was a great way for me to practice networking.”

Students also reviewed proposals of SEC and NCAA legislation that often gets voted on at the annual conference, and considered it from the perspectives of the student-athlete, coach, athletic director, college faculty, etc.

“It was kind of neat because they’re just two fairly simple pieces of legislation, but the students figured out pretty quickly that coaches may have one view, players may agree or may not, and the professors may think differently about it,” said Rychlak, who is also the Faculty Athletics Representative for the university.

Rychlak says though the course acts as an introduction to college sports, it goes deeper than the sports page.

“I think all of these students will have a leg up the next time they get to an argument about NCAA policies or practices of colleges and conferences,” he said. “There is complexity in these things, and it’s neat when you’ve gone a little bit deeper into something to learn a little more.”

The skills and experiences gained through this unique Ole Miss Law class is valuable, and at least four of Rychlak’s former students of the course are now working within college athletics.

“I think there are some basic skills that I hope that the law students get out of it, and then I think there’s exposure to this whole world of potential legal employment in this field.”

Camille Atkins, a second-year law student from Huntsville, Alabama, took the course because she is also interested in going into sports law.

“I really gained a deeper appreciation for much work goes into making an athletic program successful,” she said. “The speakers were really insightful about rising issues in sports management and law.”