Published March 20, 2019
Sports law expert Helen “Nellie” Drew’s expansive vision of the School of Law’s new Center for the Advancement of Sport has all the features to fulfill its promise as an educational and research center unique in the U.S.
In place already are several key components, including the law school’s new concentration in sports law, and several graduates in high-profile jobs who are using skills honed at UB to take advantage of what Drew, director of the Center for the Advancement of Sport, calls the “exponential” growth of sports law and sports business fields.
The broad, high-level vision includes academic representation from across the university in the continued development of the center. Working with other university departments, Drew sees the center taking advantage of cross-disciplinary research teams already operating at the university, promoting sports-related legislation, and implementing a mentor/network system that, when up and running, would give the School of Law another talking point and signature identity.
When complete, there simply wouldn’t be another academic center like UB’s in the country, Drew says.
“Nobody has attempted to harness university-wide resources like this,” she explains, “and we want to make sure our students have rich, hands-on learning experiences and come out of UB absolutely qualified to assume many of the new jobs that are being formed in the sports industry.”
As just one example, she cites an anticipated boom in sports betting following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that authorizes states to offer such betting. That, she says, means jobs in such areas as legal policy, regulatory compliance and data analytics. And the sports industry is constantly redefining itself, as such topics as drugs in sports, legal gambling and sexual harassment become national issues.
It is fitting that the center is grounded in Buffalo, one of the classic sports towns in America, Drew says, noting that Buffalo is a city where amateur and professional sports of all kinds are inherent in the fabric of the culture — in its economy, in family life and in the innermost character and psyche of those living here.
Drew already has established her reputation as one of the country’s leading academic experts on sports issues. She hopes to become a proven collaborator with UB departments, especially UB Athletics.
She’s also the mother of seven, including the starting goalie of a UB women’s club hockey team that won the College Hockey East championship.
“I discovered after many years of teaching sports law that there were a number of different people in different areas of the university involved in the sports law space in some shape or form,” says Drew.
“I would reach out to colleagues across campus, and we came to see that there was already a critical cross-collaboration area that was not being addressed. These things were already happening. We just hadn’t put them together in some cohesive, coherent fashion.”
Drew, who has taught numerous sports law and business courses, did some research. She reached out to numerous schools in the university, and with the backing of School of Law Dean Aviva Abramovsky, she asked who might be interested in “a more formal collaboration.”
The response, Drew says, was “tremendous.” And the Center for the Advancement of Sport moved forward.
Drew defines her new center like this: “The UB Center for the Advancement of Sport is interested in cross-disciplinary programming in terms of collaboration for research, as well as policy initiatives, to address certain areas that need regulation in the sports’ space.”
Concrete examples of this academic game plan already are up and running. Drew oversees the new sports law concentration that the School of Law offers as part of its JD program. Courses available this semester address issues such as best practices in injury prevention among professional and amateur athletics, and minimal credentials for athletic trainers and head coaches.
As for ongoing collaboration, include Mark Alnutt, UB’s director of athletics, who calls the Center for the Advancement of Sport a “very needed resource.”
“To be able to have this place at UB and be able to give our students real-world applications, via sport, is tremendous,” Alnutt says.
He notes the sports world has evolved dramatically in the past 10 years. To be able to provide “a broad platform” of sports issues at UB and the opportunity for students to interact with the sports world in general is a huge advantage for students, he says.
The Center for the Advancement of Sport also could open doors for its student athletes, Alnutt says. Students would have the opportunity to pursue careers in professional athletics beyond coaching and becoming an athletic trainer. This new program will help recruit student athletes who may want to pursue careers in sports law and the sports industry.
“A lot of these young people want to be into representing student athletes at the agent level,” Alnutt says. “I think that is phenomenal. And I think to have that as another benefit of coming here to UB, this just opens up many more doors and opportunities from a career standpoint.”
Kathy Twist, senior associate athletic director for sports administration/senior woman administrator, has been especially supportive, working with Drew to incorporate externships for law students into the athletics department so that they can get hands-on experience in real-world sports law issues.
As for successful UB graduates with promising careers in sports management and sports law, meet Shane Costa, director of football operations at Pillar Sports Management in Buffalo. Costa is an NFL agent whose clients include former Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson — “He’s a lock for the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame, so hopefully we can make that happen in four years,” Costa says — and UB Bulls football center James O’Hagan, who enters the NFL draft this year and “is going to make Buffalo proud.”
“I’m certified by the NFL Players Association to represent football players negotiating their contracts and handling their football-playing business careers,” says Costa, who graduated from the UB law school in 2013. “And so what I do on a day-to-day basis is really whatever the clients that I’ve signed need to have done to help them both, not only in negotiating their contracts and sponsorships, but also getting them ready day in and day out for life in the NFL … but also so that they can prepare for their careers when football is done.”
Costa’s enthusiasm for the possibilities of the sports law and sports industries is as high as his appreciation for the education he received while at the UB School of Law.
“Sports law is really a growing field,” he says. “I think anyone can recognize the NFL viewership revenue has continued to increase pretty much across the board, along with all the major sports.
“You’re going to see over the next couple of years different expanding technologies that help the sport grow, both on and off the field, as well as from a sponsorship and marketing perspective. And those fields need good, competent, quality lawyers — people who understand the law and the intersection of sports with it.”
Costa says he sees the Center for the Advancement of Sport helping students get ready for careers in those fields and helping them “think outside the box.”
“And there’s going to be more and more careers over the years that evolve because of this,” he says.
Costa says his interest in educating athletes about managing their careers and lives off the field, as well as the legal issues in collective bargaining agreements, started with his classes at UB, particularly the ones taught by Drew.
“When I first met Professor Drew, you knew right away she was going to have passion and enthusiasm for the subject,” he says. “Her background and qualifications speak for themselves. Universally, the students love her. They love working with her. She’s a great professor and, frankly, her experience but also her willingness to help students is second to none in this university.”
Costa says there isn’t a month that goes by that he doesn’t send Drew an email or ask her a question or run an idea by her, “or just check in to see how she is doing.”
“I trust her,” he says. “Not only her business and educational judgment, but she’s just a good mentor to have. And she continues to be that for me, even almost six years after I’ve graduated.”
Drew’s plan also includes creating a network of resources and instructors who can help students, not only in the classroom but in real-life hands-on experience. Gerry Meehan, former winger and general manager for the Buffalo Sabres, has been involved in Drew’s classes, including acting as an “arbitrator” in her course on sports agent negotiation, mediating between groups of two students arguing salaries for actual NHL players.
“Many of the top people in the game, in pro sports today, are trained lawyers, especially at the administrative and league levels,” says Meehan.
“And that’s not just the agents’ work representing contract negotiation. It’s insurance, workers’ compensation, torts. In some cases, it’s not so much criminal liability that leads to hearings, suspensions, arbitrations, all these things. This is all part of what sports lawyers will do in the industry. And also the idea that it’s not just agents. It’s club lawyers, arena lawyers, people trained to work in all aspects of the sports world,” he says.
“Part of my role is because I lived my life in the game and in the game of hockey professionally and at a high amateur level. And I managed it, lawyered in it. I was a quasi-league official for a number of years, as well. And I think those are important experiences that can add value to the program.”
Drew is especially appreciative of the support from the UB administration, deans and faculty, especially Abramovsky (Drew calls her “a noted sports fan”), Provost Charles F. Zukoski and Graham Hammill, vice provost for educational affairs and dean of the Graduate School.
“Kathy Twist and I approached the administration with this novel concept that seemed to make so much sense — but had never been tried before,” says Drew. “They listened, they asked questions and they encouraged us to build our vision.
“Now, every day more opportunities for programming, research and collaboration present themselves,” she says. “It is an exciting time for our students, our faculty and the entire university community. After all, we are in Buffalo. Who doesn’t love sports?”