April 06, 2015
Ari Nissim (L '04) (far left), director of strategy and analytics for Roc Nation Sports, shares a laugh with Tulane Law students Jay Farmer and Steven Owens (both L ’15) during the finals of the first Pro Football Negotiation Competition in March.
When the Philadelphia Eagles signed NFL running back DeMarco Murray away from the Dallas Cowboys, how did carries last season play into his worth? What about previous injuries? His age (27)?
Tulane Law’s first Pro Football Negotiation Competition, held March 19-20, plunged students into haggling over those questions and others that industry professionals would wrestle with in contract talks. This isn’t fantasy-team-style debating, but a new skills-training twist on moot court that the founders plan to build into a national event like Tulane’s popular National Baseball Arbitration Competition.
Sports Law students A.J. Stevens (L ’16), Harrison Smith (L ’16), Scott Champagne (L ‘16) and Ryan Feder (L ’15) developed the football event with coaching from Professor Gabe Feldman and Ari Nissim (L ‘04), director of strategy and analytics for Roc Nation Sports and former director of football administration for the New York Jets.
The students tested the competition this year with Tulane teams only, but already six other schools have signed on to compete in 2016.
Channing White (L ’16) whispers strategy to teammate and fellow second-year student Sanders Phelps during the finals of the Tulane Law’s Pro Football Negotiation Competition.
“The competition was tough, fair and way different than anything I’ve done in school or my career to this point — we had a blast,” said Steven Owens (L ’15), who won the inaugural football contest with teammate Jay Farmer (L ’15). The two represented Tulane Law in January’s baseball arbitration competition, which drew students from across the United States and Canada.
Stevens said he wanted to add a football component to expand on the baseball competition’s success.
“Our goal from the beginning was to use the competition as a way of sharpening our knowledge of NFL contracts and negotiation skills, as well as expanding the Tulane sports law brand,” Stevens said. “Tulane is known in baseball circles as the premier sports law program, and we hope to build that same respect in football circles as well.”
The idea gained momentum when Feldman introduced Stevens and Nissim at the 2014 Sports Lawyers Association Conference. The group brainstormed for hours, scribbling initial plans on cocktail napkins, Stevens said.
The competition organizers fleshed out the details with Nissim’s input over the summer and fall semester.
“They had great ideas, and I really give them all the credit for putting this competition together,” Nissim said. “I think the sky’s the limit for the future of this competition.”
Sports agents Jeff and Elizabeth Guerriero from Pro Source Sports Management helped judge the first Pro Football Negotiation Competition, which was conceived and run by student members of Tulane’s Sports Law Society.
Nissim helped judge the March event, along with Elizabeth and Jeff Guerriero, agents with Pro Source Sports Management; Feldman, director of Tulane’s Sports Law program; Feder, the Sports Law Society president and a ProFootball Focus analyst; and Shauna DiGiovanni (L ’15), who interned with the NFL Management Council last summer and organized the 20th Annual Tulane Mardi Gras Sports Law Invitational moot court competition.
Competitors learned key lessons in athlete contract negotiation: Be more cordial than combative. Ask the other side’s cap upfront. Build up your client to make the team eager to close the deal. And collaborate with your negotiation partner.
“Before the competition, I had not participated in anything else like it, so the judges’ feedback really helped me understand my strengths and areas I need to work on, both as an individual negotiator and as a member of a negotiating team,” said Channing White (L ’16), who competed in the final round with teammate Sanders Phelps (L ’16).
“It’s one thing to talk about doing a negotiation and an entirely different thing to actually go through it,” Elizabeth Guerriero said. “I think this will definitely give the students a leg up and give them so much more confidence the first time they go into a real negotiation.”
Owens called the competition “definitely one of the most unique and fun things” he’s participated in at Tulane. “Understanding the strange, nuanced and dynamic rules of NFL contracts was difficult, but I thought all of the competitors handled the challenge very well,” he said.