Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Dan Matheson, director of the University of Iowa’s Sport and Recreation Management program and professor at Iowa Law, is taking experiential learning to the next level.

Through his collaborative relationships with the College of Law and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Matheson has developed a national interdisciplinary student sports law competition that stands out as the first of its kind.

“I had several motivations for developing this competition,” says Matheson. “First, we have an opportunity to start something unique at Iowa. Several law schools have started sports law competitions in recent years, and most of them involve negotiation. Iowa’s competition is the only one I’m aware of that will deal with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) infractions process.”

Matheson designed the College Athletics Infractions Hearing Competition to closely simulate NCAA Committee on Infractions (COI) hearings by giving students roles as NCAA enforcement staff and university defense counsel. “Think of it as moot court revolving around an NCAA name, image, and likeness recruiting violation,” he says.

The COI is an independent administrative body charged with deciding infractions cases involving NCAA member institutions and their employees. The COI conducts hearings or reviews of alleged violations, finds facts and violations, prescribes penalties, and monitors institutions on probation.

As student interest in sports law continues to grow, Matheson hopes the College Athletics Infractions Hearing Competition will open the door for more students to break into the industry.

“The competition will help students develop their oral and written advocacy skills, perform non-traditional research, and engage in the same process as attorneys working on NCAA infractions cases. My goal is to have the competition become an annual event and continue growing the number of participating schools. It can be a great way to break into the sports industry,” he says.

The competition is open to law students and grad students from various fields. This year, one team from the University of Iowa’s Sport and Recreation Management master’s program will compete with four teams from the College of Law. Other participating schools include the law schools at the University of Illinois, Indiana University, Pepperdine University, University of Arkansas, Creighton University, University of Houston, and Brooklyn Law School and New England School of Law.

The breakdown of competitors this year is 14 teams with nine law schools and one sport management program represented. I’m pleased with that level of participation for a first-year competition. This level of interest will give the competition plenty to build on in future years as word starts to spread,” says Matheson.

As participation is expected to grow year after year, Matheson also has plans to develop an advisory board of industry professionals to be involved with the competition at a higher level.

“An advisory board with experience in NCAA compliance and infractions would help us continue improving the competition each year, keep the fact patterns on the cutting edge of NCAA infractions issues, and recruit additional industry professionals as judges.”

The competition is currently held online, but Matheson will monitor demand for an in-person element in the future.

“The competition is currently all on Zoom, but if there’s enough interest in the future, we could consider holding the first round of hearings online and invite the four semi-finalist teams to Iowa City for in-person semi-finals and finals. My top priority is giving as many students as possible the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and learn about this area of sports law and college athletics, and if that means staying on Zoom in the future, that’s okay. We have teams from coast to coast entered, which is so great to see,” says Matheson.

The industry’s response to the competition has also been tremendous, with several lawyers and non-lawyer executives in the intercollegiate athletics space voicing their willingness to serve as judges.

“We have 18 college athletics executives and attorneys that have volunteered to read and score student writing samples and judge hearings. My colleagues in college athletics recognize the incredible potential for this competition. Some of the things I’ve heard from executives and attorneys who stepped up to judge have been, ‘We need more great young minds entering athletics through compliance,’ and ‘What a cool competition. Wish we had this when I was in law school!’”, says Matheson.

Initial research and writing stages of the competition started in early January, and mock hearings took place February 24 and 25 over Zoom. A panel and networking function titled “Careers and Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics” also took place as part of the event and involved 14 of the competition judges.

More information about the College Athletics Infractions Hearing Competition can be found at the competition website here.