Thursday, January 28, 2016
Athletes as clients: Take a look inside the wide world of sports law
By KELSEY GIVENS
The Ohio State University Law School Magazine | Winter 2016
The glitz. The glamour. The excitement. Brushing elbows with the athletic elite and sharing in a fast-paced, extravagant lifestyle—all while negotiating multi-million dollar contracts.
Perhaps that’s how sports law is portrayed on television and in the movies. But those in the industry today say there is so much more to a career working with athletes than simply reading over their contracts and sharing in their success.
The ultimate agent
“We’re involved in all aspects of their career— contracts, endorsements, and marketing –whatever they need. There is no typical day,” said nationally renowned sports agent and founder of NC Sports Neil Cornrich ’83. “I work with, objectively and quantifiably, the best and brightest in the world at what they do. There are so few positions, and they’re so good—the best in the world. I think it’s difficult for most people to understand.”
Breaking into the industry is challenging. Building trust with the players, creating a name for yourself, and succeeding in a market teeming with a multitude of variables out of both the player and agent’s control, like career-ending injuries, can make it difficult to start a business from the ground up.
Cornrich considers himself lucky. When he decided to become a sports agent, he was able to support himself by working at his father, Sidney Cornrich ’51’s firm in Cleveland as he built his practice. Friendships he started while in law school also helped, particularly that of Larry Romanoff, current director of external affairs for Ohio State.
“Larry’s insights had a profound effect on my understanding of student-athletes and played an integral role in the genesis of my career,” he said. It also helped Cornrich land a top pick from The Ohio State University football program, who went on to have an immensely successful career in the NFL, as his first client.
“I was lucky that Kirk Lowdermilk chose me to represent him. Fortunately things went well from the beginning contractually and he had the right things going for him; he was a tough, bright, durable player—in the sense that he could survive this brutal game—and having a player like that teaches you a lot about the game. He was then nice enough to start recommending me to other players like Jeff Uhlenhake, who was a team captain and All-America at Ohio State. Jeff was the first rookie to start at center in Miami Dolphin history and is currently working for the Ohio State football program as a strength and conditioning coach. One led to another, from Jeff to Joe Staysniak and, that same year, Jeff Davidson, who were both team captains and Academic All-Big Ten,” Cornrich explained.
Although he didn’t picture himself becoming an agent when he first entered law school, Cornrich said he became fascinated by contract work in his first-year course on the subject, taught by Professor Jerome Reichman, as well as classes on federal income taxation and legal problems of financial information with Professor Morgan Shipman. That appreciation for contract execution—which is a large part of what Cornrich does as an agent—as well as a an independent project he completed with Professor Stan Laughlin ’60, which allowed him to study lawyers’ roles within sports, started him on the path to where he is today.
He now represents a number of highly successful professional-level and college-level coaches, general managers, and club presidents. Names like Bill Belichick, Ted Ginn Jr., Montee Ball, Robert Smith, Glen Mason, John Cooper, Luke Fickell, and more recently first-round NFL draft pick and Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff, have all called on Cornrich and his team for their expertise.
Through it all, Cornrich said, the most important thing has been to continue working with the client to do things the right way and to do what’s in their best interest.
“I realize every day that the coaches, general managers, and players for whom I work are trying to improve their teams, and that can include their own personal representation. I understand the need to keep improving my own work and earn the respect of my clients on a daily basis. It’s nice that I’ve had good results in the past, but what’s important is continually getting good results for my current clients.”
And that philosophy has proven successful for both Cornrich and his clients. His impressive career was recognized by Sports Illustrated as one of the “15 Most Influential Sports Agents,” in 2013. “It’s obviously flattering, but I just feel very fortunate and humbled and lucky,” he said.