Representing the NFL Players Association: a Harvard Law School panel discussion

 							 					In a panel discussion sponsored by HLS Lecturer on Law Peter Carfagna ’79 and Harvard Law School’s Committee on Sports and Entertainment Law, “Negotiating with The League: Representing the NFLPA,” Peter Kendall, a retired NFL player who was involved in the league’s summer contract renegotiations, offered an insider’s account of the collective bargaining victory that preserved this fall’s season.

Kendall, a Boston College alum and Massachusetts native, most recently played left guard for the Washington Redskins. Joining him on the panel was Warren Zola, assistant dean of graduate programs and adjunct associate professor of business law and operations at Boston College.

In his capacity as the permanent NFL representative on the negotiating committee, Kendall focused on the current player perspective, both this summer and during his remarks.

“There was push-pull internally on our side: which bucket do we want to take it from and drop it into?”

While he does not believe all players should make the same amount of money, Kendall lauded this year’s improved model of increased minimum salaries. Roughly half of the league earns the minimum, according to Kendall.

“My take on the deal is time will tell,” said Kendall. “The legacy fund will dedicate 600 million dollars, the details of which will still be ironed up, but benefits [should increase] for players who accrued multiple seasons.”

Kendall added that the players themselves were the first to seriously propose enacting drug tests. “A large majority of players want to level the playing the field,” he noted.

Zola, who counsels BC students itching to go pro, said that the “business side of professional sports is completely a mystery [to rookies] when they are drafted.”

He described the sometimes long and improbable journeys of professional sports aspirants. Until undrafted players sign with teams, according to Zola, “they do not have a sense of what it’s like to compete in professional sports under the umbrella of business and unions.” In general, Zola believes colleges have to do more to prepare athletes.

Zola said that business and revenue-sharing structures in football are not “broken” like those in professional basketball.

“In football, both sides [owners and players] were making a good amount of money and were reasonably cohesive as units.”

In basketball, however, Zola said there are larger discrepancies deriving partly from the combination of big and small market owners. “I think it will fall more upon the owners’ side, in terms of when they feel the pinch.”

Kendall added that the NBA boasts super-agents who exhibit less confidence in the player’s association, as some of their players weigh options to shoot hoops overseas during the lockout.

He also noted that, unlike his former league’s owners, NBA teams may actually profit from not opening their arenas for now.

Carfagna, a practicing sports law attorney for nearly 30 years, has built a strong sports law program at Harvard Law since joining the faculty as a lecturer on law. The program now includes three course offerings; a clinical component, which places students in externships with sports teams and in league offices; and two student-run organizations: the Journal on Sports and Entertainment Law and the Committee on Sports and Entertainment Law, both of which Carfagna oversees as faculty advisor.

Harvard Law School’s Committee on Sports and Entertainment Law has sponsored a number of events in the past year, including a 2011 Sports Law Symposium, on the legal and business issues surrounding intercollegiate athletics, with a keynote address by former sports marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro.