Law professor to lead Sports Lawyers Association

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In Matt Mitten’s office in Eckstein Hall, his bookcase displays everything about his career. Countless books on law, but one shelf is reserved for sports memorabilia from a career he never anticipated.

Mitten, a professor of law and director of the National Sports Law Institute and LL.M. in Sports Law for Foreign Lawyers at Marquette, was named the president-elect of the Sports Lawyers Association in May.

“I was delighted (when I got the news),” Mitten said. “It is quite an honor to be selected by one’s colleagues to be the president of the association.”

With 10 of his 23 years in the SLA spent on the board of directors, Mitten is familiar with organization and is prepared to start his two-year term next May.

Mitten will manage over 1,700 members, while coordinating the annual conference, increasing law reform and growing the association. The SLA is more than lawyers representing professional athletes: it also covers trademark, amateur level, television rights and advertising, among other things.

Traditionally, the SLA focuses primarily on professional sports legal issues, but Mitten hopes to add more attention to the amateur level, like the NCAA and the Olympics.

“For a long time the Sports Lawyers Association has focused on professional sports issues,” Mitten said, “But I think to grow the organization in the recognition that pro sports is a very significant side of the industry, probably the one that draws the most fans and most dollars, but also to recognize that there are other components like the Olympic side and the college side.”

“I think the globalization of sports is going to be important to have and develop connections with lawyers in other parts of the world like (in) Europe (and) in particular, Asia, South America, Australia,” Mitten said. “As sports become more globalized, it’s not just going to be one country’s laws that govern.”

While completing his undergraduate degree in economics at The Ohio State University, Mitten never thought his love of sports and desire to become a lawyer would come together in one career.

“I thought I might be a university professor and I was interested in being a lawyer,” Mitten said. “I wanted to choose an area that combined law and economics and that was antitrust.”

After earning his law degree, he spent five years practicing antitrust law, intellectual property law and commercial litigation at Kilpatrick, Townsend and Stockton, a law firm in Atlanta.

Though he enjoyed practicing law, Mitten said he wanted to follow his family’s teaching background. Three of his close relatives are teachers. When he was offered a position at the South Texas College of Law, Mitten said it was a no-brainer.

Upon arrival, Mitten found the college lacked a sports law course, though there was strong student support for one to be instated. After a successful student petition, he was asked to take charge of the course, and he was up to the challenge.

“It was kind of fortuitous that I started teaching sports law,” Mitten said. “I would have never dreamed, being a sports fan my whole life, that I’d find a job to combine (law, economics and teaching) together.”

An incredible career in sports law took off from the class.

Mitten’s work is internationally recognized. He taught courses in Spain and Australia, and has spoken at seminars and conferences in Canada, China, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Korea and Turkey. He was a chair for the NCAA Competitive Safeguard, and was one of nine arbitrators at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

After teaching at Marquette for 15 years, Mitten became the director of the National Sports Law Institute and the LL.M. for sports law when it was created in 2007 and became one of two programs in the nation to offer law students the ability to earn a law degree with a certificate for sports law.

“It was a natural progression,” Mitten said. “Without realizing it, I was getting general background of the economics, the legal background, particularly the antitrust and trademark law, which helped establish a very good foundation to do more sports-related work.”