By Laura Billiter, 3L February 12, 2020
"In some sense, it's just talking baseball."
That's one of the things Stevan Bennett, 2L, had to say about competing in the Tulane International Baseball Arbitration Competition on January 17. Together with Ben Gilman, 2L, the pair became the first team to represent Michigan Law at the 13th annual event. After three days of competition, the team placed as quarterfinalists and were awarded "Best Written Advocacy" for their written materials— briefs and exhibit books prepared in defense of their oral arguments.
And they did it all essentially on their own.
"I can't emphasize enough how much Stevan and Ben really took the initiative here," said Tim Pinto, '97, Michigan Law clinical assistant professor of law, who served as a faculty sponsor for the team. "They learned about the competition, decided they wanted to compete in it, found me to help support it, approached the Law School about getting funding, and took time off the first week of class to compete. To then win [the Best Written Advocacy award] in the first year that Michigan participated is a fantastic achievement. It's really impressive."
The competition "is a simulated salary arbitration competition modeled closely on the procedures used by Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association," according to its website. Hosted at the Tulane University Law School in New Orleans, 40 law student teams compete before guest arbitrators, which include sports law attorneys and the general counsel, agents, and directors for MLB teams.
Participating in the competition was "born out of interest," said Bennett. With an eye towards making a career as a baseball agent, Bennett had aspirations of entering the competition well before attending law school. After enrolling at Michigan, Bennett "really wanted the Law School to have a presence in the competition. Fortunately, I found someone else who was interested in doing it as well."
Bennett and Gilman met during their 1L year. When they enrolled in the competition, both were 1L representatives for Michigan Law's Sports Law Society. They now head the organization as its vice president and president, respectively.
"I always wanted to eventually transition into sports law," said Gilman. "Sports are one of my favorite things. I played sports up until I realized I couldn't run, jump, or score."
For Bennett and Gilman, preparing for the competition was relatively straightforward. They worked through winter break on the written materials for four salary arbitration cases. Self-described "stat heads," they ran through the numbers for each scenario. They mooted oral presentations in their New Orleans hotel room over take-out Cajun food. They pushed each other in the ways they thought about baseball and practiced balancing "talking shop" and acting like professional agents.
Their biggest challenges? Things like printing, formatting, and ensuring their deliverables were submitted correctly—"the unknown" aspects of the competition, simply by virtue of being the first Michigan team to compete.
"We didn't have the institutional knowledge of this competition going in," said Gilman. "We didn't even know if we had to print certain things in color."
The experience itself was a combination of the legal skills the pair had honed at Michigan and one of their favorite sports.
"For me, it was a really cool marriage of the law school experience and baseball," said Bennett.
"It involves all of the skills of law," added Gilman. "How can you make your story more persuasive? How can you distinguish your player from others? Although there isn't really a long line of cases, you still have this long line of precedent. Here, instead of a case to cite, you have a player. Instead of the Model Penal Code, you have the Collective Bargaining Agreement."
After ending the competition as quarterfinalists, both Bennett and Gilman are open to participating in the future.
"The competition is something we'd like to see continue at Michigan," said Bennett. "One of our goals is to find people next year to go and compete, and at least give them expectations and answer their questions."
Gilman has grander goals: "I think Michigan could be a dynasty."
Students interested in the competition are encouraged to reach out to the
Sports Law Society for more information.
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