When news broke recently that the International Court of Arbitration for Sport struck International Olympic Committee Rule 45 from existence and the United Football League canceled the rest of its season to avoid losing more money, we knew we needed to find an All-Star sports lawyer.
Fortunately, we tracked down Paul J. Greene, who has a soft-spot for former journalists as he was a sportscaster for nearly 10 years. A 2007 graduate of the University of Maine School of Law, Greene is now an associate at Preti Flaherty practicing business, bankruptcy and sports law – specifically Olympic anti-doping and eligibility arbitrations. Greene is listed in Chambers USA 2011 as one of America’s Leading Lawyers for Sports Law in the Nationwide category.
What does the Rule 45 decision mean for the London Games? (Note, Rule 45 stated that any athlete with an anti-doping suspension of more than six months would automatically be banned from the next Olympic Games following the end of the suspension.)
It means that 50 athletes at least, if not more, including LaShawn Merritt, the defending gold medalist in the 400-meter is going to be eligible. They would not be eligible save for that ruling. The interesting issue that is still out there is that the British Olympic Association still has a lifetime ban rule, which is nearly identical to Rule 45, it is called By-Law 25. And there is no way in my view that it can hold up.
How did you break into sports law and start representing Olympic athletes?
I was a sportscaster initially and along the way I met many people related to the Olympic movement. They encouraged me to go to law school, because they were saying to me, “we need somebody to represent athletes who is a lawyer and not an agent.” So I did go to law school and when I was in law school I really delved deep into the world of Olympic Law as it was starting. The International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), anti-doping laws, the World Anti-Doping Code all started in the early 2000s. The US Anti-doping Agency only came into existence around 2000. I wrote an article for law review about the first case ever where an athlete was found to have violated the World Anti-Doping Code without a positive test. His name was Tim Montgomery. It was called a non-analytical positive. Just researching that article led me to a lot of people in the world of Olympic law and they said you should call back when you graduate, so I did. I kept knocking on doors and the one person who really helped me out was John Ruger at the USOC, who is not only a great guy but a real mentor for me. John believed in me and started referring cases to me. It was that initial set of cases that launched my career.
How do you acquire clients?
I get referrals from all over the world in different types of cases with all kinds of disputes. The USOC refers clients. Being in Chambers USA as a top American Sports Lawyer helped and a lot of agents send me stuff now.
Are the international Olympic arbitration panels different from American panels?
All of them are closely linked. A lot of the arbitrators that are AAA arbitrators are also CAS arbitrators. I also do commercial arbitrations that are sports related and those aren’t necessarily CAS arbitrators, but there is a specialized section of the AAA that deals with sports cases. I would say there is not an appreciable difference. If you have an international case you will have international arbitrators, but that is the only major difference.
Did you always want to go into sports law?
It was natural for me to go back into that world because I was a broadcaster for almost 10 years. So I knew that world. It was easy for me to call into the contact I made.
Turning toward news of the UFL shortening its season to avoid losing any more money (it has lost nearly $100 million in two season) if the UFL wants to stay in business, what can they do?
Unless their investors are willing to continue to lose money at some point they have to become a viable business. You can’t operate a business and lose money in perpetuity. It is a tough economy. I imagine they are struggling to get sponsors and TV revenue. It is hard to know how much longer they can exist and continue to lose money.
Normally in those situations you try to do a “work out” which is when somebody else comes along and tries to restructure the debt to make it a viable company and then buys out the investors who are no longer willing to continue to lose money. Or you could file for bankruptcy and do one of two things.
They could file for Chapter 11, which is what all of the current sports franchises are doing. These are reorganization bankruptcies where you are protected under federal bankruptcy code and you have the opportunity to organize under a plan that you propose to the judge, which requires a lot less spending and more revenue. The judge would have to agree to that plan which would essentially give a huge haircut to whoever are the creditors that are owed money. Or they could go into a Chapter 7 which is just they are done. They are finished. It’s a carcass. It’s a liquidation and then they just redistribute any assets that are left.
What can players do who are owed money and benefits?
Until the league files for bankruptcy, players can pursue any disputes under normal labor and contract law. If the clubs are in breach of contract, then the players could sue for restitution if they are not being paid. Employment law is pretty harsh on employers not paying employees. Chapter 11 bankruptcy does provide various protections for employees, but if it is Chapter 7, then it just depends how much money is left.
Will another football league every succeed in this country?
The USFL was successful and of course the AFL, which merged with the NFL. But the NFL is such an established brand at this point on Sunday afternoons. It is very difficult unless a team became a football minor league with a professional affiliation like other minor leagues. But the problem is that college football is really the NFL minor league. Minor league sports do well in every other professional area except football.