Notre Dame Set to Hire Sports Attorney as Athletic Director

Attorney John B. Swarbrick (photo from Baker & Daniels)

Notre Dame reportedly will go outside of the box, and into the bar, by hiring prominent Indianapolis sports attorney Jack Swarbrick as its next athletic director.  According to the Chicago Tribune, Notre Dame has targeted Swarbrick to fill the vacancy left by Kevin White, who left for Duke amid speculation that the firing of football coach Tyrone Willingham and hiring of Charlie Weis compromised White’s authority to run the Notre Dame athletic department.

Swarbrick has no experience as an athletic director or college administrator.  However, he has significant experience as a sports attorney, having served as general counsel for numerous national governing bodies of Olympic sports, including USA Gymnastics and USRowing and also playing a significant role in the NCAA’s move of its offices to Indianapolis.  Swarbrick was also a finalist for the position of NCAA president in 2002. 

The Swarbrick hiring begs an interesting question: will colleges and universities follow Notre Dame’s lead and consider attorneys for the position of athletic director?  Perhaps.  College sports, at the highest level, is big business.  Coaching contracts are increasing in value, and the business of representing college coaches is booming.  In the wake of Jim O’Brien’s $3 million lawsuit against The Ohio State University, the dismissal clauses in coaching contracts will receive greater consideration and scrutiny.  The virtual free agency in the coaching profession has made popular the buyout clause, as demonstrated by the case of West Virginia vs. Rich Rodriguez

Sponsorship deals with athletic uniform and equipments providers are becoming larger and more complicated.  UConn and Nike just agreed to a $45.5 million contract, providing Nike with a bundle of rights including the exclusive rights to provide all athletic equipment, uniforms and advertisements at sporting events.  Last but not least, NCAA rules and regulations continue to cause problems for athletic departments.

In the changing world of collegiate athletics, an attorney can offer the athletic director’s position a perspective and level of expertise that not all administrators can provide.  Of course for Swarbrick, he will not be judged on his legal acumen, but rather on whether Notre Dame football can return to its past glory.

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