By David B. Sarnoff
Many attorneys express a desire for non-traditional positions utilizing their legal training and experience, without practicing law on a day to day basis. Robert Boland is one of those attorneys. Robert (“Bob”) Boland grew up in upstate New York around the Port Jervis region. He attended Columbia University where he was a varsity football player and wrestler. Bob had a passion for athletics and business, and knew that he wanted his career to include both aspects. After college, Bob attended graduate school for Communications at the University of Tennessee. When deciding on the next step, Bob said “all the positions I aspired to were inhabited by lawyers.” These positions included league commissioners, professional sports front office executives, agents and sports attorneys.
Mr. Boland decided to attend law school at Samford University, Cumberland School of Law, in Alabama. He went to law school with the intention to be a sports lawyer, “whatever that meant,” Boland said. He loaded his course selection with contracts, antitrust, broadcasting and communications law. With all his sports experience as a player and focused education, low and behold, Bob ended up at the District Attorney’s office in Staten Island, New York. His first assignment was with the City-Wide Animal Crimes and Cruelty Task Force, in 1996. This ends up being a key experience in Bob’s sports law career.
After his stint at the DA’s office, Bob became a sports agent and was an owner and principal of GAME, a sports representation and consulting firm. He combed the country and competed with large agencies to sign talent from a variety of men’s and women’s professional sports teams, including players in the NFL, AFL, CFL, WUSA and WNBA. Being an agent is very demanding but doesn’t always pay the bills. Along the way, Bob took odd legal jobs, criminal defense work and a position as a judge at the New York Taxi & Limousine Commission (“TLC”). This is another position that would ultimately elevate Bob’s career in an unanticipated way.
Boland would typically write up his TLC decisions at home. However, he decided to head into the office on a rainy Friday and by chance bumped into a colleague. That colleague, knowing Bob’s sports background, mentioned to Bob that NYU was looking for a Sports Law Professor and that he should apply. He sent in his application, interviewed for the position and was hired. Bob will never forget his first day of class at NYU, September 11, 2001.
He was energized by his students and worked hard to build up the program. Bob attracted high level personalities as guest lecturers and co-teachers, including teaching a sports law course with highly acclaimed law professor Arthur Miller. In 2003, Bob became a full-time faculty member at NYU. Then in 2007, an event happened that as Bob says, made him “the most uniquely qualified person to respond to it.” Michael Vick became entangled in legal trouble due to alleged abuse of dogs. Bob believes he was the only one in the country who “prosecuted animal cruelty cases, was a sports agent and taught sports law.” His phone began to ring off the hook and he made several television appearances and was interviewed by multiple publications. From then on, Bob became a regular commentator responding to legal, ethical and social issues pertaining to professional athletes and leagues.
Bob focused on his teaching career, becoming Academic Chair of his program at NYU in 2010. He let his agent license lapse so that he could publicly discuss league, labor and antitrust issues that were becoming so dominant at the time. He is a prolific networker and his lecture guests included Mets owner Fred Wilpon, NFL executive Frank Hawkins, Jon Wertheim from Sports Illustrated and many others. He developed a course in Pro Sports Franchises and co-taught it with Michael Lombardi, former GM of the Raiders and Cleveland Browns. Bob is proud of his work at NYU in that during his time as chair, “the program grew from 450 to 800 students and the Masters’ program went from 70 to 180 students.” He humbly notes that many current professional sports attorneys and executives were his former students.
His high caliber performance was recognized on a national level. Bob was recruited to work at the top ranked sports management program at Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio. He was attracted to the program at Ohio University “because it has 50 years of history and alumni who represent a who’s who in professional and college sports.” He continues that “at just about any professional sports event in the world, there is a high likelihood that an Ohio University alum is there.”
In his second year at Ohio University, earlier this year, Bob received a call from a former student asking for recommendations to fill a “first of its kind” position at Penn State University. Penn State has had to deal with several alleged scandals and investigations in recent years. The caller then asked if Bob would be interested? “I really wanted to stay and teach,” Bob recalls. However, he decided to take the interview and spoke with a total of 28 individuals over 2 days, including the General Counsel, Provost, Athletic Director and members of the search committee. The more Bob learned about the position, the more interested he became. He says that “my 30 years of experience built up to this moment where I can be in a transformative position that can impact issues that affect all of college athletics.”
Bob continually applies his legal education in areas of due process, investigations, policies, procedures and evaluating compliance with laws such as Title IX. Bob said that he strives “to create an environment that is fair, predictable and just, in its findings and potential discipline.” He wants to ensure “that all components of college athletics are treated fairly including student athletes, trainers, coaches and the student body at large.”
Bob states that he has received “a very warm welcome from the university community and has had many positive interactions.” He looks forward to a highly productive and positive experience at Penn State University.
You can follow Bob Boland on Twitter @RobertBolandESQ.
David B. Sarnoff, Esq. is a legal recruiter and Principal of his search firm, Sarnoff Group LLC. He has over eighteen (18) years of experience as a recruiter and career counselor. He has placed partners, counsels, associates and groups into law firms. He has also placed attorneys into companies and hedge funds in many cities. He has been a frequent presenter to various Bar Associations on recruiting, marketing and branding for attorneys. Feel free to contact David for a confidential conversation at 646.665.4899 or [email protected]. David also practiced at a New York law firm in the areas of complex commercial litigation and white-collar defense. He is a member of the Board of Education in Fort Lee, NJ and currently serves as the Board President.