Audrey Anderson Discusses Relationship Between General Counsel and College Athletics

April 13, 2020
Trustees and Presidents – Opportunities and Challenges In Intercollegiate Athletics Podcast

Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Audrey Anderson was interviewed by Dr. Karen Weaver on the podcast Trustees and Presidents – Opportunities and Challenges In Intercollegiate Athletics, a forum offering insights for trustees and presidents providing oversight and direction for college athletics. This episode focused on the interplay between the general counsel’s office, the president’s office, trustees, and athletics at a university or college – a situation Audrey dealt with daily in her former role as Vice Chancellor, General Counsel and University Secretary for Vanderbilt University. During the podcast, Audrey shared the following insights on her role within the university and how she successfully navigated these relationships.

  1. Involve the chancellor/president when appropriate. In her work at Vanderbilt, Audrey involved the university chancellor (president) in any issues that had potential for media coverage, such as employment-related matters involving a coach or student athlete misconduct. In addition, Audrey kept the chancellor regularly informed on matters involving the general environment of college athletics, such as  the progress of concussion litigation, name/image/likeness litigation, and pay for play litigation.
  2. Dedicate staff to focus on the athletics department. Audrey found it helpful to have one person in the legal department who dedicated part of his portfolio to responding to the legal issues raised by the athletics department.
  3. Compliance with NCAA. Audrey scheduled regular meetings with the individual tasked with NCAA compliance at Vanderbilt so that individual felt comfortable working directly with someone outside of athletics about any concerns related to NCAA compliance.
  4. Provide trainings for staff and students. Audrey regularly spoke to the athletics director about plans for trainings for staff and students on legally-related issues such as sexual harassment and compliance with university regulations/rules.
  5. Inform the trustees. Audrey worked with the chancellor to ensure that the trustees were informed about general legal issues facing higher education and specifically college athletics.

In discussing how the general counsel should approach the athletics department, Audrey explained,  “The trick to running a good college athletics department is to treat athletics as you would treat any other department within the university. … But the trick is that you cannot treat athletics like any other part of the university, because no one else does.”

When asked about what should keep general counsel at universities up at night, Audrey believes the issue of college athletes and the pay-to-play possibility should be high on the list. “Sometime within next 2-3 years the NCAA is going to have to loosen up a whole lot on the way it regulates how student athletes can be compensated. And conferences schools are going to have to make decisions about what they do and where they want to compete…These decisions have real consequences in terms of academic mission and the kind of revenue you are going to get for your athletics, what your alumni think.,” Audrey said.

The full podcast episode, “The Legal World of Higher Education and Athletics – The General Counsel,” was released on April 9 and is available online.