Diane Dietz, Steve Smith keynote speakers at Howard Soifer Memorial lecture


By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal news

Diane Dietz, Cooley Law graduate who practiced law before entering the cable industry, is proof that "You can do anything with a law degree." Now Chief Communications Officer, Big Ten Network, Dietz was keynote speaker at the Howard Soifer Memorial Lecture in Sports and Entertainment Law 5th annual memorial held on Cooley's Lansing Campus on July 20th.

Dietz began her discussion with a few facts about the Big Ten Conference:

* The Big Ten Conference is an association of universities who agree on rules and regulations. There are eleven schools, with a twelfth, University of Nebraska, joining, effective July 1, 2011.

* The schools have three things in common. Number one, they are research universities, Number two, they offer undergraduate, graduate, and professional teaching and three, public service. They've made athletics part of that mission.

* They were originally called the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives.

* For them, it was always academics first, athletics, second. This all took place January 11, 1895 in Chicago at the Palmer House. There weren't ten university presidents there, there were seven and included the University of Chicago. Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, North Western, Purdue and Wisconsin. Indiana and Iowa were admitted in 1899, Ohio State in 1912, Michigan State in 1949. Michigan dropped out of the Conference for a few years, rejoining in 1917,

* The name Big Ten was created by journalists and wasn't official until 1987, when the conference was incorporated as Big 10.

"In 1895," she said, "when the rules and regulations for the conference were established, the first known action of the newly formed conference was to restrict eligibility to bona-fide full time students. They were looking for actual students, not professional athletes." Other regulations from 1895 included the requirement that athletes have residency, and coaches were to be hired at 'modest salaries,'

"The new conference tag-line is Big Life, Big Stage, Big Ten. Big Life comes from a big opportunity in the Big Ten, which is the most broad based athletic program in the United States. There are 8700 student athletes--4500 male and 4200 female. There are 275 teams, 39 sports, 25 championships every year, 12 for men 13 for women, and has $112 million in athletic scholarships."

"The big opportunities all take place on a pretty big stage, as well. The conference plays in some of the biggest venues in the country. More than 5.5 million football fans attended big ten games last year. The Big Stage is bigger when you factor in the television agreements with CBS Sports, ABC/ESPN, CBS College Sports Network and the Big Ten Network."

The Big Ten Network, the first national conference-owned television network, "isn't just big, it also reflects some of the basic values of the conference," Dietz said. "It accepts no gambling or alcohol advertisements, it dramatically increases coverage of sports not widely televised. It provides opportunities for each university to provide original campus programming, and it leverages the platform for educational purposes through its Student Initiative where students can broadcast games getting real pro-television experience."

"As to expansion--it is unbelievable the buzz talk of expansion has created. Changes in the conference are due to changes at the University level, not the other way around. Throughout the history of the Big Ten, 115 years, the conference changed eight times. Nebraska is the most recent example. There have only been two changes in the last 60 years."

Steve Smith, NBA star for 14 years and client of Howard Soifer and Jack Davis commented on his relationship with Howard Soifer. "When I entered the NBA," he said, "it was time to hire a lawyer. Howard Soifer and Jack Davis were the names I heard the most. I was 22 and had no idea how to pick a lawyer. I was impressed because they loved their jobs; they loved what they were doing. When we met they planned out my future--not my NBA future but my life future. There was 10% basketball, 90% my life. They taught me about life."

Davis and Soifer "were passionate about they did--they wanted to better Steve Smith's life. I learned from Howard that if you work harder than the next guy, you will win. The relationships that you (the lawyers) develop with your clients is most important.

In answer to questions:

The Big Ten Network has become profitable after two years, giving $9 million to each University last year.

Steve Smith commented on relationships with his attorneys. "Some advisors just go along with the client, but to this day, when I take a proposal to Jack and he shakes his head, no, he has reasons to back it up. The biggest thing is being able to say 'no.' If you know that legally or financially it doesn't work, you can say 'no' to your client."

Dietz agreed, saying, "Respect and integrity are important. You have to be honest and the longer you are honest, the easier it becomes, and the more respect you gain.

"This is part of a continuing lecture series in sports and entertainment law that was established in memory of Howard Soifer," said Jim Robb, Associate Dean for Alumni Relations, Thomas M. Cooley Law School. "Through Sandy Soifer's (Howard Soifer's widow) efforts and other alumni of the school, we have raised more than $100,000 for this endowed series."

Diane Dietz, Chief Communications Officer, Big 10 Network. Dietz is a 1985 graduate of Cooley Law School and a graduate of the University of Michigan, where she played basketball. She is the school's all-time scoring leader with 2, 076 points. After law school, she worked for many years in the cable television industry before joining the Big Ten Network in March of this year.

Steve Smith, TV analyst for the National Basketball Association and the Big 10 Network. He attended Michigan State University, was First-Team All-American basketball player and the Spartan's all-time leading scorer with 2, 263 points. He played with the NBA for 14 seasons, retiring in 2005. Smith donated $2.5 million dollars to MSU, the largest single donation ever made by a professional athlete to an alma mater. Howard Soifer negotiated the gift.

Published: Thu, Aug 5, 2010