A trio of Fordham 1Ls in the Sports Law Forum bested 40 teams from across the country to claim the championship trophy at Tulane Law School’s International Baseball Arbitration Competition, held in New Orleans Jan. 16–18.
Nathaniel Liebes, Nick Reade, and Billy Sobel won seven consecutive rounds over teams consisting of 2Ls and 3Ls, culminating with a victory over Notre Dame in the finals on Jan. 18. 2L coaches Rob Pannullo and Michael Salik, who competed the previous year, guided the team to victory.
Fordham entered the competition as the field’s youngest team, but overcame its relative inexperience with intensive preparation, strong camaraderie, and shared baseball fandom. Each team member remarked that they were thrilled to represent Fordham for the first time.
“This competition was definitely the highlight of my 1L experience,” Sobel said. “The first semester is all about getting accustomed to the amount of work, reading, and stress of exams. It was exciting to do something outside the classroom that allowed us to use, in a tangible way, the legal skills and knowledge that we gained during our first year.”
“This was the first time I identified more with Fordham Law than with the university where I received my undergraduate degree,” Liebes added. “Going down there and trying something new was rewarding.”
The team’s coaches, Pannullo and Salik, reached the quarterfinals in the previous year’s competition at Tulane. But their true victory came from networking at the competition, from which they were able to secure work on salary arbitration matters with the Major League Baseball Players’ Association. Their experience proved a big selling point for recruiting competitors for this year’s team, the coaches said.
The 2019 competition dealt with three Major League Baseball cases: center fielder Aaron Hicks v. New York Yankees; shortstop Jose Peraza v. Cincinnati Reds; and starting pitcher Michael Fulmer v. Detroit Tigers. Generally, each competitor argued from an individual’s side, be it the player or the team. However, Reade pulled double duty, arguing on behalf of Fulmer in a play-in game—deemed necessary after a judge’s mistake erroneously eliminated Fordham after day one—and then on behalf of the Tigers in the semifinals.
Reade prepared three weeks to represent Fulmer’s case at the competition. The New York Mets fan credited the “depth and breadth of our preparation,” including drafting a 10-page brief, preparing exhibits, and two weeks of mooting, as well as his prior baseball knowledge, for reflexively helping him and his teammates home in on the best arguments in the short time they had in between rounds.
Sobel argued on behalf of the Cincinnati Reds’ position in the quarterfinals. After Reade’s semifinals performance advanced the team to the championship round, Liebes successfully advocated Hicks’ case against the Yankees. Both Liebes and Sobel are real-life Yankees fans.
“We were so well-prepared and had practiced so much that we were ready for any curveballs the judges might throw us,” Sobel said. Likewise, the team was smooth in transitions between the first competitor who spoke for five minutes and the second who spoke the final 10. The second speaker also handled the 7-minute, 30-second rebuttal.
“They did a very good job using what they practiced in the weeks leading up to the competition,” Pannullo observed, emphasizing that the team achieved its desired outcome despite having limited time to practice rebuttal slides before the competition’s second day.
Despite an outstanding showing on day one, Fordham was not initially included in the eight teams selected for the second day. It was later determined, however, that a scoring error had cost them a match they won. Thus, the team was placed in a play-in game the following morning, and received its opponents’ slides at 11 p.m.
“The guys were practicing their arguments and creating rebuttals until 3 in the morning, and then won the play-in round on four hours of sleep,” Salik said. “It’s a credit to what these guys had to go through to win.”
“For them to not only go down there and compete—with all the rigors they are facing during their 1L year—but to compete and win against 2Ls and 3Ls was special,” Pannullo said.