Minnesota Law

Spring 2024
For the Record

A Winning Combination

Minnesota Law’s Inaugural Sports Law Competition Team Wins National Championship

From L to R: Ryan Clemmons '25; Spencer Rojas '25; coach Tarun Sharma '22; Carter Allen '25; coach Christopher Pham; Jack Tate '24; coach Aalok Sharma '13; and Professor Randall Ryder '09, director of Minnesota Law's Moot Court Program.

Last Christmas Eve, instead of gathering around the tree, Carter Allen ’24 and Jack Tate ’24 found themselves collaborating on a legal brief via text message.

They, along with the team of Spencer Rojas ’24 and Ryan Clemmons ’25, made up the Law School’s first-ever sports law moot court competition team. The two teams competed at Tulane University’s Mardi Gras Moot Court Invitational in early February. Both teams advanced to the quarterfinals, and the Tate/Allen team won the championship.

Carter Allen '24 and Jack Tate '24

The teams were chosen from a large pool of applicants that was reviewed by Randall Ryder ’09, director of the school’s moot courts program. The students came to Ryder with a proposal to compete in the Tulane event.

“Carter and Jack made a compelling pitch about the competition, why the school should do it, and ideas for local sports law experts who would be ideal coaches ” says Ryder. 

The idea grew from Allen’s participation in the Law School’s Sports and Name, Image & Likeness Clinic (Sports NIL) which covers topics related to name/image/likeness (NIL) laws that are playing an increasingly large role in college sports. 

“Carter and I are sports fans, but I think what both of us brought to the team was strong oral advocacy skills,” says Tate. “It wouldn’t matter as much what the subject was. We were confident that we could talk our way through it.” 

To help the teams prepare, they sought help from Aalok Sharma ’13, Tarun Sharma ’22, and Chris Pham, three of just a handful of sports law attorneys in the Twin Cities. The three lawyers coached the students on sports law and appellate advocacy and held oral arguments each week.

“My main role was to serve as a mock judge for several oral arguments over the course of about a month,” says Pham, a shareholder at Fredrikson & Byron. “I would ask questions and then provide constructive feedback afterward. We covered everything from the substantive questions and answers to the tone, delivery, pace, hand gestures, eye contact, and stance during the presentation.”

“There was a limit to what we could do,” says Sharma, a partner at Stinson. “It amounted to providing substantive legal advice within the parameters of the rules. I mostly helped them finesse their oral arguments.” 

In his role overseeing moot court programs at the law school, Ryder says he’s always thinking about assembling teams and what might be the best places for them to compete.

“The sports law competition was an opportunity to diversify our portfolio of moot court competition teams,” says Ryder. “It’s an area of law that’s certainly growing. I had also judged arguments for three of the four students in moot court - so I had a good sense of their advocacy skills. And then when Aalok, Chris, and Tarun — three local sports law experts —agreed to coach — I had a feeling the teams were set to excel.”                                     

The competition, the only annual moot court appellate contest about legal issues in the sports industry, focused on trademark law, an area that Allen concedes they had not worked with before the tournament. After their brief was done, they spent a month drilling. 

“It was just practice all the time,” says Tate. “We practiced alone, we practiced together, we practiced with the other team.”

At issue was whether the fictitious “Mopster” – a product created and sold by MOPS R US -- infringed on the federally protected trademark of the equally made-up Mega City Mobsters, an NFL team. Also, under dispute was whether commercials created and distributed by Energy Elixir, a fledgling energy drink company, infringed on the property rights of the NFL players’ union.

Allen and Tate represented the petitioners (the team and the union). They argued that MOPS R US’s use of Mega City’s mark functioned as a source identifier for the Mopster, rather than a parody, and neither the fair use exception nor heightened protection under the First Amendment applied as a result. They also argued that Energy Elixir’s commercials, one, did not constitute effective parodies and therefore were likely to confuse consumers in violation of the Lanham Act; two, did not fall under either exception of Tulania’s Right of Publicity statute; and three, did not warrant heightened protection under the First Amendment.

“I wasn’t that surprised that they won,” said Pham. “Even after the very first oral argument exercise, I knew they had a good chance. Then, after the first round of the competition, I was even more confident that they had a great shot at advancing.”

Sharma said the duo surpassed their expectations. “It was a good experience for them and for us.”

Ryder had high hopes but says, “Both teams advancing to the quarterfinals and one winning? That was the chef’s kiss.”