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  • Elijah Biddlecom

ILR: Front Office Factory

Cornell is well known for a handful of sports, such as hockey, wrestling, and lacrosse. However, when it comes to the college athletics that “sell,” like football and basketball, Cornell rarely gets a nod from the general public as being a school that produces professional athletes. Cornell has found an alternative route into submitting itself into the professional sports world. Instead of shaping the players on the field, Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) has become a factory for producing people who run front offices, manage teams, head player unions, and even commission entire leagues.

Hidden in a school that many people, sometimes even the students, don’t understand, is a curriculum that accelerates those who are interested in being general managers, vice presidents, sports agents, and more. ILR has classes that focus on how people interact and negotiate. ILR’s core classes and electives focus on one of the major lessons one can learn in college: how to deal with people. Dealing with people is also the core of the sports business world. Contracts need to be negotiated, player unions need to be satisfied, and all sports businesses require an understanding of how people interact. The School of Industrial and Labor Relations drills that into your head throughout the entirety of its four-year program.

ILR alumnus JC Tretter ‘12 was a tight end and offensive tackle from 2009-2012 for Cornell’s football team. Following his senior season in 2012, he was a unanimous first-team All- Ivy League selection, and in the 2013 NFL Draft, he was selected in the 4th round by the Green Bay Packers. In 2017 he went on to play for the Cleveland Browns where he would end his career and announce his retirement in 2022. Tretter was elected as President of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) on March 10th, 2022, a space where his ILR degree comes in handy. He played a role in negotiations surrounding the 2020-2030 collective bargaining agreement,which was ultimately agreed to five days after he became president of the NFLPA.

ILR also has commissioners in other North American professional sports leagues. Rob Manfred ‘80, current Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner, transferred into the ILR school and received his Bachelor of Science in 1980. Fast forward to 1987, Manfred began working with MLB during collective bargaining. He served as an outside counsel for team owners during the 1994-95 strikes, and would eventually join MLB full-time in 1998 as the Executive Vice President of Economics and League Affairs. Manfred has maintained a key role in negotiations throughout his career starting with MLB’s first drug testing agreement with Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). In 2014, MLB owners elected Manfred to succeed Bud Selig as the new MLB Commissioner. Manfred stated that his primary goals as commissioner were youth outreach, embracing technology, quickening the pace of play, strengthening player relations, and creating a more unified business operation.

Some notable rules instated by Manfred for the 2023 season were reducing time for commercial breaks and limiting the amount of player visits to the pitcher's mound, both to improve the pace of the game. On November 15, 2018, the owners extended Manfred's contract through the 2024 season.

Lastly, Gary Bettman ‘74 has been the Commissioner of the National Hockey League (NHL) since 1993, and was the senior vice president and general counsel for the National Basketball Association (NBA) prior to that. He graduated from ILR in 1974 and went on to law school at NYU. He is credited with eight new expansion teams and rapid revenue growth in the NHL throughout his career. However, Bettman has been criticized for attempting to give the game of hockey a mass appeal in the United States, and for expanding the league into non-traditional hockey markets. He also has been the focal point of three labor stoppages, one being the 2004-05 lockout that led to the cancellation of an entire season. Such events have made him very unpopular with fans.

Regardless of their popularity, this article serves as proof of how ILR can set students up for success in the sports world. These figures serve as examples of ILR’s fast track into the world of sports management and contract negotiations. Although the degree reads Industrial and Labor Relations, if sports business, law, or management excites you, then the ILR school is the perfect avenue to explore your interests.


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