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As the general counsel of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Elsa Cole doesn’t need to hover around the watercooler to talk sports. She’s paid to do it. And come March Madness, when the top men’s and women’s basketball teams duke it out for the grand prize, Cole will be in the stands for the men’s and women’s Final Four. Yet, Cole’s game isn’t all about dishing sports gossip and watching slam dunks. As the first GC of the Indianapolis-based NCAA, Cole oversees a small department including one other lawyer, a paralegal, two law clerks, and two assistants, and advises the 350-employee organization on all legal matters. The NCAA oversees 23 types of sports and 88 championships. She landed the job eight years ago after working as an attorney for the University of Washington, and later as the GC of the University of Michigan. Cole says it’s her knowledge of the university system rather than sports know-how that earned her the job. What legal issues do you deal with? It’s a wide range: student eligibility, antitrust litigation, discrimination lawsuits [such as eligibility issues with learning-disabled students]. Does your workload increase during March Madness? It becomes a bit more focused on some of our year-round efforts to protect our trademarks from misuse by people who aren’t licensed to use them. We send out a lot of cease-and-desist letters. With the various problems in some of the professional leagues, such as the National Basketball Association right now, how has the NCAA managed to keep a relatively clean image? We try very hard to address the issue of violence in sports through education. If you see it in pro sports, it could leak down to college sports. We tell schools to think about where they’re placing students in the stands, be thoughtful of how close they are to the players. Also, alcohol is often a problem connected to many incidents, and we preach against allowing that at games. What do you like about college games, in comparison to the pro game? I think it’s the freshness, the animation, the fact that people are truly playing for the love of the game. So many different athletes are in sports that don’t get much recognition, like lacrosse, and they’re out there working just as hard. Do you make any effort to prevent athletes’ early jumps to the pros? We can’t tell them what to do; we focus on making sure they get an education while they’re [in school]. So few of them actually succeed as a professional athlete that it’s much better that they get an education while they are in school. Do you have a sports background? When I went to [grade] school, girls didn’t get to play sports. What sports do you watch? Basketball, of course, that’s our main sport. I love to watch swimming, since I swim myself. I [also] enjoy football, baseball, pretty much everything. One of the very nice parts about my job is getting to go to the men’s and women’s Final Four, and our swim championship. What are the other perks of your job? It is nice to get free tickets [to games], and to allow your friends and relatives access to some great games as well. What’s the best game in the past year you’ve seen? It was one of the [men's basketball] semifinals last year, Oklahoma State/Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech was the underdog, and they won. I always enjoy seeing that.

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