The Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

With college bowl season upon us, The Am Law Daily decided to review the tax filings made by the nonprofits that stage the annual showcase events. After all, we care about lawyers, and in addition to rewarding the university athletic departments whose teams take the field, the games also yield legal work and plum positions for various attorneys.

This year’s slate of contests carries extra significance given that it marks the end of the much-maligned Bowl Championship Series era. Though the BCS may have boosted college football’s popularity and profitability, the consortium of powerful conferences also generated a fair amount of controversy on a range of issues, such as whether the BCS produced a true national champion.

Among the system’s most vocal opponents was former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who repeatedly vowed to file an antitrust case against the BCS but ultimately never delivered on that promise. (Shurtleff, who had a brief stint at Troutman Sanders this year after leaving public office, later found himself grappling with his own legal issues.)

The Am Law Daily reported in 2012 on a Caplin & Drysdale–backed political action committee’s effort to scuttle the BCS system. The BCS battled back, hiring Hogan Lovells to lobby Congress on the creation of a college football playoff, an assignment that saw the firm take in $210,000 during the first three quarters of last year, according to U.S. Senate records.

Now, as a four-team college football playoff gets set to debut next season—and with six of the country’s most storied bowls set to rotate as hosts of the new championship game—The Am Law Daily sized up the lawyers with ties to the nonprofits that stage those events. While most of the board positions are unpaid, they are nonetheless high-profile, giving attorneys access to local business and civic leaders.

Chick-fil-A Bowl – Dec. 30, Atlanta – #21 Texas A&M v. #24 Duke

Former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel’s five touchdowns helped the Texas A&M Aggies trump the Duke Blue Devils in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, formerly known as the Peach Bowl.

When Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin and Manziel were celebrating their victory after the game, it was Troutman Sanders litigation partner Stephen Riddell who took the stage for the trophy presentation, thanks to his role as chairman of the Chick-fil-A Bowl’s board of trustees.

Riddell says his relationship with the game goes back more than 20 years, when as a third-year associate at Troutman a partner asked him to help out on a corporate ticket sales campaign for the Peach Bowl. For the past 15 years, Riddell says he’s served as the organization’s general counsel, having now also moved into a two-year term as chairman.

The Chick-fil-A Bowl’s most recent tax filing, which covers the 12-month period from March 1, 2011, to February 29, 2012, does not list any expenditures to outside law firms. That’s because Troutman picks up the tab on all of the legal work it handles for the nonprofit.

“I get to mingle with the corporate titans of Atlanta,” says Riddell, a member of Troutman’s executive committee. “But it’s also a tremendous opportunity for our corporate lawyers to do pro bono work.”

The firm, which as noted by sibling publication the Daily Report is well-versed in college football–related legal work, has tapped its corporate lawyers to negotiate contracts for the bowl game with ESPN and other vendors.

Riddell, who when asked said that Shurtleff’s departure from the firm had nothing to do with his opposition to the BCS, admits to being a bit nostalgic for the postseason college football format. But he’s also looking forward to the future, one that will see the Chick-fil-A Bowl become one of the premier bowl games now in line to host the new national championship game.

Rose Bowl – Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif. – #4 Michigan State v. #5 Stanford

Michigan State eked out a win over Stanford in the nation’s oldest bowl game on New Year’s Day. The game drew big ratings for ESPN, which struck a deal in 2012 that calls for the network to pay $80 million a year to air the centerpiece of the annual Pasadena Tournament of the Roses.

At the time the agreement was announced, the Sports Business Journal reported it was a dramatic increase over the $30 million a year ESPN previously paid for the Rose Bowl’s media rights. A 2012 tax filing by the Rose Bowl organization covering the period between May 1, 2012, though April 30, 2013, reveals that Mayer Brown was paid $755,941 by the nonprofit for its role providing “consulting services” on the TV rights pact. 

Laura Farber, a member of the American Bar Association’s board of governors and a litigation partner with Pasadena’s Hahn & Hahn, serves as the Rose Bowl’s vice president. Board members include Munger, Tolles & Olson name partner and American Lawyer Lifetime Achiever Ronald Olson, O’Melveny & Myers litigation partner Steven Olson and J. Michael Hennigan, a veteran Los Angeles lawyer who merged his own litigation and bankruptcy boutique with McKool Smith in 2011.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl – Jan. 1, Glendale, Ariz. – #6 Baylor v. #16 UCF

Central Florida’s BCS debut and rousing 52-42 upset of Baylor on New Year’s Day could help Fiesta Bowl organizers wipe away the stain left on the game by some of its former executives in recent years.

The Am Law Daily reported in 2011 on the 276-page report compiled by Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi and retired Arizona Supreme Court Justice Ruth McGregor in connection with their inquiry into the conduct of ex-Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker.

Junker, who was fired that same year, is now facing up to a year in federal prison after pleading guilty to a felony conspiracy charge stemming from alleged campaign finance violations. The Associated Press reported this week that Junker’s lawyer, Stephen Dichter of Phoenix’s Christian, Dichter & Sluga, had asked a judge to push back his client’s scheduled Jan. 13 sentencing until May.

In the wake of the Robins Kaplan report, the Arizona Sports Foundation, which operates the Fiesta Bowl, fired its general counsel, as well as outside counsel from Snell & Wilmer and several top executives, according to sibling publication Corporate Counsel. The nonprofit also retained Bingham McCutchen complex litigation partner Nathan Hochman to deal with the fallout created by Junker’s dismissal. Hochman was subsequently named interim general counsel, according to our previous reports.

The foundation’s most recent tax filing shows that Stephanie Jarvis now serves as its general counsel and chief compliance officer. The filing, which covers the 12 months from April 1, 2011, through March 31, 2012, does not indicate how much Jarvis earned since she was hired in January 2012.

Members of the Fiesta Bowl board include Steven Leach, a corporate partner at Jones, Skelton & Hochuli (the Phoenix-based firm that is the professional home to attorney and football referee Ed Hochuli), Sacks Tierney litigation partner Matthew Winter and Waste Management general counsel Robert Longo.

Allstate Sugar Bowl – Jan. 2, New Orleans – #3 Alabama v. #11 Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Sooners stole the show with their 45-31 upset of the Alabama Crimson Tide during this year’s version of a game that at one time was a lightning rod for criticism of the bowl game system.

Conrad Meyer IV, a former Adams and Reese partner who is now of counsel with Metairie, La.–based Chehardy, Sherman, Ellis, Murray, Recile, Griffith, Stakelum & Hayes, served as Sugar Bowl president a decade ago when Nokia sponsored the game (Allstate now fills that role) that saw the Louisiana State Tigers beat the Sooners for the BCS title.

Meyer’s son, Chehardy Sherman partner Conrad Meyer V, is also a member of the Sugar Bowl committee. He declined to comment on the potential benefits of holding such a role, saying only that it was “an honor to serve the city of New Orleans.”

Besides the father-and-son Meyer team, several other leading New Orleans lawyers have cycled through Sugar Bowl leadership posts over the years.

Jay Kern, a construction litigation partner with New Orleans–based Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn, also served as Sugar Bowl president and spent a decade as a member of the organization’s executive committee. U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, who is married to Brown Sims litigation partner Lisa Africk, joined the Sugar Bowl Committee in 1998 and became its president in 2011, the last year for which tax records are available. Africk now chairs the executive committee, having made way for new president Jay Batt, who is not an attorney.

T. Carey Wicker III, a founder and name partner at New Orleans litigation shop Capitelli & Wicker, currently serves as Sugar Bowl vice president and sits on its executive committee. And the Sugar Bowl’s current secretary is Stanley Cohn, a partner at Louisiana firm Lugenbuhl, Wheaton, Peck, Rankin & Hubbard.

While the board positions are unpaid, the compensation package bestowed on Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan has attracted the scrutiny of BCS critics in recent years. Hoolahan took home roughly $700,000 in total compensation during the 2012 fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012, according to tax records. Baton Rouge–based IP shop Roy, Kiesel, Ford, Doody & Thurmon was paid $258,278 in fees by the Sugar Bowl during that period.

AT&T Cotton Bowl – Jan. 3, Dallas – #8 Missouri v. #13 Oklahoma State

The Cotton Bowl is no longer played in the stadium for which it was named—the change of venue finally came in 2010—but the nonprofit that hosts the game proves that they really do things bigger in Texas.

W. Mike Baggett, chairman emeritus of leading Lone Star State firm Winstead, is a member of the Cotton Bowl’s 85-member board, which also includes former Gardere Wynne Sewell real estate partner R. Craig Baker (now a managing shareholder at Dallas’ Magdziak Baker Lopez); Haynes and Boone’s Fort Worth managing partner Brian Barnard; Kelly Hart & Hallman founding partner Dee Kelly; Greenberg Traurig tax partner Daniel Novakov and former Dallas District Attorney William “Bill” Hill Jr.

The Cotton Bowl’s most recent tax filing, which covers the period from May 1, 2011, through April 30, 2012, does not list any law firms among the organization’s five highest-compensated independent contractors.

Nonetheless, the nonprofit has plenty of cash on hand to pay president and CEO Rick Baker, whom the Dallas Observer recently reported has seen his annual pay package surpass the $1 million mark. The Cotton Bowl will host college football’s national championship game in 2015.

Discover Orange Bowl – Jan. 3, Miami – #7 Ohio State v. #12 Clemson

While the actual Orange Bowl stadium was razed five years ago, the game itself lives on at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.

Baker & McKenzie litigation partner Lee Stapleton—who has served on the executive committee of the nonprofit that oversees the South Florida showcase since 2002—became the organization’s second vice-chair in 2012 and is poised to assume its presidency in 2015. (Miami lost out last month to Tampa on its bid to host the 2017 national championship game.)

Stapleton did not respond to a request for comment Friday—understandable considering that the Orange Bowl was set to be played that night—but Akerman litigation partner Michael Chavies, who has been affiliated with the game for the past 13 years, spoke with us on his way to the stadium.

Chavies, who has held a number of roles with the Orange Bowl, is now second vice-chair (Stapleton has moved into the first vice-chair role), a position that puts him in line to become the nonprofit’s president in 2016.

“We’re a 300-member organization that includes some of Miami’s top corporate and civic leaders,” says Chavies, acknowledging that at Friday’s game he’ll be surrounded by a bevy of potential clients.

Along with Stapleton, Chavies is one of nearly a dozen lawyers with close ties to the Orange Bowl. Tom Pennekamp Jr., a founder of Miami personal injury firm Pennekamp Law, and Charles Johnson, a trusts and estates partner with Miami’s Richman Greer, currently serve on the Orange Bowl’s board and cochair its team host committee.

Other board members include Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod government relations and land development practice leader Albert Dotson Jr., Carlton Fields litigation partner Benjamine Reid, Fowler White Burnett litigation partner Christopher Knight, Fort Lauderdale solo Matthew Morrall, Tallahassee lawyer Sean Pittman, Talianoff, Rubin & Rubin name partner Jeff Rubin and attorney Sara Herald, a former top adviser to ex–Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

While none of those attorneys were paid by the Orange Bowl, a 2011 federal tax filing for the nonprofit states that nonlawyer CEO Eric Poms received $547,865 for the period between May 1, 2011, and April 30, 2012. Hunton & Williams, which has in the past handled litigation work for the Orange Bowl, received $165,891 for legal services during that same time frame.