Tom Mars: The most influential man in college athletics

by John Vogel

Tom Mars is recognized for his work occasionally waging war upon the NCAA. His latest battle is for Big Ten football athletes.

Do you remember the outrage on the sports media scene when Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields was given an immediate waiver while transferring from Georgia to the Buckeyes? That waiver was acquired by none other than the trial lawyer, Tom Mars, a nationally recognized lawyer who is a collegiate sports advocate for the freedom to the players.

Mars has been a lawyer for almost three decades, winning seven-figure injury verdicts as well as arranging eight-figure settlements for his clients. He’s accustomed to winning, and he has done extremely well for himself not only in sports but in many other fields of law as well.

Justin Fields is not the only high profile case that Mars has represented. Mars most recently represented Tennessee transfer, Cade Mays, the offensive tackle whose father, Kevin (a former Volunteer and NFL player himself), is currently engaged in a lawsuit with his former school, Georgia, over an injury that happened to him in a 2017 recruiting visit on the Georgia campus. Other former clients include Houston Nutt (in the famous 2017 case that unearthed all of the recruiting infractions committed by former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze), Shea Patterson, Luke Ford, and other Ole Miss players.

Mars is the most influential suit in all of college football. If he is involved, things get done. Back in July, Mars was hired by the NCAA as an enforcement attorney. This move required him to drop his current transfer cases, including Mays, who was later denied by the NCAA. “I don’t think there’s anything the NCAA could do about a waiver request that would shock me,” Mars reacted. “I’m starting to think they must use a dartboard to make these decisions.”

Tom Mars latest declaration of war

Now, Mars has set his signs on the Big Ten following the lack of transparency on how the decision was made to cancel all fall sports, and what reasons there were to make that decision.

“I’m not sure the Big Ten knows this but, one way or the other, the players and the parents are going to get their hands on at least most of the information that was available to the Big Ten when they voted on this decision. If they did vote. Maybe they didn’t,” Mars explained on a Sirius XM radio show. “And people may wonder ‘How are they going to do that?’ It’s not only simple, it’s the next step in the process. And I’m actually on the verge of coordinating a massive request for emails, text messages, presentations and financial analysis from all member institutions of the B1G, and they’ll be required to produce those under the Freedom of Information statutes.”

The problem that Mars has with the Big Ten isn’t that the decision was made. He wants to know how and why that decision was made – not just for him, but for the parents, coaches, and players who are all wondering the same thing.

“The issue here is all about freedom of choice,” Mars told Sportico, a sports website dedicated to the business side of the profession. “If a student-athlete can enlist in the military without getting approval from the NCAA, with the risk of death or serious injury being so obvious, why shouldn’t a student-athlete be free to sign a liability waiver and accept the risks of virus-related health problems?”

The players and coaches want answers, as they have mentioned time-and-time again on social media. The parents do too, going as far as to storm the conference headquarters this past Friday to protest and demand answers from the conference and the commissioner, Kevin Warren, who has remained surprisingly mum since the announcement.

The Penn State athletic director, Sandy Barbour, raised questions about how the decision was made. “It’s unclear if there even was a vote,” she told the press.

Impacts from Title IX

The very important part of this that needs to be noted is that college sports are structured into a “shared revenue” type of system under Title IX. To ensure that women receive the same opportunities as men in college, Title IX was established so that college football (and in some schools baseball and basketball) would be used to fund all sports programs, and that the same number of scholarships were awarded to women as they are to men. Most sports in an athletic department lose money, and a budget has to be established from some other source of income.

For most schools, that source of revenue is football.

If there isn’t college football this season, many of these sports programs would break down financially and have to downsize. That means certain women’s sports programs would have to close, followed by other men’s sports programs. The easiest men’s program to shut down? You guessed it. Football.

Football programs could shut down.

You see, while football is generally a profitable sport for most colleges, it is very costly, requires a large staff, and takes up to 85 scholarships. There isn’t a women’s sports roster that takes half of that on campus. Therefore, it’s easier to shut a football program down and bring up smaller men’s programs when downsizing than it is to disrupt multiple departments and cut so many women’s scholarships.

Warren had penned an “Open Letter” last Thursday to the Big Ten players and coaches in an attempt to provide clarity. Instead, the vague descriptions of the events that took place only created more questions and controversy. In response to the questions raised if there was a vote, Warren wrote that “The vote by the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors was overwhelmingly in support of postponing fall sports and will not be revisited. The decision was thorough and deliberative, and based on sound feedback, guidance, and advice from medical experts.”

However, Minnesota President, Joan Gabel, said on Aug. 11 that they “didn’t vote per se,” but that the decision was “a deliberative process where we came to a decision together.” Last Wednesday, Wisconsin president, Samuel Stanley, said, “it was more consensus than a vote.”

Whatever that means.

What Mars is currently working on

Shifting the focus back to Tom Mars, the goal isn’t to reinstate the football season for the Big Ten and the Pac-12. Like the parents who stormed the Big Ten headquarters in protest last Friday, Mars wants transparency on how and why the decision was made. Check out the four-page Freedom of Information Act request that was obtained by the press;

The Freedom of Information Act request is full of keywords that would have been used in the decision-making process to cancel fall sports, as well as any interaction with Kevin Warren or Big Ten officials. Each school in the Big Ten received this request for information.

Mars isn’t expecting the Big Ten to cooperate. “The longer Kevin Warren resists calls for transparency,” Mars said, “the more likely it is that he’s gonna have a very short tenure [as Big Ten Commissioner].

Mars isn’t expecting much help from any of the schools either.

“If nothing else,” he explained, “the football players in the Big Ten deserve a better explanation than what the commissioner said in the uninformative message he ironically described as an ‘Open Letter.’ It would be a mistake for the schools to engage in their typical stonewalling in responding to my FOIA requests. After all, I won’t just give the players, their parents, and the sportswriters whatever responsive records the schools provide. At the risk of sounding cynical, I’ll also share the predictable letters the schools will send me in the next week setting forth their best efforts at evasion and delay.

This isn’t my first rodeo with state universities that might try to avoid the requirements of state FOIA laws because the requested records involve athletics. I’d like to think the Big Ten public schools won’t follow that familiar patterns, but we’ll find out soon enough.”

Football Fanatic. College Football Nut. NFL Draft Nerd. Usually found grinding the tape. #GirlDad