October 6, 2004

Briggs '76: Living a Dream

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As he sat in the top row of the visitors’ radio booth last Saturday at Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson University, Buck Briggs ’76 seemed a tad restless. After all, following the Cornell-Towson football game that afternoon, the forth-year color commentator for WHCU would be embarking on a week that many might consider a bit insane. But to Briggs, there’s nothing crazy about doing everything you love all at once.

Briggs spends 10 consecutive Saturdays every fall describing Cornell football alongside play-by-play man Barry Leonard. It’s a gig he wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. His day job, though, might be just as fun. As associate counsel for the NFL Management Council, Briggs gets to live every day in a sports fan’s nirvana.

“I’m leaving from here to fly down to Miami,” he said on Saturday. “I’m going to be at Jets-Dolphins tomorrow, then I’m meeting with the Dolphins on Monday and Tuesday about Ricky Williams, then I’m flying back to Baltimore to pick up my car. I’ll drive up to Philly to teach my sports law class at Penn on Wednesday night, then work in New York on Thursday and Friday, then the Cornell-Harvard game Saturday in Boston, and the Red Sox, if they’re hosting, I’m going to see them Saturday in Boston.”

Think that’s busy?

It doesn’t particularly bother Briggs.

“Yeah, it’s busy, but it’s fun. If you’re lucky enough to be doing exactly what you love, you can’t be too busy,” he said. “It seems like a crazy schedule, but I feel like I’m living a dream. It’s a best-case-scenario construct for life.”

And for the almost 30 years since he left the Hill as an undergraduate, life for Briggs has been pretty good.

He began his Cornell life as a communication major, playing on the freshman baseball team. After a knee injury put an end to his baseball career, Briggs refused to let himself be too far from the center of the Red sports nation. He joined WVBR, later becoming the sports director. At the same time, he wrote about sports for the Ithaca Times and did basketball play-by-play for WHCU.

Then, after he graduated, he followed the path that every other Cornellian seems to – he went to law school.

It was there, as a first-year law student at Georgetown, Briggs got what he describes as his big break.

“My first-year legal writing assignment was a hypothetical situation about a baseball player who played out his contract and tried to sign with the Yankees, and the commissioner stepped in and voided it as not being in the best interests of the game,” Briggs recalled. “I floated my writing sample around, and eventually was hired as a legal intern by the NFL Players’ Association in Washington, D.C. When I was finishing up law school, I was working at the NFLPA, then they hired me as a full-time staff counsel.”

After a successful career with the NFLPA, Briggs returned to Cornell in 1988 – as a member of the faculty.

“I began working at the law school and the ILR school, and I still worked as a hired-gun litigator for the players’ union,” he said.

His curriculum vita as an instructor in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations included some courses that are right up his alley – the Economics of Collective Bargaining in Sports – which is still taught today – and Sports Arbitration, which is no longer offered. Then, his career path took an interesting turn. Enter the NFL.

“The league, after I had been on the other side of the fence all those years, made me the offer I couldn’t refuse, and about 10 years ago, I jumped from the players’ side to the management team,” Briggs said. “It was an interesting transition. As I told [NFLPA executive director] Gene Upshaw, after fighting for free agency for the players, why not free agency for the lawyers? He didn’t give me a response I would care to transmit.”

In this job, Briggs handles much of the behind-the-scenes work most people only read or hear about when something goes wrong.

“We do the labor arbitration, and collective bargaining, and drug and alcohol policy, and steroids. We do all the labor law issues. Ricky Williams is one of the big areas on my agenda right now,” he explained.

In addition to his full-time job with the NFL and his part-time labor of love at Cornell, Briggs has remained active in academia. In the fall, he teaches sports law at Penn Law School, while teaching a similar course at Cornell Law School in the spring.

“So I’ve got the NFL Management Council, I’ve got this job Saturday afternoons in the fall for my fourth year, and I teach sports law,” Briggs said.

But, just to be sure, he has a tendency to make it clear where his loyalties lie. “On Friday, [Sept. 24], we won the Ricky Williams case for $8.6 million, and on Saturday we beat Yale,” he said. “The enthusiasm for the Yale victory was more heartfelt.”

While Briggs considers himself lucky in the sense that he’s had the opportunity to do things he loves for a living, he has no doubts that luck was only a small part of the equation.

“When I was an undergrad, I was doing all these crazy things, and somehow or other, I was in position to make it happen,” he said. “Branch Rickey used to say ‘luck is the residue of design,’ and the more things you do, the more people you meet, the more doors you knock on, the more games you cover, the more people you interview, the more classes you take, the greater the likelihood that one time, something big will be around the corner.”

Red notes: The weekly “Coaches Corner” radio program, hosted by head coach Jim Knowles ’87 and radio play-by-play broadcaster Barry Leonard will not be heard tonight. The show, which originates from the Boatyard Grill, will return next Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. on WHCU 870AM … Senior WR Carlos Hill and junior FB Eduardo Garcia have left the team.

Archived article by Owen Bochner
Sun Sports Editor