Queen’s law students participate in U of T’s Hockey Arbitration Competition of Canada

Gaels falls short in qualifying, York takes finals victory

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The University of Toronto’s Sports and Entertainment Law Society (SELS) held its ninth-annual “Hockey Arbitration Competition of Canada” (HACC) on March 13 over Zoom. Six students from the Queen’s Faculty of Law participated.

The competition, which was attended by 26 different teams from across Canada and the US, sees upper-year law students simulate players’ salary arbitration negotiations in the NHL.

To learn more about HACC and the results from this year’s competition, The Journal spoke with Gerrit Yau, co-director of HACC, co-president of SELS, and Queen’s Comm ’19 grad.

Yau said salary arbitration is a legal mechanism only found in two North American professional sports leagues: the NHL and MLB. Unlike salary negotiations in the NFL or NBA, for instance, salary arbitration grants prospective players—whose eligibility is determined by the age at which they sign their first professional contract—the ability to have their value determined by an objective third party to properly leverage their worth against the team holding the rights to them.

“Let’s say I’m a player with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I fall within the arbitration criteria,” Yau said, “then I can request salary arbitration.”

“It allows me to have […] my close-to-market value determined by someone else instead of a having a team just impose a salary on me.”

In HACC, law students mimic that salary negotiation process by fictionally representing either a real-life player or the NHL team that player belongs to.

Organized in tournament-style fashion, matches take place between two teams with each team composed of two students from the same university. These teams present their respective arguments for a player’s valuation in front of guest arbitrators—the objective third party, comprised of actual industry professionals—who act as the judges. Whichever team presents the most compelling argument based on their written briefs and oral presentation advances to the next round of the competition.

This year, three teams from the Queen’s Faculty of Law took part in HACC—none of which were able to advance past the qualifying rounds into the quarterfinals.

The final round was composed of a matchup between a team from Osgoode Hall—York’s law school —and one from McGill University. According to Yau, the matchup was close, but Osgoode Hall ended up taking the final win.

In addition to winning personal trophies and tickets to next year’s Primetime Sports Management Conference—the biggest sports conference in the country, where the NHL hall of fame induction ceremony takes place—the team also won jerseys from the NHL player who was the subject of their arbitration: Boston Bruins defenseman Matthew Grzelcyk.

In light of COVID-19 restrictions, HACC was held virtually this year. Yau commented on how the competition differed from its usual structure.

“We would usually book out quite a few rooms at the law building, and teams would run from breakout room to breakout room for their hearings.”

“And usually it’s over two days […] the qualifying rounds, as well as the quarterfinals happen on the Sunday of the weekend […] and the finals of the competition takes place on Monday.”

In addition to that, HACC usually occurs in the fall semester. This year, the whole competition had to be shifted to March, and was condensed to a single day.

Of the 26 teams that participated, three were from schools in the US: Cornell, Villanova, and Pepperdine.

Reflecting on where he would like HACC to go in the future, Yau stated that he would love to foster more interaction between judges and competitors.

“I think what we hear from competitors a lot is that they always reach out to us to get the names and contact info of our judges, so that they can continue a lot of the conversations they had during the hearings,” he said.

“The goal of SELS and the goal of HACC is to help foster interest in the sports entertainment industry, so any opportunities that we can have to promote that goal is something that we want to do.” 

Corrections

The article was updated to reflect the arbitration process more accurately.

The Journal regrets the error.

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