Some Duke graduates are watching with interest as the Atlantic Coast Conference fights a lawsuit brought against it by the Big East, a rival college athletics league. For Erik Albright, it's more than a spectator sport.
Albright is one of the primary lawyers defending the ACC in the suit, sparked by the University of Miami's decision to leave the Big East, along with Virginia Tech, to join Duke and eight other ACC schools.
Claiming that the ACC and Miami conspired to weaken the Big East, four universities in the conference are suing for millions of dollars to recover what they say will be losses in ticket sales and broadcasting fees, and diminished influence with recruits and alumni.
Albright, a partner in the law firm Smith Moore, brings an insider's perspective to the case. He's a former ACC athlete himself, having played second base on Duke's baseball team for three seasons, while carrying a double major in history and public-policy studies. Representing a conference that offered him valuable experiences academically and athletically is "very fulfilling," Albright says. "I do think it's a strong case. I think the ACC has acted properly throughout."
Albright has done a variety of legal work for the ACC since joining Smith Moore's Greensboro, North Carolina, office in 1990, fresh out of Vanderbilt University's law school. When conflict flared up this year with the Big East over the ACC's expansion plans, "the ACC called Erik, because they had a level of trust with him," Smith Moore managing partner Stephen W. Earp told the Raleigh News & Observer. "Erik is a natural in front of judges and juries and any other group of people. But he obviously has the intellectual depth and background to take care of things, no matter how complicated."
As a former ACC athlete, Albright says he's not disturbed about adding two more members to the conference--a move that was opposed by Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and that could disrupt some traditional rivalries. Officials at the ACC's existing nine universities have studied the issue carefully and are in the best position to make a smart decision, says Albright, who terms himself "supportive of their vision."
Unless the Big East's lawsuit is dismissed or settled before coming to trial, Albright and a team of Smith Moore colleagues will find themselves gearing up for a court battle as early as next year. Albright's wife, Holly, and their three-year-old son, Jared, won't be the only ones cheering him on. He'll also have the support of legal experts and former ACC athletes--right from his own family.
Albright's father, Douglas Albright '61, played basketball for three seasons at Duke. He's a Superior Court judge in North Carolina and a former district attorney in Guilford County, which includes Greensboro. Erik's brother, Stuart Albright '91, was an offensive lineman on the Blue Devils' football team and is now the district attorney in Guilford County. (Another brother, Ethan Albright, was an offensive lineman for the UNC Tar Heels and now plays professional football for the Washington Redskins.)
Through his deep family ties to the conference and his considerable work in sports law, Albright says he has "grown to appreciate how highly the ACC is regarded'' by universities and sports officials throughout the nation. He says he also appreciates that the outcome of the Big East's lawsuit--and his handling of it--will likely have a major impact on the ACC's reputation and welfare for years to come.
Erik Albright '87
October 1, 2003