Barry McNamara  |   Published February 17, 2022

Senior Profile: Matt Datlof

Moot court competition winner, Fighting Scots pitcher plans to attend law school.

MATT DATLOF: The Monmouth College senior makes a point during last fall's moot court competit... MATT DATLOF: The Monmouth College senior makes a point during last fall's moot court competition. Datlof won both the Top Advocate honor and, for the second year in a row, the legal brief writing portion of the competition. MONMOUTH, Ill. – Whether it’s writing legal briefs or pitching for the Fighting Scots baseball team, senior Matt Datlof of Las Vegas is undefeated in his Monmouth College career.

A four-year participant in the College’s moot court competition, Datlof helped institute a legal brief-writing component for the 2020 edition of the event. Datlof won the inaugural writing portion that year, then followed up last fall by defending that title, as well as winning – for the first time – the Top Advocate honor for the main oral component.

“There are very few colleges in the United States that offer moot court opportunities to undergraduates,” said Datlof. “It’s probably one of the best experiences I’ve had as a student. It’s very challenging, and you get to present in front of real lawyers and even real judges. It requires you to think through a complex problem and to be able to argue both sides of an issue. You really need to think about things in a holistic manner.”

Law and hardball

Before Datlof was aware that he could compete in a court setting on a campus, he knew he’d have an opportunity on the baseball diamond.

“I played baseball in high school,” said Datlof, who had considered pitching at a community college before transferring to a Division I school. “I’m not sure how (Monmouth) Coach (Alan) Betourne found me, but he texted me and said he’d like me to visit. I was really impressed by the campus and the people I met. It was unexpected, but I had a feeling to go for it.”

“There are very few colleges in the United States that offer moot court opportunities to undergraduates. It’s probably one of the best experiences I’ve had as a student. It’s very challenging. … It requires you to think through a complex problem and to be able to argue both sides of an issue.” Matt Datlof

Helping to make the case were players on the Scots’ record-breaking 2018 team, who Datlof said “encouraged” him to come to Monmouth.

Datlof’s college pitching career has had some bumps along the way, but he’s hoping to finish it as he started, when he went 2-0 as a freshman while making five appearances. The combination of a shoulder injury and the pandemic’s effects on spring sports the last two years has meant that Datlof hasn’t increased his victory total, but that could change this spring as Datlof looks to have a bounce back campaign.

The senior is happy to still be competing, both athletically and academically. He is applying to law schools and might land in his hometown at the Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Datlof said past moot court champions and current law school students Hadley Smithhisler ’20 and Emma Hildebrand ’21, who attend Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame, respectively, told him Monmouth’s competition prepared them well.

“They both said it’s helped them immensely,” said Datlof. “They said they have an edge up – they absolutely do. And it looks good on a résumé, too.”

Datlof has known for a while that he wanted to go to law school, but his time at Monmouth has opened up new possibilities.

“I’ve always been interested in criminal law, but because of my classes at Monmouth, I’m also now interested in constitutional law and administrative law, too,” he said.

Many of his political science classes were taught by Andre Audette, who helped Datlof choose a new path from his original plan to study accounting and business.

“Andre Audette is solely responsible for me changing my major,” said Datlof. “I took his ‘Civil Liberties’ class and realized how much I liked political science. It appealed to me because it’s about solving complex problems, not only in the political world but the world, in general. I enjoy thinking about those problems in different frameworks and through different lenses. It’s also a good segue to what I’m going to be doing after Monmouth.”

Presenting research

Together with Audette, Datlof set up a research project last spring that “looked into how various characteristics of a candidate affected voter perception.”

Some of those characteristics included if the candidate was a vegan, a skateboarder, a bodybuilder, a gamer or a hunter.

“Being a hunter was particularly polarizing,” said Datlof. “Republican voters really love hunters, but Democrats dislike them. Republican voters really didn’t dislike any of the groups. Democrats were more drawn to vegans.”

“What makes Monmouth different is that it offers a lot of different opportunities that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. You get to know your professors and have individual experiences with them, which is fantastic.” Matt Datlof

An Amazon survey for the project was conducted in late July and early August. Since then, Datlof and Audette have been working with the data, which they’ll present at the 79th annual Midwest Political Science Association Conference later this spring.

Datlof will also present his senior thesis at the Henry Symposium on Religion and Public Life in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His topic is the Supreme Court’s stance on the free exercise of religious jurisprudence, which he said has “seen a flip-flop over the past several years.”

Closing argument

“What makes Monmouth different is that it offers a lot of different opportunities that you wouldn’t get anywhere else,” said Datlof. “You get to know your professors and have individual experiences with them, which is fantastic. There’s also a fantastic alumni base that is eager to help you.”

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