Darren Heitner, who is on top of all things agent related, provides an excellent analysis about yet-another- college athlete/agent situation. It is definitely not as high profile as O.J. Mayo, but it does raise some interesting issues. It involves Oklahoma State University sophomore star pitcher Andy Oliver, who was declared ineligible in the middle of the College World Series. Rather than set up the situation, read Darren's story and analysis.
Let the judgment begin...except here
The facts surrounding Andy Oliver's are not clear to take sides, but my views expressed in the O.J. Mayo situation apply here: Don't rush to judgment, wait for the facts to come out and let the appropriate authorities conduct their investigation.
My analysis will focus on amateur baseball players and their involvement with so-called "family advisers" and NCAA rules governing these relationships. For most student-athletes agent prohibitions make sense. However, baseball players drafted by MLB teams are unique from other college athletes because they are automatically entered in MLB's amateur draft (rather than declaring for the draft like basketball and football players). While I am a big fan of MLB's system for drafting players, drafted ballplayers should have the opportunity to receive quality representation in negotiating their first professional contract. Maybe I am alone on this, but I think everyone's interests (players, schools, NCAA, agents) would be well served if the system for "advising" amateur baseball players is brought above board, rather than devising ways around NCAA rules (athletes and agents certainly aren't the only ones figuring out loopholes).
Not all agents wear horns
The intersection of amateur athletes, agents and the NCAA is complex. There are bad agents out there. The overarching question is, How can we come up with ways to improve the system? I would love to think that education is the primary tool to deal with the "agent problem," especially since my book, Money Players, would, of course, be an essential part of the solution. But it will take more than just well-constructed educational programs laced with strong admonitions to refrain from taking money from agents and runners. (No, I am not advocating that athletes be paid.) I'm actually not sure what the solution is for college basketball and football. But I firmly believe the rules governing agents for amateur baseball players need to be restructured.
NCAA rules are supposed to protect student-athletes. And for the most part they do. NCAA rules prohibit an NCAA athlete from having any oral or written agreement for representation by an agent. They also prohibit an athlete from retaining an agent to represent his athletic interests. These rules make sense for amateur football and basketball players. But baseball players drafted by MLB teams are in a completely different situation, yet governed by the same agent prohibitions.
IMO, amateur baseball players absolutely need above-board, expert representation by someone who is not only well versed in the legalese of MLB contracts, but also understands the marketplace. And who possesses these skills? Agents! But student-athletes who wish to retain their amateur status are not allowed to retain agents. A baseball player drafted by a MLB team, even with the help of his family, is unlikely to be capable of effectively negotiating a contract, let alone obtaining full market value. It would be so sensible -- and truly demonstrate that the NCAA is more "kinder, gentler" these days -- if they would allow a small window for agents to negotiate MLB deals on behalf of drafted baseball players.
So-called family advisers
In doing research for my book Money Players, I spoke to a several baseball agents. They all agree that the concept of "family adviser" is a sham. Baseball players selected by major league teams need some form of professional counsel. What they really need is an agent, but NCAA rules prohibit amateur athletes from retaining. So these advisers work behind the scenes, but they do not sit at the negotiating table (probably the most essential agent function). Good, reputable agents won't do anything to jeopardize an athlete's collegiate eligibility. They'll do whatever they possibly can to assist an athlete and their families, but they won't "agent" an amateur athlete. Of course, that's all a fine line and open to wide interpretation. My primary advice to athletes is: Don't break NCAA rules. Secondary: Don't scorn a b-list agent!
Who says it doesn't pay to be an alleged student-athlete?
Interestingly NCAA rules empower individuals from members institutions to negotiate with professional sports teams. There are obvious conflict of interests, although I find most coaches and athletic directors honorable when it comes to advising athletes on the decision to stay or go pro. But baseball is different: For players drafted after their senior year in high school and/or their college junior year, they are in the unique and enviable situation where they can negotiate with a MLB team and use the leverage of another offer (the opportunity to go to college) against the MLB team. And, magic, baseball teams offer more money rather than risk losing the rights to a coveted draft pick.
Fiduciary responsibility of those negotiating professional sports contracts
NCAA bylaws empower athletic departments to act as agents.
188.8.131.52 Negotiations. An individual may request information about professional market value without affecting his or her amateur status. Further, the individual, his or her legal guardians or the institution's professional sports counseling panel may enter into negotiations with a professional sports organization without the loss of the individual's amateur status. An individual who retains an agent shall lose amateur status.
Let's look at the concept of fiduciary. The word comes from the Latin fides, meaning faith. It has been said that fiduciaries must conduct themselves "at a level higher than that trodden by the crowd." A fiduciary is legally required to put their clients' interests above all else, and is certainly not allowed to profit at the expense of his or her clients.
I am not familiar enough with baseball to know if it is commonplace for a representative from a school's professional sports counseling panel to negotiate with MLB teams, but it is hard to fathom that a university employee, even with impeccable academic and practical experience, could be a fiduciary for a student-athlete. Knowing the potential liability, would a school's legal counsel even allow? And what about players associations' regulations that stipulate that only "certified" agents negotiate playing contracts?
The early analysis
The only reason the public knows about Andy Oliver's alleged involvement with an agent is because one agent was left at the altar for another agent (the fact that it is Scott Boras certainly gives this story added juice). What about all the other baseball agents who acted as "family advisers"? The only difference is they typically do not send 6-figure invoices. And to compound the issue, it probably was not a good idea to have Boras's deputies intervene on behalf of an amateur ballplayer in the middle of his college baseball season. Scott Boras, George Vujovich and Ryan Lubner are attorneys and, I assume, licensed to provide legal services. Keep in mind this issue is over a legal bill, not whether an agency relationship has or has not be established.
Of course, there's an alternative approach to this problem...
"Agents, please keep away from our student-athletes!"