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Opinion: Let Student Athletes Have Agents

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Louisville coach Rick Pitino shouts instructions to his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Louisville, Ky. Louisville won 85-80. Photo: AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

Coaches acting as agents for student basketball players who desired endorsement deals after their “one-and-done” college careers is at the heart of the recent scandal that led to the FBI arrest of four coaches and the firing of legendary coach Rick Pitino. These coaches allegedly took bribes to get money to students to circumvent the rules designed to preserve the interest of the NCAA in amateurism in college sports; they depreciated that interest and, equally as important, jeopardized the students’ interests in maintaining their eligibility. The NCAA has formed a commission, headed of Dr. Condoleezza Rice, to consider rule changes that might prevent this conduct in the future. According to the statement of NCAA President Mark Emmert, one rule under consideration for change is the rule that prohibits a student-athlete from having an agent.  I advocate that change. And I further advocate that those agents be attorneys.

The NCAA permits student-athletes and their parents to negotiate sports contracts (but not to receive the benefits while still in college) and they are permitted to hire an attorney to advise them of their rights, but the attorney is prohibited from participating in the negotiation of the contract. The attorney’s participation violates the “no agent” rule. (NCAA Bylaw 12.3.2.1). The legality of that prohibition has been in thin ice since 2009 when an Ohio court declared it void as against public policy (Andrew Oliver v. NCAA). Nevertheless, the rule still stands because the NCAA paid Andrew Oliver $750,000.00 (the student-athlete who hired an attorney to negotiate his professional baseball contract and won back his eligibility in court) to drop his case against the NCAA and have the court ruling vacated.  Hence, it would not be a ground-breaking change (and probably one that’s inevitable under the law) to allow attorneys to serve as agents for student-athletes.

In the four major professional sports, agents must be certified and the requirements for certification are decided to the applicable player’s association—in college sports certification could be decided by the NCAA. In the NFL, to ensure that interest of players are protected, the NFLPA requires, among other things, that agents possess a Post Graduate degree (Masters or Law); to ensure that both the student-athletes and the NCAA interest are protected the requirements should be increased—a licensed attorney—especially since some of these students are under the age of 18. An attorney is trained (and to keep his license must) act in as fiduciary, keeping his own self-interest out of his decision-making. An attorney could negotiate the contract in the best financial interest of the student and then keep the contract and funds in escrow until after college, thus, protecting the NCAA interest in amateurism and the student’s interest in eligibility—and keeping the greedy coaches on the sidelines where they belong.

By: Joseph Caruso, Esq.

By Joseph Caruso, Esq.

Joseph Caruso is a license attorney in New York state. He is also a Full Professor at SUNY Nassau Community College where he teaches a course in Sports Law.

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