The Sports Law Blog made a post on July 24th highlighting Phil Kessel’s (hockey player at University of Minnesota) contract negotiations with the Boston Bruins. An agent by the name of Wade Arnott is serving as an advisor instead of as an agent. He is not receiving any money for his services as an advisor, but it is expected that right before Kessel signs with the Bruins, Arnott will contractually become his agent and receive commission.
An agent is documented by the NCAA as anyone who represents any individual in the marketing of his or her athletic ability. That definition is extremely vague, and allows for an agent to be an advisor before any true marketing is done on behalf of friend/client.
Section 12.3.4 of the NCAA Bylaws explicitly allows for advisor panels to exist. Importantly, it states that an advisor can review a proposed professional contract, help in securing tryouts with teams, and even assist a student-athlete with the selection of an agent [The NCAA's Regulations Related to the Use of Agents in the Sport of Baseball].
Main benefit of being labeled as an advisor: Your friend (client) can maintain NCAA eligibility – this allows a player considering leaving college early for the pros to return to his/her college team if contract negotiations with a professional team fails. Signing with an actual agent would end friend’s (client’s) college eligibility.
Jason Wood, an agent in the state of Florida, does an excellent job of breaking down the advisor vs. agent relationship leading up to the June baseball draft [Agents vs. Advisors]:
August through June Draft
Families speak with agents about the possibility of the agent representing their son in the next amateur baseball draft. They tell you about their themselves and how they can help families through the draft process.
January through June Draft
The list of potential agents is narrowed down and evaluated more closely. A second meeting between the parties may take place. A family may even disclose to an agent they have chosen an adviser to help them through the draft process. During this time the agent analyzes the market and establishes parameters that will help the player determine if he will accept an offer from a Major League Baseball team.
Once the team has presented the player with an offer that is within the families financial parameters and it looks likely that the player will sign a professional contract, the transition from adviser to agent is almost complete. When the team finally does give the player an acceptable contract and it is clear he will sign with the club, the adviser becomes the agent.
Once a professional contract is signed between player and team, the advisor is officially an agent. I like to think about it like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. It is the same creature at a different stage acting in a new manner.