Earlier this week, Andy Katz of ESPN wrote about a subject that I have covered many times on this blog: the proliferation of runners in the college basketball community. The main subject of the article was Blake Griffin, who every analyst and self-proclaimed analyst has being picked by whatever team ends up with the #1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. While Blake and his family have warded off runners and the agents who employ them, many top athletes and their families do not make the same intelligent decision. I believe that education is the answer, and as more high-profile writers at the largest media empires begin to discuss the state of college athlete recruiting, perhaps more athletes and their families will begin to see the light and place the important decision of picking an agent back in their own hands.
Coaches can also be a major help or burden to an athlete’s education. Coaches like Jeff Capel at the University of Oklahoma are doing their due diligence by actually helping his players on and off the court. Instead of being an accomplice in “the game” and strengthening certain runners’ and agents’ abilities to access his players early, Capel tells his players to be aware of any new friends that try to come into their life. Good advice.
Not to be outdone by ESPN, Yahoo! Sports had its big dogs do some investigative reporting (it took six months of research) and came up with quite the interesting story concerning recruiting of college athletes by agents and their runners. Adrian Wojnarowski and Dan Wetzel wrote the story that shocked the nation yesterday: Probe: UConn violated NCAA rules. It all started with Josh Nochimson, the former basketball agent who was decertified by the NBPA in 2008. In his hayday, Nochimson was team manager for UConn and possibly stole $500,000 from Rip Hamilton. Wojnarowski and Wetzel report that Nochimson also funded lodging, transportation, and restaurant meals for Nate Miles while Miles was a student-athlete at the University of Connecticut. That’s a big no-no according to NCAA rules and Section 14 of the Uniform Athlete Agent Act (which Connecticut has adopted).
In the Yahoo! article, Rip Hamilton is quoted as saying,
“[Josh Nochimson] admitted to stealing…I always remember my agent saying, ‘Rip, don’t put your hands on him because he’ll be able to sue you. [Nochimson] was doing everything off of me. He looks like a high roller. It’s hard for a kid because you may not have anything and you see this guy.”
I have to think to myself, how many other talented student-athletes think the same thing when an agent or his runners approach the athlete blinged out with a nice car and offer to take the athlete to an expensive dinner at a high class steakhouse (which would be a violation if the athlete is still a student)? Nochimson is not the only one out there putting up a facade.
And agents are not the only ones to blame for this terrible state of recruiting. As always, Marc Isenberg put his valuable two-cents into the recruiting issue.
The NCAA, college programs and coaches can shift the blame to the agents, but ultimately it takes two to tango. What’s so damning in this investigation is the volume of calls between the agent and the UConn coaching staff. According to Yahoo!, there were “1,565 phone and text communications with Nochimson, including 16 from head coach Jim Calhoun.
The agents and their runners need to be threatened against committing violations, not egged on by NCAA institutions. Besides that point, though, I remain in my statement earlier this month, the answer to these recruiting problems is education. If you are a talented student-athlete that possesses the attributes to make it in professional basketball (overseas you can make a ton of money, as well), then why take the risk of working with guys like Josh Nochimson who are only going to threaten your brand? There is nothing wrong with listening to people you trust, but in the end, the decision you make on an agent should be your own. It all starts with the athletes. If the top picks in each draft begin to ward off runners and wait to make agent decisions until their college eligibility has expired, NCAA institutions will find no need to work hand-in-hand with agents, and runners will no longer be on agents’ payrolls. It all starts with the athletes. It all starts with education.