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Education Is Still The Answer

UConn Basketball

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.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.

9 replies on “Education Is Still The Answer”

Darren: The problem is that you’re dealing with kids that come from backgrounds where they need financial assistance immediately. They can’t afford to wait until they are done with school to align with someone that will give them money and other assistance. They begin these relationships so that they can be taken care of financially and get the training they need before they hit the NBA. In the UConn story, the kid basically had no family. What do you expect a kid like that to do? Not take money? Not take free meals? Not take a pipeline to UConn? Not take free training at the best training facility? It’s really a tough situation to analyze.

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The other problem is that the current rules benefit agents that cheat. Because the rules aren’t enforced, cheating agents are willing to do whatever to get in with a client. While agents that follow the rules are left in the dust. It’s the same thing that goes on with college coaches and recruiting. The coaches that cheat through quid pro quo relationships with AAU programs and agents when the recruiting game. The ones that follow the rules end up like Gary Williams at Maryland:

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The overall situation is miserable. There is no incentive for an agent to adhere to the rules right now besides being able to go to sleep at night knowing that he is doing the right thing. For some reason, that’s enough for me. Maybe that will force me out of basketball, maybe not. Time will tell, right?

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No, you can still sign clients in basketball in a clean manner. It’s just not easy. There is no incentive for anyone to play it clean (Agents, AAU Coaches, College Coaches). I don’t get why the clean agents don’t start calling out the names of the guys that are cheating. Agents, coaches, AAU coaches, etc. Everyone knows what’s happening and who is involved, but no one will speak up.

As well, even if you clean up some of those issues, we still have the issue of kids that need money and assistance immediately. The NCAA will never budge on paying kids, so as long as kids are forced to go through that system (because of the age limit), you’ll see kids trying to find agents, coaches, etc. that are willing to play the game.

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Good to see two of my favorite law students debating this issue.

I do think education would be the answer if the system was, let’s see, in the ballpark of fair. I have pretty much covered WHY summer coaches, runners, boosters, coaches and athletes cheat on Money Players. I think good agents should work to root out bad agents by naming names. (I was critical of David Falk when he alleged to Darren Rovell that some agent paid a college player $500k.) Self-policing by agents is unlikely because, like college coaches, it’s hard to be perfectly clean in this business.

I seriously hope education is the answer. Not only will athletes benefit from understanding how this business works and how to select the most competent, ethical agents, but I personally stand to benefit financially if there colleges put significant resources behind educational programs. Of course, I will believe it when I see it. I think this system works so well for pretty much everyone precisely because athletes are neither educated nor organized.

While I would like to think we could improve the system through policy change and education, what economic and legal incentive do the entrenched powers have to change anything? That’s not a rhetorical question.

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The entrenched powers are the golden boy agents who have benefited off of the system for years, the runners who have been employed by those primetime agents for years, and the coaches who gain security in their jobs by working closely with those agents and runners to bring in players to their programs and then recommend the agents when all is said and done.

We are silly if we try to change those people.

Instead, the new breed of agents should see the potential economic incentive of bucking the old trend. Providing openness and transparency into their recruiting methods and letting the world, and more specifically, athletes and their families, into why they should be picked over an agent who hires a runner who works with a coach…all to gain access. Only then, will the Josh Nochimsons be forced to change their ways. Only then, will the runners be weeded out of the system. Only then, will many coaches start to earn their salaries based on what they know instead of who they know.

Education is a key component, but the more I think about it, openness and transparency are very important as well. We live in a world where information spreads as soon as I click the button to add this comment. It just depends on my reach after I click that button.

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The state’s highest paid employee appears embroiled in a ethics violation. How is this different than so many financial managers?

Calhoun makes millions off the back of what amounts to free employment. Given the millions a few of these employees will make in a different market, why do we cluck our tongues and wag our finger and say, “No.” Calhoun earns his living solely off the backs of this free labor.

He does not want to change the system. His colleagues do not want to change the system because they benefit in the exact same fashion as Calhoun. The schools do not want to change the system because they do not want any additional expenses that would decrease the millions generated by the free labor.

If there is any justice in this situation, Calhoun would be investigated for violating the state’s ethics board. Perhaps he can join the former governor as an ex-state employee?

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