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Confessions About The NFLPA

Yesterday, George Dohrmann of Sports Illustrated posted the sports business story of the year, at least if you are judging by the number of tweets for a single article on the web.  Dohrmann, the last sportswriter to win the Pulitzer Prize, highlighted a sports agent named Josh Luchs, who admitted to paying money and providing other benefits to recruits throughout his sports agent career, and spares no names when mentioning his former cohorts.  The article is titled, Confessions of an agent, and it will be referenced by the NCAA, state and federal governments, agents, etc. for quite some time.

I will start off my dissection of Dohrmann’s piece by focusing on the areas where Luchs talks about the NFL Players Association.  Since this whole “AgentGate” issue became a topic for the masses, there has been a lot of finger pointing towards the NFLPA.

When Josh Luchs became an agent, he was 19-years-old, filled out a few forms, and paid roughly $300.  He was then a licensed NFLPA contract advisor.  Today, he would not be so lucky.  Instead, he would need a post graduate degree, have to pass an examination, and pay an annual fee of $1,200 (until he represents 10+ active players).  On the surface, it would seem that these barriers would curb people like the old Josh Luchs from throwing money at student-athletes, violating NFLPA rules.

Interestingly, since Luchs became licensed, the NFLPA has lowered the maximum commission that an agent can take from negotiating a client’s contract.  It used to be capped at 5%, now it is 3%.  This is no excuse for an agent to violate any rule; however, the big payday comes from the highest draft picks.  3% on a 6th rounder won’t permit you to survive in the business.  Agents might be willing to take the risk to get that 3% max from a 1st rounder, and do “whatever is necessary” to increase the chances of a signing.

It also does not help that the NFLPA no longer penalizes players who are found to have taken money from agents while they were in college.  They used to have to pay that money back to the agents.  For the most part, student-athletes are not only knowledgeable about the rules regarding benefits, but they actively seek out benefits from agents, even though they know it is illegal for the agent to provide anything of value.  This kind of culture does not help reduce the amount of benefits passing hands.  If an athlete knew he had to pay that money back, it may deter his requests a bit.

But here is the line about the NFLPA that sticks out most from the Dohrmann piece:

People think the NFLPA is monitoring agents, but it is mostly powerless.

I have been saying it for a while, but perhaps it is worth repeating.  If you want a real investigation, real discovery, real results, it needs to be done by the states and the federal government.  Even though the NFLPA is a great organization and has done a fine job at representing the players’ interests, it is inherently biased.  Many players and former players have roles within the organization.  Do you think they have or at one time had representation?  Additionally, the NFLPA does not have the resources of a state government.

The NCAA can penalize the schools, the NFLPA can teach an agent a lesson, but the governments have true power.

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.

3 replies on “Confessions About The NFLPA”

Absolute bullroar. It didn’t matter when Luchs became certified; no agent received a free pass just because they dated back to 1983 when the NFLPA first certified agents. Luchs would have to have passed at least one–if not more–exams put together by the same company that creates and administers the college boards. If he didn’t receive a passing score, he was ineligible to represent players until he did so. As for the lower fees, salaries have risen at unprecedented rates since the NFLPA started certifying agents. As salaries climbed, why not bring the percentage down–especially since so many negotiations are almost automatic based on information provided agents by the union.

Remember–and this is something mentioned at every agent seminar–that the NFLPA has the legal authority to negotiate every contract within its house but has allowed agents to do it. More stories like Luchs’ and the hammer might just drop.

Who do you think the NFLPA would be hiring to negotiate contracts on behalf of the players? While it is a nice scare tactic by the NFLPA, I can’t see them “dropping the hammer”

Knowing how the system works and how available information would be, NFLPA staff–if told by the players who make all the decisions–could do the job. Without hiring outside agents.

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