SBJ/June 24 - 30, 2002/Labor Agents

Sports lawyers conference swims with tales of sharks in the NCAA tank

Bill Saum, the NCAA's director of agents, gambling and amateurism, cautioned agents at the Sports Lawyers Association conference last month that they cannot give student athletes anything of value, including a can of Coke, while recruiting them.

Agents and financial advisers can, however, and are, hiring student athletes to work as interns in the summer. Saum said he could not prevent such activities, because "it is permissible for a student to work for a sports agent."

The hiring of interns is just one way agents are forging relationships with players, coaches or colleges that give them a competitive advantage in recruiting, particularly in football, agents say. To be successful, one agent said, "You have to have an in or you have to have an edge."

Marty Blazer, a financial adviser to athletes, got Houston Texans draft pick Ramon Walker approved to work as an intern while he was still a student at the University of Pittsburgh, but Walker never followed through with the summer job. Florida State University starting quarterback Chris Rix worked as an intern for agent David Dunn's Athletes First last summer.

"It had to be approved by the NCAA and it was," Rix said. Dunn's attorney, Mark Humenik, said Rix applied for the job and was hired because he was qualified.

Agents pointed to the fact that NFL agent Drew Rosenhaus has a plaque with his name and an outline of his face on the wall of the football offices of the University of Miami.

Mark Pray, Miami spokesman, said Rosenhaus and many other donors received the recognition for money they gave toward expansion of the football offices.

Some said they thought agent Neil Cornrich had an advantage because he was one of a few select agents who have been asked by University of Wisconsin football coach Barry Alvarez to answer players' questions about choosing an agent, in a session with the team before the start of the season. Cornrich is Alvarez's agent.

Alvarez did not return phone inquiries. Jim Hueber, Wisconsin offensive line coach, who is involved with the agent program, said coaches invited agents they thought did a good job representing their players in the past. He noted that although Cornrich has signed some top Wisconsin players, including this year's first-round draft pick Wendell Bryant, other high-profile Wisconsin players have signed with agents who were not invited to speak.

Cornrich said he did nothing wrong and wondered why other agents were complaining about him, saying of those agents, "as long as a man himself is false, dry and empty the world will also appear the same."

On another front, last spring several NFL agents expressed concern that agents were getting a competitive advantage through their association with the Elite 11 Quarterback Camp, a program for some of the nation's top high school and college quarterbacks.

The camp is part-owned by high school coach Bob Johnson, who has worked as a trainer for agents Leigh Steinberg and Dunn, and both agents have talked to students at the camp during its three-year history.

The NCAA has made an inquiry into the camp, which is also part-owned by Student Sports Magazine, as a result of a SportsBusiness Journal story, but hasn't yet determined whether it violates NCAA rules, Saum said.

Student Sports President Andy Bark said he would never do anything to jeopardize players' eligibility and invited Steinberg to speak at the camp only because he thought Steinberg's experience in representing NFL quarterbacks would be useful to the students.

"I will never have another agent, no matter how many quarterbacks they represented, as a guest speaker at any of my camps," he said.

Bark said the NCAA should be looking into many things. "I think what the NCAA should do is take a look at agents who are paying college coaches illegally, under the table," he said. "I think some people have some blinders on."

Rosenhaus questioned agents being involved in private football camps for college-eligible students or hiring future top prospects as interns. "That is like somehow circumventing the system," he said.

Rosenhaus said he has no problem with what Cornrich is doing. "More power to him," he said.

As for people complaining about him giving money to the athletic department of Miami, his alma mater, Rosenhaus said, "The ones who complain about me are nothing but envious, spiteful losers who are getting waxed by me."

Contact Liz Mullen with agent and labor news at lmullen@amcity.com.

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