SBJ/Sept. 20-26, 2010/Labor and AgentsPrint All
The NCAA has sent out letters to NFL agents telling them their cooperation is required by the NFL Players Association in the continuing NCAA investigations of college football players, a move that agents believe is unprecedented and could hurt athletes.
The NCAA has no authority over agents, but the NFLPA can discipline them, as well as determine who may or may not represent NFL players in contract negotiations with clubs.
“It is our understanding that the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) will review the information in our investigation related to agent activities,” said one of the letters, obtained by SportsBusiness Journal.
“Your full cooperation with our inquiry is expected by the NFLPA,” it said.
The letters, sent in late August to 20 to 30 agents, were signed by at least two NCAA investigators conducting inquiries into potential rules violations by football players at several Division I universities. Those cases involve allegations of agents and others who represent professional athletes providing student athletes with money or something of value, which is prohibited by NCAA rules. There are also allegations that NFL players, who are NFLPA members, provided student athletes with gifts, which may also violate NCAA rules.
The letters were copied to NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen.
Berthelsen, who has served as the NFLPA’s general counsel for decades, and George Atallah, the NFLPA’s assistant executive director of external affairs, did not return repeated phone calls or an e-mail regarding the letters.
Although most agents want “bad agents” punished, some sports agents blasted the NFLPA’s appearing to lend its authority over agents to the NCAA, whose investigations have already caused projected high draft picks to be declared ineligible or held out of competition while the investigations continue.
“The agents should revolt against this,” said one prominent NFL agent. “For the union to force agents to cooperate with NCAA investigations is unacceptable. Is it legal?”
This agent said that if the union gives its authority to the NCAA to compel agents to talk, “it will become a revolving door of baseless interrogations” by NCAA investigators. Other NFL agents expressed similar anger toward the NFLPA, but all requested anonymity for fear of becoming targets of the NCAA or the NFLPA.
Rick Johnson, an Ohio attorney who reached a $750,000 settlement from the NCAA over its treatment of Detroit Tigers pitcher Andy Oliver when he attended Oklahoma State, said he could not believe that a union, whose job is to protect player rights, would help an organization that could suspend student athletes from competition.
“Not only do I find it strange,” Johnson said, “it is disgusting and contrary to their mission. It makes no sense.”
David Cornwell, who has represented numerous NFL players and agents in sensitive legal matters, sent a letter to the NFLPA saying that forcing NFL agents to talk to NCAA investigators could hurt the union’s own future members.
“Although the NCAA representative indicated that the NFLPA interest in its investigation might relate to ‘agent activities’ the targets of the investigation are college football players, and therefore, prospective members of the NFLPA,” Cornwell wrote in the letter, which was obtained by SportsBusiness Journal. “Against this backdrop, it seems inconsistent that the NFLPA would act as the NCAA’s agent or otherwise assist the NCAA in the enforcement of rules that may derail the aspirations of future NFL players.”
An NCAA spokeswoman declined to comment on its investigations or whether the association was asking players associations for help in inquiries of student athletes.
In addition to its football investigations, the NCAA is conducting a massive inquiry into whether baseball players who were drafted in the June baseball draft, but did not sign with the club that drafted them, violated NCAA rules.
The inquiry includes baseball student athletes being sent questionnaires about their relationships with their advisers, sources said.
NCAA regulations allow baseball student athletes to have an adviser, but the adviser is not allowed to communicate directly with the MLB club that drafted the player. That rule has been disregarded by baseball agents and clubs for decades, however, and was disregarded again this year, baseball sources said.
MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner declined comment for this story. However, the MLBPA has a history of not cooperating with or endorsing the NCAA’s investigations of baseball student athletes, and sources said the baseball players union’s position is the same this year.
Last year, when the NCAA began sending baseball student athletes questionnaires regarding their relationships with their lawyers, Weiner spoke out, saying the union believed those athletes had a right to legal representation, including the ability for their lawyers to speak directly to MLB clubs.
Golf broadcaster Nick Faldo has signed an exclusive agreement to be represented by 16W Marketing for marketing, endorsements, licensing, speaking engagement and sponsorships.
Faldo, the lead analyst for CBS Sports and Golf Channel, has been represented by his own company, Faldo Enterprises, out of Windsor, England, since 1997.
Faldo said he has been talking to several agencies for several years but decided to sign with 16W Marketing because the agency has excelled at representing athletes who have moved on from their playing days. The firm’s clients include Howie Long, Phil Simms, Cal Ripken Jr., Cris Collinsworth and Boomer Esiason.
“That fits in with me,” Faldo said. “I am no longer a performing athlete.”
After six years of television broadcast work, Faldo said, more people recognize him now than did during his distinguished playing career, when he won six majors. “The recognition in airports, because of television, is amazing,” he said.
Steve Rosner, who started 16W with Frank Vuono, said Faldo, whose off-course honors include being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2009, is a great fit for the firm. “He was successful while he was playing his sport [and] is a goodwill ambassador for his sport, as well as a gentlemen, who after he finished playing stayed in the game via television,” Rosner said.
Rosner said corporations with whom the agency does business have already expressed an interest in Faldo but he declined to name the companies.
When Faldo first turned pro, he was represented by IMG, and his first agent was IMG’s late founder, Mark McCormack. “Mark and I met and played golf together back in 1976,” Faldo said. When they agreed IMG would represent him, they shook hands on the deal.
“I did 20 years on a handshake,” he said.
MOON LAUNCH: Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon has launched a sports marketing firm, Sports 1 Marketing, that will provide consulting to companies and represent athlete clients for marketing work.
The agency’s primary focus is on corporate consulting. Some of its first clients include the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Fit Energy and Red Line Racing, Moon said.
“We have had some athletes who are interested,” Moon said. “We are not actually recruiting athletes, but if they come to us, we will definitely welcome them.”
The company also has a film and television production arm and has a script about the life of one of the first black NFL quarterbacks, Marlin Briscoe, that it wants to get financed and produced.
Moon is widely regarded as a trailblazer for African-Americans playing quarterback in the NFL. But Moon said, “I watched Marlin when I was in high school and he was the first to start.”
Moon is founder and president of Sports 1, which is based in Irvine, Calif. David Meltzer, formerly CEO of Leigh Steinberg Enterprises, will serve in the same capacity at Moon’s company.
CORNWELL IN MERGER TALKS: David Cornwell, an attorney who has worked more than a decade defending athletes including Reggie Bush, Ben Roethlisberger and Donte Stallworth in sensitive legal matters, said he was in preliminary talks about joining a larger law firm or agency.
“My primary concerns are to expand the resources available to me without compromising the quality of the representation of my clients,” Cornwell said.
Cornwell said he had spoken with a handful of agencies and law firms but declined to name them.
Liz Mullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.