SBJ/Sept. 20-26, 2010/Labor and Agents

NCAA: NFLPA expects agents to aid inquiry

Andy OliverGetty Images
The lawyer for MLB pitcher Andy Oliver, who reached a settlement with the NCAA, questioned the NFLPA’s presence in letters mailed to NFL agents.
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.
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