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SBJ/Nov. 1, 2010/Labor & Agents
Labor uncertainty, reluctant recruits hampering agents
Published November 1, 2010
Many major NFL agents have pulled back on recruiting top college players this fall because of uncertainty surrounding the NFL labor situation, as well as an NCAA investigation that has made recruiting top prospects difficult, multiple sources said.
Agents, who can invest as much as $40,000 to train projected first-round NFL picks, also are now hesitant to spend that much given that many expect the new collective-bargaining agreement will contain a rookie wage scale.
The NFL’s CBA expires March 3, and agents are worried about spending time and money on 2011 prospects when they are not sure when the 2011 season will start.
Although some major agents said they were recruiting as hard as ever, they acknowledged they would not likely recoup their investment in training on the player’s rookie deal under what they expect will be a new system. Instead, they said, they hoped to recruit players who would stay with them over the long term, in which case they could make money on the player’s more lucrative second deal.
Others agents, however, said they are taking it easy on recruiting 2011 prospects.
“We are really concentrating on veterans,” said one agent at a major agency.
Another agent said, although he is recruiting, “I’m not going crazy.”
A third agent said, “The unknowns are the rookie wage scale and the season itself. You pay for the training and then, is there a lockout and does it end in March, April or June?”
Agents requested anonymity because they wanted to keep their firms’ recruiting plans secret.
If a rookie wage scale is instituted, newly drafted players will get less money, which means agents, who get a percentage of players’ compensation, will also get less money. Both the NFL and the NFL Players Association have proposed major changes to the way players entering the league are paid.
Additionally, agents fear they could face a new, lower-percentage fee structure, as the fixed rookie wage scale that the NFL is proposing leaves little room for negotiation. NFLPA-certified agents now may charge a fee of up to 3 percent of a player’s total compensation under union rules. If the union were to agree to a new rookie system, the union could then change the fee structure.
At the same time that there is this great uncertainty in the labor arena, the NCAA has launched its most aggressive investigation in years into whether top college football players are receiving benefits from agents, financial advisers and others tied to them.
College players who are more than three years removed from high school are allowed to talk to agents but cannot accept anything of value from agents while they have college eligibility remaining, under NCAA and NFLPA rules. But many players at top football programs have been warned off having any contact at all with NFL agents by officials at colleges and universities, agents and others said.
“Most of the top kids are paranoid to even talk to agents,” one prominent agent said.
Athletes’ Performance, a Phoenix-based training center that has trained more first-round NFL picks (56) than any other training facility in the country since 2004, has made changes to its pricing structure because of the uncertainty, said Travelle Gaines, director of elite athlete development.
“We have had to create some different [NFL Scouting] Combine training packages that are, say, recession-proof or CBA-proof,” Gaines said.
Normally, agents pay about $12,000 just for the training and also foot the bill for food, rental cars, housing and other things, like massages. Athletes’ Performance has created new packages that combine those items with the training and has been able to lower prices for agents, Gaines said.
The training facility has done it to reward agents who have been good customers, he said. “In a time of crisis, you have to make sure you are there for your people,” Gaines said.
Meanwhile, agents have another unanswered question regarding their 2011 prospects: When does training end?
Agents normally pay for a top draft pick’s training, but that training ends when that pick goes to the NFL combine to be evaluated by NFL club scouts. Now, there is concern about where players will train if the NFL locks players out and there are no mini-camps after the draft.
Parents and student athletes want to know how players can be NFL-ready, one agent said: “That conversation has already come up with the parents: ‘If there is no mini-camp, where is my son going to train?’”
NFLPA ASKS FANS TO SIGN PETITION: The NFLPA has launched a website at NFLLockout.com and is asking fans to sign a petition to try to prevent the league from locking players out when the CBA expires.
More than 5,000 fans had signed the petition within a week of the union putting it on the site, said George Atallah, NFLPA assistant executive director, external affairs.
“The players think the fans can influence the CBA talks,” Atallah said. “We think it could help our negotiations. In this day and age, you see that fan advocacy can make a difference.”
The NFL declined to comment.
LEGACY SPORTS SIGNS ENRIGHT: Legacy Sports, the firm headed by Greg Genske, has signed Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Barry Enright for representation. Genske and Kenny Felder will represent him. Enright had been represented by Beverly Hills Sports Council.
Genske and Felder also signed Kansas City Royals first baseman Billy Butler.
ROSENHAUS SPORTS SIGNS BEANIE WELLS: Rosenhaus Sports, the NFL player rep firm owned by brothers and agents Drew and Jason Rosenhaus, has signed Arizona Cardinals running back Chris “Beanie” Wells for representation. Wells had been represented by DeBartolo Sports and Entertainment.
ICM SIGNS JALEN ROSE: ICM broadcasting agent Nick Khan has signed ESPN NBA analyst and former player Jalen Rose for representation.
Liz Mullen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.