SBJ/April 18-24, 2011/Labor and Agents

NFLPA will pick up tab for some players at draft week events

Liz Mullen
With the NFL lockout ongoing, this year’s NFL draft is setting up to be different in a lot of ways, including where the players who are invited to New York stay and whom they may invite to share their special day.

The NFL historically invites players who are expected to be picked at the top of the draft to New York for several days of events and picks up their travel and hotel accommodations. This year, the NFL Players Association not only is holding its own events, but it is also footing the bill for some of the invited players’ airfare and hotel costs, according to several sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“The majority of them are going to stay at the NFLPA’s hotel, flying in on the NFLPA’s dime,” said one agent, who requested anonymity.

Another agent said he was not sure it was a majority; maybe more like half.

The NFLPA has announced that its draft-week events will not conflict with the draft itself. The draft is scheduled for April 28-30.

In addition, the NFLPA said that about 20 high-profile draft prospects have confirmed their attendance for the series of events being called the NFLPA Rookie Debut. The list includes quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, and linebacker Von Miller.

George Atallah, NFLPA assistant executive director of external affairs, would not comment.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello also would not comment on the issue except to say, in an email, “We have always paid the expenses of the players we invite to the draft.”

Meanwhile, the league last week sent out a memo to players invited to the draft from Deana Garner, NFL director of player security services, warning them not to jeopardize the college eligibility of their friends who are still in school.

“A current student-athlete’s attendance at any of these events, including the draft, may result in violations of NCAA legislation if the student-athlete does not pay for the benefits or services he or she receives,” wrote Garner, who worked on the NCAA’s agents, gambling and amateurism staff before joining the NFL. “PLEASE DO NOT JEOPARDIZE THE NCAA ELIGIBILITY OF YOUR FRIENDS OR FORMER TEAMMATES!” she wrote.

It is believed to be the first time the NFL has sent out such a letter to draft invitees.

The NFL’s Aiello said, via email, that the purpose was to help the prospective NFL players understand NCAA rules. “The NCAA will also follow up with each invitee’s NCAA compliance officer in an effort to be proactive,” Aiello said.

Players often have draft parties and invite friends who are still college eligible, sources close to players said. It also is not uncommon, as has been previously reported in this space, for athletes who have made it as professionals to help out their former teammates who are still in college and living on small stipends.

Still, some in the athlete community said the letter may have a chilling effect on draft invitees bringing their college-eligible friends to parties, even if those friends plan on paying their own way.

David Cornwell, an attorney who has represented athletes, including some who have been investigated by the NCAA, said the rules are unfair, noting that an engineering student could go to a party with an upperclassman who got a job and it would not affect his standing on campus.

“The NCAA needs to show how an underclassman attending a celebration of a teammate being selected to play in the National Football League in any way undermines the integrity of the game that would be played next year,” Cornwell said.

The NCAA did not make someone available for an interview nor did it answer questions about whether it was working with the NFL on this effort, or if it would be conducting investigations involving draft parties. NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn, did, however, say in a statement, “NCAA rules are in place to ensure that student-athletes do not receive extra benefits due to their athletic ability, which is a core amateurism principle.”

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SBJLizMullen.

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