SBJ/August 22-28, 2011/Labor and Agents

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  • More colleges telling football agents to keep their distance

    Liz Mullen
    With college football season set to begin, an increasing number of NCAA Division I schools are sending letters and emails to NFL agents, multiple agents said, asking or telling them to limit their contact with college football athletes.

    “You used to get a letter or two a few years ago,” said one agent. “Now, you are getting emails from every school.”

    Another agent said there were no letters 10 years ago, a couple five years ago and dozens now. As a result of actions by some of the schools, this agent said, agents may not go to a lot of college football games this fall.

    “It used to be you could go and talk to the players, but you can’t sign anyone or give them anything. But now, the schools have taken it to another level,” the agent said.

    It’s not clear exactly how many schools are sending out letters this year. Agents requested anonymity for fear of being targeted by NCAA investigators. Some agents even declined to give the names of schools that had contacted them for fear that might identify them.

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    Alabama has told agents to avoid off-campus contact with players until after the season unless coach Nick Saban authorizes it.
    SportsBusiness Journal did obtain one email, sent out in July by University of Alabama compliance coordinator Matthew Self, informing agents that the traditional preseason interviews with student athletes had been canceled as a result of the NFL lockout and late start to the league year.

    “We understand that many of you are scrambling to get your current clients under contract and into camps and thus it would have proven difficult for many of you to come to campus,” stated the letter. Self did not return a phone call.
    Additionally, the Alabama letter stated, “All off-campus contact is prohibited until the end of the season, or such time as otherwise authorized” by football coach Nick Saban.

    Agents said messages from other schools were different in language but most were aimed at limiting contact as well as making sure that agents registered with the school. Some agents said they received letters after sending their agency’s brochure to college football players, which is within NCAA rules and a common practice in recruiting.

    Some agents questioned the legality of the schools’ limiting contact with agents.

    NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said in an email, “This correspondence is not being sent at our direction.”

    Some agents suggested that the schools were taking the action as a result of the scandal surrounding the University of North Carolina last year, in which more than a dozen athletes were accused of violating NCAA rules and suspended. Agents were interviewed for this story before the publication last week of a Yahoo! Sports story alleging that a booster with ties to a sports agency had given benefits, impermissible under NCAA rules, to at least 72 student athletes at the University of Miami over the last decade.

    Schools have been increasingly proactive about trying to regulate and be informed about student-athlete contact with agents in recent years.

    Tim Tessalone, sports information director at USC, said in an email that the school has taken a multipronged approach to student-athlete agent education, one that includes bringing in NCAA representatives, putting on agent awareness seminars and providing information to agents regarding NCAA rules. This year, for the first time, USC is sending a letter to agents who attended its pro day this spring, Tessalone said.

    Tessalone said he did not know why other schools were sending letters but that the USC letter to agents was “in the process of being distributed.”

    CAA SIGNS BASKETBALL COACHES: CAA Sports has signed University of Wisconsin at Green Bay basketball coach Brian Wardle and University of Washington assistant basketball coach Raphael Chillious for representation. Both coaches will be represented by a team of agents led by Bret Just.

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

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  • Agencies sprint through whirlwind of signings

    NFL player agents have been catching up on their sleep while tallying up their deals after arguably the wildest, and certainly the shortest, NFL player signing period ever.

    CAA Football, led by agents Tom Condon and Ben Dogra, negotiated $606.8 million worth of deals, with $278.4 million of that total in guaranteed money to players, according to agency figures.

    About 90 percent of CAA’s deals were negotiated within a 12-day period, Condon said, adding that the total amount was a record for CAA Football. Asked whether he knew how it compared to CAA Football’s 2010 numbers, Condon said, “I don’t, but half a billion sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?”

    Among other agencies:

    Priority Sports & Entertainment: $300.1 million in negotiated deals, with $124.2 million guaranteed.

    SportsTrust Advisors: $235 million total, with $115 million guaranteed.

    Sportstars: $255 million in veteran deals, $127 million of it guaranteed.

    All totals are agency reports, and a complete list of deals for every NFL player representation firm could not be immediately compiled. Some player agents declined to provide their totals. In other cases, agents were unable to provide aggregate figures because the signings were ongoing.

    A number of veteran NFL players who played in the league last year were jobless last week and hoping that spots would open on NFL rosters.

    Drew Rosenhaus, who represents about 150 NFL players, more than any other agency, sent an email to virtually every general manager in the league during the height of free agency. In that email, a copy of which was obtained by SportsBusiness Journal, he lists 15 NFL players “who would be willing to sign for the M.S.B.” — a reference to “minimum salary benfit.”

    Rosenhaus declined to comment on the email last week. He also declined, via email, to provide total value of the deals he and his partner and brother, Jason Rosenhaus, had negotiated. “I’m sorry, but I’m just too busy right now to compile that list, [but] it is extensive,” Rosenhaus wrote.

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    CAA could have additional deals coming, including one for the Saints’ Drew Brees.
    Some agents last week were continuing to work on long-term deals or extensions for their star clients:

    Joel Segal, who heads up Lagardère Unlimited’s football practice, was negotiating deals for Pro Bowl clients Michael Vick and Chris Johnson. Segal said he negotiated $147 million in about four days in this year’s signing period.

    Priority Sports’ agents were said to be working on deals for Haloti Ngata and Arian Foster.

    CAA could have additional deals coming as well, with clients Drew Brees and Ryan Kalil.

    The NFL Players Association, as of early last week, did not have dollar amounts for all the NFL player deals that had been completed since the NFL lockout ended late last month. There were, however, clearly more players signing deals in a much shorter period of time than ever before. Fueling that increase, in part, was NFL clubs expanding their training-camp rosters from 80 players to 90.

    Teams this year signed what is believed to be a record number of undrafted rookies: about 615 leaguewide, compared with an average of 450 — though many of those players are not expected to make teams’ final 53-man rosters.

    In addition, through early last week, there were 303 unrestricted free agents who had been signed to deals along with 57 restricted free agents, according to NFLPA figures. Normally, there are about 225 to 250 unrestricted free agents and about 70 restricted free agents, with signings being done from early March till late July. This year, because of the lockout, most of the players who signed deals did so within about a week or so.

    “I averaged about two to three hours of sleep, once the gates opened,” Segal said. “I remember having a conversation with a superstar player and a head coach at 4 in the morning.”

    Condon said he, Dogra and the rest of the CAA Football staff didn’t sleep much either, and when they did, in was in CAA’s offices in St. Louis. A typical day started to quiet down around 1:30 a.m., and the next day started at 6 a.m., he said.

    Priority Sports agent Kenny Zuckerman said the pace was different on both sides of the table.

    “Usually, when you talk to a team on a deal, you talk to them until that deal gets done,” Zuckerman said. “Because there was so much going on, you’d be talking to a team, and then they would be gone for, like, 24 hours. And then they would call back and say, ‘Hey, really sorry, we were trying to do 10 deals at once and there are only two or three of us.’”

    Like other agents, Zuckerman said he typically got two or three hours of sleep a night, if he was lucky. “I am still recovering from it,” he said. “It was an absolute whirlwind.”

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