SBJ/April 2-8, 2012/Labor and Agents

NFLPA membership votes out junior rule, begins discussion on year-round pay

NFL player agents have been complaining for years that the NFL Players Association’s so-called junior rule, which restricts agent contact with college football players, was causing more problems than it solved. At the NFLPA’s annual gathering late last month, the union representatives agreed, and the NFLPA board of player reps voted out the rule.

Also at the meeting, players re-elected NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and elected Domonique Foxworth as the union’s new player president, succeeding Kevin Mawae (see story).

Under the junior rule, which was passed in 2007, NFLPA-certified agents were not allowed any contact with college players until they were three years out of high school. The rule was meant to prevent agents from jeopardizing players’ college eligibility and stop players from coming out too early, among other things. What resulted, however, were situations in which marketing agents, financial agents and other individuals commonly known as “runners” could move to get an upper hand on certified agents because none of those individuals were bound by the rule.

“The emergence of the unregulated ‘runners’ forced us to act,” said Foxworth, via email after the conclusion of the meeting. “In many ways, the existence of the rule unintentionally created an environment that encouraged agents to unleash ‘runners’ on campus. The ‘runners’ feared no punishment … because they do not fall under the jurisdiction of our [Committee on Agent Regulation and Discipline].”

Executive committee member Charlie Batch made the motion to vote out the rule.
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NFLPA executive committee member Charlie Batch made the motion to vote the rule out, Foxworth noted.
Batch said he was always against the rule because he never thought it could be properly enforced. “Financial advisers, the runners, the marketing guys … anyone who was not an [NFLPA-certified] agent, it gave them the upper hand,” Batch said in a telephone interview after the meeting. “Those are the people getting college players in trouble. It’s not necessarily the [NFLPA-certified] agents.”

 NO TIMELINE ON ‘BOUNTY’: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he plans to listen to NFLPA leaders before punishing New Orleans Saints players for participating in a program in which they were paid bounties for their play against opposing players, but it was unclear when exactly that recommendation would be made. That is because the NFLPA has been conducting its own investigation into the matter and facing certain challenges in the process. While the union meeting was ongoing, the NFLPA issued a statement on the investigation saying, “To date, neither the League, nor the Saints, have helped us facilitate interviews with members of management or the coaching staff.”

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, “We told the union that Saints coaches and other personnel are free to speak to the union if they choose.” But as of the start of the meeting, Saints coaches and personnel had not chosen to cooperate with the union’s investigation.

“Any actions that we take or accept have to be rooted in proven facts,” Foxworth said via email. “I am not sure how we can recommend or accept any punishment that cannot be justified.”

YEAR-ROUND PAY EXAMINED: Player reps discussed, but did not act on, a plan to recommend that players be paid year-round instead of only during the season, as has typically been the case.

Batch said NFLPA leaders have looked at the idea in years past and that the idea this year “picked up some momentum.”

Mawae said the conversations take into consideration whether going to a 52-week payout schedule would be “more fiscally and financially responsible” for the players. The union may revisit the subject this fall.

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