SBJ/October 15-21, 2012/Labor and Agents

Rule changes keeping NFL agents on the run

In a normal year, veteran NFL player agent Alan Herman would amass between 60,000 and 70,000 air miles during the fall recruiting college football players for the next year’s NFL draft. But this year, Herman, who has 1.5 million air miles in the bank, says he expects to add another 150,000. The reason? He has a lot more players to talk to now.

“We have a lot more work to do,” said Herman, founder of NFL player rep firm Sportstars, which represents 102 NFL players and employs eight agents certified by the NFL Players Association.

NFL player agents say the business of recruiting college football players has changed because of two measures that were passed by the NFLPA earlier this year. First, the union revoked the so-called “Junior Rule,” which prohibited agents from any contact with college players who were less than three years removed from high school. Secondly, it passed a new rule that mandates that only NFLPA-certified agents can recruit players.

What it all means is that the pool of players agents can recruit is much larger now. Theoretically, that pool is four times larger as agents can talk to all college players, although it is believed most of the increased recruiting is focused on juniors.

Agents agreed that the end of the Junior Rule was changing the recruiting dynamic. The Junior Rule, which was first enacted in 2007, was scrapped after prominent agents complained that it gave an unfair advantage to those willing to break it. One new element to the landscape is that the families of underclassmen can now engage with agents, and they have been requesting meetings in the past few months, even if their sons are not planning to declare for the 2013 NFL draft.

Players still sign with agents at the same time — typically when their college eligibility is up after their last bowl game. But players and families of both seniors and now underclassmen have been engaging with agents far earlier, and agents are taking more meetings.

“If you are not talking to a quality junior and you wait a year, then you are too late the following year,” Herman said.

Lagardère’s Joel Segal said there are very few days when agents aren’t traveling.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
Herman is not the only agent traveling more these days.

“Between Sunday, Monday and Thursday games and recruiting, there seems to be very few days where you don’t have somewhere to go,” said Joel Segal, president of football for Lagardère Unlimited, which represents about 65 NFL players.

“More traveling can be required as the process starts earlier and earlier,” said agent Todd France, who represents more than 50 NFL players and represented a top-five NFL draft pick in the last two years.

Agents interviewed for this story could not detail what impact the new rule prohibiting anyone other than an NFLPA-certified agent from recruiting players may have on the business. NFLPA-certified agents must pass a background check, among other things, and this rule was designed to raise the standard of player representation and is part of the union’s ongoing effort to keep potentially unscrupulous people away from players. Agents suggested that rivals were trying to find a way around this new rule, with some expressing suspicion that “marketing agents,” not contract agents, and other athlete representatives who are not NFLPA-certified are meeting with players in an effort to steer them to certain NFL contract agents.

“You have so-called ‘marketing guys’ helping with a 320-pound offensive lineman, when there is very little marketing you can do with an offensive lineman,” Herman noted, wryly.

Veteran agent Pat Dye Jr. said he was in favor of the new rule changes, but like a lot of agents interviewed for this story, he wonders how the NFLPA will be able to enforce the new regulation allowing only certified agents to recruit players, especially with so many agents meeting with so many players all over the country.

“It’s going to be hard to prove,” Dye said. “With all the [potential] violations, it will be like trying to clear the Sahara Desert with a tablespoon.”

Agents were also unsure what impact the NFLPA rules would have on the marketplace and which agents would end up signing top talent under the new rules.

“It’s still too early to tell,” said prominent agent Eugene Parker, head of the football division at Relativity Sports. “Revoking the Junior Rule is definitely better. These guys [college football players] need time to hear from the legitimate people. They were hearing from the other people anyway. I think after you have a round of recruiting, you will have a better idea of how it worked out.”
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