SBJ/Aug. 4-10, 2014/Labor and Agents

Repealed rule, new CBA fuels earlier NFL recruiting

The date and location of the 2015 NFL draft is yet to be determined, but college football prospects have been meeting with agents earlier than ever, according to sources in the agent community.

More agents were meeting with college football players in May, June and July this year than in past years, said Lal Heneghan, a partner with Cornerstone Sports Consulting, which provides agent advisory services to 12 major college football programs, including Florida State and Alabama.

The trend of players holding agent meetings in the spring and early summer before the college football season begins started a few years ago. In 2012, Cornerstone said they helped student athletes conduct more than 100 interviews at major football programs. Heneghan said that the number has increased, but would not quantify it.

“The recruiting is more active than ever,” Heneghan said.

The NFL draft has historically been held at the end of April every year in New York, although last year it was held in May. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said recently that the 2015 NFL draft will be held in Los Angeles or Chicago, but no date has been set.

“We hope to have a decision on when and where later this summer,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy stated in an email.

Pat Dye Jr. says schools are more willing to have agents meet with players before a season ends.
Photo by: COURTESY OF SPORTSTRUST ADVISORS

That hasn’t stopped agents from recruiting players.

Veteran NFL player agent Pat Dye Jr. has been in the business for more than 20 years and he can remember the days when first-round picks didn’t meet with an agent until January and February and didn’t sign until March, just before the draft.

“The cycle is getting earlier and earlier every year,” Dye said.

The change is important in the NFL agent business because signing new football talent is what makes or breaks the careers of agents in any sport. The fact that schools are allowing agents in earlier is a recognition that choosing an agent is one of the most important decisions a young athlete can make when he turns professional. It also gives schools the ability to keep track of agent contact with student athletes and access to those athletes who are willing to play by the school’s rules.

There are many reasons for the increased early activity. The NFL Players Association in 2012 revoked the so-called “Junior Rule,” which prohibited certified NFL agents from talking to players before they were more than three years from their high school graduation, so there is a larger pool of players to recruit.

Additionally, the 2011 NFL collective-bargaining agreement established a new rookie pay system, and so agents and clubs are agreeing to new deals for rookies earlier than ever. The last of the 256 players drafted in the seven rounds of the 2014 NFL draft was signed on July 24.

“That has accelerated [agents’] focus on recruiting and allowed them to get out there and be more proactive,” Dye said. “I would say the biggest impetus is the rookie signings, which are occurring much earlier than in any year I can remember.”

Other agents agreed there is more recruiting going on, with it happening earlier. Many of them did not want to speak on the record, as they consider recruiting a proprietary business matter.

“It’s crazy out there,” one agent texted about the activity.

Schools are also becoming more proactive about holding agent meetings in the early spring and late summer.

The University of Southern California was scheduled to hold a pro sports seminar last week for senior football players, as well as some of the juniors. The seminar was to include information about preparing for a career in the NFL, as well as an opportunity for brief meetings with agents, said J.K. McKay, USC senior associate athletic director for football.

“We are simply trying to educate and prepare our players so that when the time comes to select an agent they can make an informed decision,” McKay said.

The school had a similar seminar last year.

Under NCAA rules, college football players can speak to anyone at any time but cannot sign with an agent until their eligibility is over.

Generally speaking, players want to concentrate on football during the season. But, at the same time, players want to be able to start training for the NFL combine as soon as their last college bowl game is over. There is not a lot of time for players to meet with agents in the window between the last regular-season game and the bowl game, if their school qualifies for a bowl.

The purpose of the spring and summer meetings is a way to give student athletes a chance to get acquainted with agents.

“It seems to serve everyone’s purpose,” Heneghan said. “The player and the family can get an idea of this is what an agent is all about and they can get a sense if this person will be on a short list and focus on having a season.”

Universities and agents have not always had a cooperative relationship, because they have different and competing interests when it comes to athlete talent. Historically, many schools have tried to keep agents away from athletes, entirely.

Dye said the fact that schools are being proactive about players meeting with agents in the months before a player’s last college season is a sign of how much things have changed.

“That would have never happened 10 or 15 years ago,” he said.

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