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Volume 23 No. 13
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NCAA’s decision to regulate agents raises questions

The NCAA’s jump into the business of regulating agents has raised a lot of questions, including its legal authority to do so and what it could mean to the marketplace of representing basketball players.

The NCAA will give a test to National Basketball Players Association-certified agents in the fall that will allow those who pass to represent players who test the waters of the NBA draft in the spring of 2020. “The NCAA rules test will help determine a prospective agent’s familiarity with the college environment,” said Stan Wilcox, NCAA executive vice president of regulatory affairs, in a video on the NCAA’s website last week.

The NCAA allowed NBPA-certified agents to advise players on whether to stay in school or declare for the draft for the first time this spring. The action was in response to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s report on how to fix college basketball in response to the federal investigation of bribery in the sport. Rice’s report came out in April 2018, and the NCAA allowed all NBPA-certified agents to act as advisers without any rules attached this past spring.

But when the NCAA recently unveiled its own plan to certify agents, it hit a bump in the road. The NCAA initially said in early August that agents had to have a college degree to be NCAA certified, even though the NBPA doesn’t have that requirement. The media quickly dubbed it “The Rich Paul Rule” after LeBron James’ agent and the new head of United Talent Agency’s sports division, who doesn’t have a college degree. The NCAA retreated on the degree requirement last week after heavy criticism from media, agents, players and the general public.

The NCAA is still requiring that agents who apply for certification have three years of NBPA-certification. Inside the agent community, it’s expected that the certification will be necessary to represent players “on the bubble” or players who may be drafted in a few years. Historically, those are the players a new agent would try to sign in order to break into the business.

Also unclear is whether the NCAA’s agent certification program will be challenged. Sports and entertainment unions have been regulating unions for years, but this is believed to be the first time a non-union has attempted to regulate talent agents. Sports unions’ authority to regulate agents has been upheld by the courts. Unions have an exemption under the law that protects them from antitrust lawsuits. The NCAA does not.

Jeffrey Kessler, a partner with Winston & Strawn who represents unions, including the NBPA, as well as agents, agencies and former student athletes who have sued the NCAA, wouldn’t comment last week on whether he is representing any client with respect to NCAA agent regulation.

“I favor players being able to confer with agents that have been certified by the union whenever they want to without losing eligibility,” Kessler said. “That would be a positive.”

Jennifer Kupcho, the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion, has signed with Wasserman.
Photo: getty images
Jennifer Kupcho, the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion, has signed with Wasserman.
Photo: getty images
Jennifer Kupcho, the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion, has signed with Wasserman.
Photo: getty images

WASSERMAN SIGNS KUPCHO: Wasserman has signed golfer Jennifer Kupcho, the former world No. 1-ranked amateur and winner of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, for representation.

Wasserman golf agent Mary Lyle Townsend is representing Kupcho, who has already secured her LPGA Tour card by coming in second at the Evian Championship in late July. She’s had two top-five finishes on the LPGA Tour in her first eight starts. In addition to being the world’s top amateur for 34 weeks, Kupcho won the 2018 NCAA individual championship while at Wake Forest.

“Jennifer has the ability to both be an icon for women’s golf, but to also transcend golf,” Townsend said.

WME SIGNS PERKINS: WME has signed recently retired NBA center Kendrick Perkins in all areas, including broadcasting. WME agents Dan O’Connor and Jim Ornstein will be representing Perkins, who has already made television appearances on ESPN and FS1 in recent weeks.

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