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Amateurism Cabinet seeks expanded definition of agents

Proposal would apply more broadly to third parties, including family members seeking financial gain

By Gary Brown 

An expanded definition of agents proposed by the Division I Amateurism Cabinet would include third-party influences, including family members, who market student-athletes’ athletics ability or reputation for personal financial gain.

The cabinet at its recent meeting in Indianapolis agreed to sponsor legislation for the 2011-12 cycle that would define agents as individuals who either directly or indirectly:

  • Represent or attempt to represent a prospective or current student-athlete in the marketing of his or her athletics ability or reputation for financial gain; or
  • Seek to obtain any type of financial gain or benefit from securing a prospect’s enrollment at an institution or a student-athlete’s potential earnings as a professional athlete.

The new definition would include certified contract advisors, financial advisors, marketing representatives, brand managers or anyone who is employed by or associated with such individuals.

The new definition also would apply to third parties, including family members, who shop prospects to various institutions for personal financial gain. In the past, the agent definition applied generally to third parties marketing an athlete’s skills to a professional sports team. The cabinet’s proposal expands the definition to include people marketing athletics skills to a collegiate institution for personal gain.

The cabinet’s report was careful to distinguish between parents with legitimate inquiries and those who are acting improperly. The report said: “The cabinet noted that this proposal is not meant to capture parents or legal guardians, athletics department staff members, former teammates or those individuals who have the best interests of a prospective student-athlete or student-athlete in mind from assisting or providing information to a prospective student-athlete or student-athlete provided they do not intend to receive a financial gain for their assistance.”

NCAA President Mark Emmert made the agent issue a top priority in his first State of the Association presentation at the 2011 NCAA Convention. “It’s wrong for parents to sell the athletic services of their student-athletes to a university, and we need to make sure that we have rules to stop that problem,” Emmert said. “Student-athletes are students. They’re not professionals. And we’re not going to pay them. And we’re not going to allow other people to pay them to play.”

Amateurism Cabinet chair Mike Rogers, the faculty athletics representative at Baylor, called the NCAA’s current agent regulations “under-inclusive.” He said the cabinet believes an expanded definition is needed to capture an “industry of individuals,” including runners, financial advisors, marketing representatives, business managers, brand managers and street agents who act as brokers for their own personal financial gain.

“Historically,” Rogers said, “contract advisors recruited student-athletes individually and late in their careers when they were transitioning from collegiate sports to the professional ranks. Over the years, though, as pro salaries have risen and the notoriety of elite student-athletes has increased with scouting and media exposure, the interest of outside third parties has become greater than ever.

“Although many governing bodies have attempted to impose regulations on these individuals and their activities, the competitive nature of the industry has resulted in finding ways to skirt the rules. These third parties operate free of any governing body’s jurisdiction, and historically they do not trigger the NCAA definition of an agent. For the NCAA to regulate these individuals, the cabinet believes the definition of an agent must be expanded.”

The proposal comes after months of review and discussion from both the cabinet and the Division I Leadership Council, which will review the cabinet’s proposal at its Aug. 2 meeting.

Both groups began discussing the issue at length within the last year. While agent issues aren’t new to the NCAA membership, several high-profile cases over the last year raised the bar on regulating them. Soon after taking the reins of the enforcement program last fall in fact, new NCAA Vice President Julie Roe Lach heard from the membership that the interaction among agents and agent representatives and student-athletes was a primary concern.

Rogers said the cabinet acknowledged some of the concerns about expanding the definition, such as making it so broad that it could mistakenly sweep up high school and even college coaches who actually had the best interests of their student-athletes in mind (a previous attempt from the NFL/NFLPA/AFCA working group generated that reaction). The NCAA enforcement staff has said, though, that the financial gain a person received for representing a student-athlete would have to be significant enough to warrant their attention.

The proposal, which comes with an immediate effective date, will enter the 2011-12 legislative cycle and be formally considered when the Legislative Council meets in January. The proposal could be approved at that time, or it could be sent for membership comment and reconsidered at the end of the legislative cycle in April.


Next steps

  • The Amateurism Cabinet’s proposal is reviewed by the Division I Leadership Council on Aug. 2.
  • The proposal enters the Division I legislative cycle for 2011-12.
  • The Division I Legislative Council gives the proposal its initial review in January, at which time it could approve the proposal or send it out for membership comment and then reconsider it for final approval in April 2012. The proposal carries an immediate effective date.