Money talks. So do shady sports agents, apparently. The most recent edition of Sports Illustrated contains one agent’s confession regarding the dirty-side of being a sports agent — paying off college athletes as a means of gaining clientele. NCAA bylaws prohibit collegiate players from receiving such improper benefits while a student-athlete. Violations result in the student-athlete becoming ineligible to further participate in NCAA competition. But what about the agent? He is probably more in the wrong than the inexperienced student-athlete, isn’t he? Unfortunately, there is not really any substantial recourse against the agent who lures a student-athlete into   violation of NCAA rules. Is that right?

The confession details how the agent would give the student-athlete “freebies” to gain their business — concert tickets, hotel rooms, credit card payments, etc. While the article is disturbing, it is merely a corroboration of recent events, including a rash of recently publicized NCAA violations: Reggie Bush recently forfeited his Heisman Trophy after a long investigation as to whether he accepted improper benefits while a collegiate player at USC; Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green was recently suspended by the NCAA after he allegedly sold a game-worn jersey on eBay; and twelve players were suspended from North Carolina during an ongoing investigation that they allegedly received improper benefits. In each of these cases, while the student-athlete felt the “hit” from the NCAA, there was an unscathed agent on the other side of the improper benefit. Lack of recourse against a wrong-doing agent creates perverse incentives for an agent to exploit student-athletes. Alabama head football coach Nick Saban recently referred to sports-agents who unscrupulously take advantage of student-athletes as “pimps.” If that’s the case, what protection do student-athletes have against being exploited? Not much, it seems.

Challenges to NCAA rulings regarding student-athlete eligibility brought before the judicial system have consistently ruled in favor of the NCAA on antitrust grounds. Antitrust? On what rationale? According to a law professor, “the NCAA has been protected from antitrust attack when they create rules that promote amateurism . . . and academics.” While that may be true, it seems like a stretch that the NCAA is afforded antitrust protection when they promote either of these interests, no matter how marginally.

The NCAA is protected. Agents are protected (by means of no recourse). So what protection does a student-athlete have against unscrupulous agents? Understand the rules, and don’t break them. There seem to be no rules that will protect the student-athlete who receives improper benefits. The student-athlete is certainly not protected by the NCAA in such a situation. After all, to do so would be to not “promote amateurism,” which would strip the NCAA of any antitrust protection. Student-athletes need to make sure their agent interactions are done in the open, and not under only a dim streetlight.

Andrew Harline

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