The contract conundrum

The majority of college head coaches ask their players to refrain from talking to agents until after the season has ended. Many agents, however, contact players and want to talk to them before the season starts. This is a long-standing conflict of interest that occurs as college juniors and seniors find themselves at the border between their college and pro careers. While many coaches want them to focus on the former, the players are eager to start planning for the latter. Various issues arise from this, all of which have the potential to affect an athlete’s future career in a negative way.

Because nothing is being done to change the system, this conflict continues to take place every year. Agents persist. Coaches remain unaware. Players are willing to meet and talk. Most formal screening programs established by universities are ineffective in highlighting good agents. Parents become overwhelmed while trying to serve as buffers and receptors of information. The most aggressive and even unscrupulous agents are rewarded, while those who honor the wishes of head coaches are penalized for their patience.

Last May, I called a small 1A school and left a message for the head coach, saying I wanted to meet with one of his seniors in the summer. Since I also represent coaches, I’m very sensitive to their wishes, and I always go through the front door to contact players. Like many other times, I never heard back. I then contacted the pro coach liaison, a position coach in charge of handling pro scouts. Three messages later, he finally called me back, and I explained my intentions. I reminded him that I had represented the highest draft pick ever in the school’s history just a few years earlier and remarked how well things were going for that player. I asked the coach if I could have a meeting with the prospect in their football office. I told the coach that everything I do as an agent is transparent, and I wanted them to be a part of the process, reassuring the head coach that everything would be on the up and up. However, after the pro liaison talked to the head coach and actually recommended to him that I might be a good fit for his player based on their previous high draft pick, the coach was adamant that there would be zero contact with any agents for his star player.

After hearing that, I sent a letter and brochure to the player in care of the football office. I also did some work, got an email address for the player and contacted him several times. My goal was to simply let him know I was very interested in working with him. Finally, in August, I received a response that said, “Thanks for the interest, but I already met with three agents this summer and most likely will go with Agent X.”

I responded with a “Thanks for getting back to me and good luck. I’m here if things change.” I didn’t tell the player, but Agent X has high turnover rate, has been fined in the past for an unscrupulous violation and isn’t respected in the agent community. Once again, the aggressive agent going through the back door is rewarded, and the head coach has no idea what’s going on with his own players.

There are players who do adhere to their coaches’ wishes, and some even have parents who are qualified to do the screening. Unfortunately, however, there are many parents who get overwhelmed by the process and simply fall in love with the agent or agency that has the most well-known players.

The conundrum for respectable agents is this: Do I wait until after the season to begin contacting players, or do I get my foot in the door as soon as possible against the wishes of many college coaches?

The conundrum for the player is this: Do I wait until after the season to start the process and cram it into one week after the bowl game, or do I go against my coach’s wishes and start interviewing some agents now?”

The players who rush to make a decision usually regret it. Many players even sign with the first agent they meet just to get the process over with and begin training for the Combine. Those who take their time start the process early, listen to several types of agents and practice due diligence. They usually make a great decision and rarely have to change agents.

I believe there should be a formal process and a window in May, June or July in which players, coaches and agents can have direct contact with seniors. This would at least allow the athletes to start the process, learn about some prospective representatives and get a feel for the business side of their own futures. During camp and the season, contact can be restricted to off weeks and/or the time between the last game and bowl games, or even put off until after the season. This way, players won’t make hurried decisions, coaches can be part of the process that’s currently happening behind their backs, and players and parents will have sufficient time to identify and select quality representation.

The current system, or lack of one, needs improvement.

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