Monday, August 02, 2010

OSU players to get educated on agents

July 30, 2010

By Doug Lesmerises

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Maybe the pimp talk will get the Buckeyes to pay attention.

Speeches from compliance officers typically don't thrill college football players, but when Ohio State gathers for the start of preseason camp next Thursday, Chris Rogers, Ohio State's assistant athletic director for compliance, will have some fresh ammo for his lecture: the recent NCAA investigations into player-agent interaction at Alabama, North Carolina, Florida and other schools, highlighted so far by Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban comparing sports agents to pimps.

"Everything that's in the news will be part of that meeting," Rogers said. "It's a good educational opportunity to show the student-athletes that this could be you. This is real stuff."

Those words of warning are the best way, and in reality the only way, to fight what is an escalating NCAA battle against improper dealings between players and agents. There are plenty of rules and regulations on the books, but the only thing with bite is somebody else getting caught.

Here's how it works in Ohio, which is similar to the rest of the country:

Agents are required to register with the Ohio Athletic Commission, which has a primary job of regulating boxing and mixed martial arts. For the OAC, governing agents is an additional job, which consists of collecting a $500 fee for a two-year license and listing registered agents on its website. (There are 85 individuals or agencies registered at the moment.)

"We don't have the power to go out and enforce anything," said Bernie Progato, the head of the OAC.

Instead, Progato said schools should report bad agent behavior to the OAC, which would forward complaints on to the attorney general's office. In more than a decade that the law has been in place, Progato said he has never heard of a complaint.

More than 40 states have adopted the Uniform Athlete Agents Act, created more than a decade ago. Ohio has not, because its own similar agent regulations, under Chapter 4771 of the Ohio Revised Code, were created first.

The idea of the UAAA, and the Ohio code, is to force agents to register, disclose their backgrounds and qualifications, and keep their potential clients informed, while setting up civil penalties as well. Michael Kerr of the Uniform Law Commission, which created the UAAA, said it allows contracts to be voided, licenses to be revoked or even allows schools to sue agents if they violate the rules.

Violating the code in Ohio is also a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine.

For the most part, schools are left to police themselves. That means, for instance, turning in agents that give players money, which is also in effect turning in the school.

"The schools don't have an incentive to come forward if they know something is going on or if they find out something went on years ago," Kerr said, "because if they tell the NCAA about it, they'll get sanctioned."

Part of the prevention plan, then, is attempting to limit contact. Ohio State does that by requiring all agents and financial advisers who want access to campus to register with them. They also check to ensure agents are registered with the OAC.

Additionally, Ohio State holds an agent day every spring, when players officially meet with agents at what amounts to a job fair, "to get it above board, so it doesn't go underground," Rogers said.

In 2007, the NFL Players Association created a rule that forbids any personal contact between agents and players until the players are three years out of high school. Previously, younger players had attended agent day to make initial introductions. Now, agents say those who play by the rules fall behind those agents who break the rules and create relationships with players while they are underclassmen.

"It's very difficult to legislate ethics and morality and good conduct," said Beachwood-based agent Neil Cornrich, who represents numerous players and coaches. "I think you go about this through good education."

So on Thursday, the Ohio State players should once again learn this:

No one can stop agents from getting to you. And no one knows when you might, by chance, get caught.

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