Monday, June 3, 2013

New National Football League Rules Change Relationship between Players and Agents

            Recruiting professional football players is a tough and thorough process. Those who provide advice to players regarding contract negotiation must comply with the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) Regulations Governing Contract Advisors.  These regulations are designed to ensure that agents and their clients are well served. Recent rule changes, including the repeal of the “junior rule,” impact the way athletes go about choosing an agent (contract advisor).

Q:       What is a contract advisor?
A:        A sports contract advisor provides representation services to players (including rookies) by conducting individual contract negotiations and/or assisting in or advising them about such negotiations with the member clubs of the National Football League (NFL). Under the NFLPA Regulations Governing Contract Advisors, potential contract advisors must first apply to the NFLPA, and must agree to comply with NFLPA regulations. Also, they must give the NFLPA information about their qualifications, pay fees, attend NFLPA seminars, educate player-clients and remain sufficiently educated regarding NFL governing documents.

Q:       What rules have applied to contract advisors in recent years?     
A:        To address abuses arising from player/contract advisor relationships, the NFLPA instituted two rules, which were in effect from 2007 to 2012. One, known as the “junior rule,” prevented an NFLPA-regulated contract advisor from speaking with a potential player-client until three years had passed since the player’s graduation from high school. The second (related) rule allowed contract advisors to pay for recruiting help as long as the name of the person or entity assisting in the recruiting efforts was disclosed to the player-client, and the client signed off on this arrangement in a standard representation agreement to be filed with the NFLPA.

Q:       Why did the NFLPA change these rules?
A:        An increasing number of “runners,” business managers, and others were responding to these rules by recruiting athletes, which constituted a violation under the existing rule, on college campuses across the nation. Further, the “runners” were found to be giving improper benefits to college players, causing loss of eligibility and university sanctions. For example, during Heisman trophy winner Reggie Bush’s time at the University of Southern California, Bush’s family received improper benefits from such a “runner.”  Such recruitment behavior clearly violated the NFLPA regulations.
            To curb these abuses, the NFLPA, working in tandem with the NCAA, decided that contract advisors who were certified under the regulations were best suited to advise college juniors about entering the NFL. Because certified contract advisors are subject to sanctions, the NFLPA can punish any contract advisor who violates the regulations. The junior rule was abolished because contract advisors and players who followed this rule were being unfairly disadvantaged by rule-breakers, and because the NFLPA was concerned that players might be illegally recruited at increasingly earlier ages.

Q:       What regulations currently affect contract advisors and players?
A:        In March 2012, the NFLPA repealed the junior rule, edited the second (related) rule and added a third rule. Contract advisors can now pay only other contract advisors to assist in recruiting potential clients. Those contract advisors assisting in recruiting efforts must not only be certified, but must be in good standing with the NFLPA. Since June 2012, the NFLPA has allowed certified contract advisors to contact student-athletes, even those who have not yet reached the end of their junior year in college. Players still are not allowed to sign with contract advisors until three years after their high school graduation, because that would effectively terminate their eligibility in that sport. However, they may now consult with contract advisors and receive information about the draft, including information about how to avoid actions that might threaten their eligibility. Players can discuss questions about their future with contact agents who are both prepared to provide information and advice and do not violate NFLPA rules by offering such enticements as money or free plane rides.

Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association.  This article was prepared by Nathan B. Cohen, a third-year law student at Capital University, with the guidance of Justin Hunt, a licensed attorney familiar with this topic.  Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law.  Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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