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Family Advisors: What you don’t know can hurt you

This is an article that originally appeared in a 2011 issue of our newsletter, and I am often asked about some of the points raised by attorney, David Bradley Olsen, in his excellent article. In many instances, players and families believe that in some of the points raised, the opposite is true, and in the end many players never get to fulfill their playing dreams.

 

By David Bradley Olsen

Teenaged hockey players on the NHL’s radar or NCAA Division I recruiting lists, and older players in college who are looking forward to professional careers need no introduction to the “family advisor.” You have seen and talked to them at Elite League games, USHL tryouts and prospect camps. Maybe an “advisor” has offered to give you free career advice and guidance, or to give you a deal at a training facility sponsored by an “advisor” group.

Generally, though not always, “family advisors” are former college or professional players. They talk your language because they know what it is like to be a recruited and sought after athlete. Some can tell you what it takes to balance the academic responsibilities of college with the demands of training and expectations for on-ice performance.

Others have lived through the grind of a minor pro or NHL season and can prepare you to survive. Many are well connected with professional coaches, scouts and general managers. But make no mistake about who you are dealing with – nearly all “advisors” are professional agents, and they are in the athlete representation business to make money by negotiating contracts and endorsement deals for athletes.

If you have entered into an agreement with an “advisor” who will represent you at no cost, with the idea that he will become your paid agent when you turn pro – which is usually the way these deals work – or if you have accepted any free services, transportation or merchandise from the “advisor,” you may already have jeopardized your NCAA eligibility. In other words, what you don’t know about your “family advisor” can hurt you – and the college team for which you hope to play or plan to return.

The rules covering permissible contact with sports agents are set out in the NCAA Operating Bylaws, Article 12, Amateurism, which can be found in the 2011-12 NCAA Division I Manual (effective August 1, 2011), and can be downloaded from the NCAA’s website at www.ncaa.org. The rules don’t specifically refer to “advisors” (which is why the term is used), but it doesn’t really matter to the NCAA what the “advisor” calls himself: If he has an agent business, and earns an income by representing and marketing athletes, he is a sports agent.

The Manual says that, if a student-athlete has ever agreed to be represented by an agent for the purpose of marketing his athletics ability or reputation in that sport, he or she “shall be ineligible” to play in an intercollegiate sport. What this means is that, if you have a deal with an “advisor,” written or not, and any part of that deal contemplates that the “advisor” will be your agent when it comes time to turn pro, the NCAA could rule you to be ineligible for college hockey before you ever step on campus.

Maybe you have an “advisor,” but you really don’t have any agreement or expectation that he will represent you in professional negotiations after you have played your last college game. Instead, he’s just providing you with some advice and expects nothing in return. Are you out from under the NCAA’s agent rule? Not really.

The whole point of having an “advisor” is that he can help you make good decisions as you advance from high school, to junior, to college, to professional hockey. But the rule says that if you, or any of your relatives or friends, accept any “transportation or other benefits” from “any person who represents any individual in the marketing of his or her athletics ability” – which virtually every “advisor” does – you will be ineligible for college hockey.

Put simply, the rule prohibits you, your family and your friends from accepting anything of value from any agent – unless you pay fair value for it – even if the agent says that he has no interest in representing you, and even if he does not represent hockey players.

The prohibition on accepting benefits from agents includes a whole host of things that cannot all be listed here. Among them are: agent-paid recruiting trips; free or reduced cost ice time; free or discounted access to training facilities; equipment; tickets; meals; cash; loans; advances; and free or discounted services.

Pay particular attention to that last one. If the “advisor” is a professional agent, and he is guiding you along your career path, and is not charging you for his time and expenses, you are receiving a prohibited free service. Or, if the deal is that the “advisor” won’t charge you now, but will charge you later when you are making a lot of money, you have entered into a prohibited agent representation agreement, and you may also be receiving a prohibited loan or advance.

The bottom line is that, if you feel that an advisor will be beneficial to your career, you need to approach the situation with extreme caution, and you and your parents need to study the rules carefully. It would also be a good idea for you to check with the NCAA Eligibility Center and/or your athletic director before entering into an agreement with an “advisor,” or talk to a lawyer.

If your “advisor” doesn’t want the NCAA or school athletic director to know about your deal, or doesn’t want you to get any legal advice, odds are the agreement you have been offered is not in compliance with NCAA eligibility rules, or may not be to your benefit. Remember that when an “advisor” negotiates an agreement with you, he is looking out for himself.

About the Author: David Bradley Olsen has been selected as one of Minnesota Lawyer’s “Attorneys of the Year” for 2013. With nearly 26 years of experience, David focuses on litigation in state and federal courts, including litigation of business and commercial matters. His practice includes the representation of athletes and entertainers.

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