By David MacDonald, Hockey Family Advisor
This past weekend, I received a message from a hockey dad who wrote to say. “Someone else contacted me and offered to represent my son for free, and I agreed to go with that person”.
After I wrote back to tell him that his son is unable, under the NCAA Rules, to use an advisor who does not charge a fee, he wrote back to say that no one would ever find out because, “there was nothing in writing”.
Regardless of what that father believes now, we will never see that young man play college hockey. Mark my words.
“It’s the things that you don’t know, that you don’t know, that will cause you the most grief down the road”.
The first question that I would have asked would have been, “What reputable person works for free?”
One of the very basic rules that most people are taught from a young age is: “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is….”.
Of course that agent does not expect to work for free.
The NCAA knows that there has been an agreement reached that provides for a fee to be paid based on future earnings. They understand that this agreement is either in writing or oral. The NCAA is not that naïve, as they deal with this stuff everyday.
The rules of the NCAA are very straight forward. Below, I have included excerpts from North Dakota’s Student-Athlete Handbook. Most colleges publish the exact same booklet for it’s student athletes and prospective student-athletes.
Advising vs. Representation
Q: What activities by an agent or financial advisor are considered “advising” student-athletes, which does not jeopardize their eligibility, as opposed to “representing” student-athletes, which does jeopardize their eligibility?
A: These situations tend to be fact-specific and depend on specific circumstances. It’s best to use the following as guidance:
When you (from the perspective of the agent or advisor) are interacting on a one-on-one basis with student-athletes and providing advice regarding their future, you are likely to be advising them (unless your discussions include an oral or written agreement to represent them now or in the future, even if you do not act upon that agreement).
When you are interacting with individuals other than a student-athlete (e.g., third parties) on behalf of or regarding the student-athlete, it is likely that you are representing the student-athlete.
Andrea, an agent, has agreed to provide Paul, a student-athlete with advice. Andrea and Paul have agreed that Paul will not have to pay Andrea any fee for her services until Paul is drafted by a professional sports team.
Q: Is Paul’s collegiate eligibility in jeopardy?
A: YES. Paul jeopardizes his eligibility if an agent, advisor or financial advisor provides advice to him about a professional contract with the understanding that he will pay the agent, advisor or financial advisor for such services once he has beendrafted by the professional sports organization, regardless of the fact that the agent, advisor or financial advisor provides the service only to student-athletes and has the same fee arrangement for all clients.
What people do not realize (until it is usually too late) is that in order to be approved by a college to play college athletics, a student-athlete needs to pass through a college compliance officer, and then again through the NCAA Clearinghouse (Eligibility Center).
It does not matter how talented an athlete is at his sport, if there is any chance that a student-athlete may not pass “the sniff test”, he will never play in the NCAA.
A reasonable question that a compliance officer might ask is “how did this player come to the attention of the coaching staff”. He was introduced by whom? His profile was provided by whom?
Is the answer “the person who the player does not have a relationship with” ?
If that agent is to remain a secret, then what is the point of having a relationship with him…. the very person who one is counting on to make introductions is not allowed to make his relationship known?
There is no college coach who will take a chance, and waste the time, recruiting a player who has possibly broken any of the NCAA rules and regulations.
The second opportunity that the NCAA will have to determine if the player has broken the advisor vs. agent rule will be when the player needs to sign a document that states that he has never used the services of an agent, and he needs to provide the name of his advisor and the details of the relationship, and the payment arrangements.
Is this the type of document that a father is willing to counsel his son to lie on?
In this recent case, it sounds as though it is.
“There is nothing in writing!”
It makes no difference, oral agreement count.
The third opportunity that the deceit could come to light is when the NCAA conducts it’s investigation to ensure that the student-athlete was truthful.
I took two minutes today, and spoke to another player on that young man’s current team, and was told that the young man told all his teammates that he now has an agent (kids just don’t keep that stuff a secret).
The NCAA is relentless at getting at the truth (and they have more than 2 minutes to make a simple telephone call).
When the player is asked about an advisor/agent during the Eligibility Center registration, if he lists one of about 20 different people who are known to work with hockey players (so I have been told), he will immediately be red-flagged.
Have you seen the movie, “The Blind Side”? These investigations can be that intense.
Every spring, we (HFA) spends days providing the NCAA copies of our agreements and copies of cancelled cheques / credit card statements regarding our 19 and 20 year-old clients who are going on to play NCAA hockey the following Fall.
Imagine, the anxiety, of getting an offer at 18 years old, only to find out during the final checks that your final clearance certificate was not approved at the age of 21. It happens every year, as we get calls each summer from college teams who know that our clients all are clean, and they need to replace a player who did not pass through the Clearinghouse.
Last year, a young man (who we know of), who for the sake of a couple of thousand dollars a few years previous, his father threw away a $250,000 scholarship, and thought he would get away with it. because “there was nothing in writing”. I remember having a talk with that father in 2014, at the time his son received a college commitment. He thought he was smarter than the NCAA.
At the time, his words were exactly the same as the father I spoke of earlier.
One of the newest tools that the NCAA is employing to ensure compliance is having the players swear an affidavit prior to playing in championship games, that they have never used the services of an agent or unpaid advisor. The result, of course, is that compliance officers are much more diligent during their initial investigative work to ensure they are not caught. Of course, lying in a sworn statement is a criminal offence, and I wonder if that father is still willing to counsel his son, in that regard.
I know that I as I go about talking to colleges about any 2002 born forwards, whom I work with, if I ever see that young man on a watch list, I will be sure to do what I need to to eliminate that competition from my client’s path forward, by pointing out what I know.
In a Memorandum written to Men’s Ice Hockey Student-Athletes, dated March 17, 2017, from Mark Hicks (the Managing Director of NCAA Enforcement) and Kris Richardson (Director of Academic and Membership Affairs of the NCAA), and with the subject line if Information Regarding the 2017 National Hockey League (NHL) Draft, Agents, and Tryouts, the address this very issue, and include the following;
Q. What is an “agent” according to NCAA rules?
A. Per Bylaw 12.02.1, an agent is a person who directly or indirectly represents or attempts to represent an individual for the purpose of marketing his or her athletics ability or reputation for financial gain or seeks to obtain any type of financial gain or benefit from securing a prospective student-athlete’s enrollment at an educational institution or from a student-athlete’s potential earnings as a professional athlete.
Q. Am I allowed to have any type of agreement with an agent?
A. NO! You are not permitted to have a written or oral agreement with an agent or anyone who is employed by or acting on behalf of an agent or sports agency (i.e., “runner”).
Q. What is an “oral agreement” with an agent?
A. An oral agreement occurs if you verbally agree to have an agent perform any services on your behalf OR you have knowledge that an agent is performing such services.
Q. Is an agent allowed to contact teams on my behalf to arrange private workouts or tryouts?
A. NO! You cannot have an agent arrange a private workout/tryout with an NHL [professional] team.
Q. Can my family members or other individuals who are associated with me as a result of playing hockey (e.g., high school coach, nonscholastic coach, etc.) have an agreement with an agent to perform services on my behalf?
A. NO! Family members and other individuals are not permitted to enter into any agreements with an agent on your behalf.
Q. Am I allowed to have an agreement with an agent if it is for future representation?
A. NO! You are not permitted to agree to a future representation agreement with an agent.
Q.. Is an agent allowed to provide me any benefits?
A. NO! You, your family members and friends are not permitted to receive any benefits from an agent. Examples of material benefits include money, transportation, dinner, clothes, cell phones, jewelry, etc. However, benefits may also include, but are not limited to, activities such as tryout arrangements with a professional team and coordinating tryout schedules.
Q. Am I permitted to have an advisor during this process?
A. YES, provided the advisor does not market you to NHL [professional] teams. However, it is not permissible for the advisor to contact [professional] teams on your behalf.
The memo then goes on to state, “If you receive assistance from an advisor, you must compensate the advisor in an amount equal to the value of the services he or she provides you. Furthermore, you may not receive such services at a free or reduced rate without jeopardizing your eligibility, regardless of whether the advisor does not typically charge clients for such services.”
So why do individuals offer their services for free?
Because they mislead you into believing that you do not pay for their services (when in fact you do). They are unscrupulous.
They know the rules.
They chose to mislead players and families into breaking them, and they chose to lead unknowing players and families down the garden path.
They choose to operate their business this way, because they receive secret commissions from prep schools and academies, U-18, and junior programs along the way.
In fact, families pay for these commissions. In many cases, families pay $2,000 – $10,000 more per year than they otherwise would).
Some of these predators are receiving $5,000-10,000 in secret commissions per year, per player.
Recently, we went out and asked about the worse stories of junior programs, and those are the very ones who are willing to pay outrageous commissions to these individuals, and it is not unusual to see teams with 4-5 kids all referred by the same person.
In many cases, these people see their business model as “a numbers game” (the more players in one’s stable, the better the chance of having one who will possibly pay-off). It truly is a numbers game.
Each year, I attend various drafts, and I am always amazed by watching 3-4 guys who seem to be representing 50-60 players of the same birth year. How can they possibly manage to work in the best interests of so many players with competing interests?
Obviously, they cannot.
They know darn well that these players will never go on to play College Hockey. They do not want them to.
Because these individuals will only get paid, so long as their clients are playing in dead-end junior hockey programs (which are paying secret commissions), which will not lead to a college program because those leagues are never well-recruited, and the competition does not enable these players to develop properly.
These slime-balls have no interest in having their clients ever go to college to play hockey, as they do not want to wait until the player is 25 years old to “maybe get paid”.
They do not want to take a chance of having their cash cows getting injured while playing college hockey, or worse “decide on another career”.
Sure, they will “talk the talk”.
They will lead players and families on until time runs out……, and it is always the player’s fault.
“He was not talented enough to get a college offer. It is the player’s fault. He did not work hard enough.”
The truth is that the colleges wrote him off a long time ago, because they know the player broke the rules, and why should they even continue to look when they know that there are dozens of other equal players who are 100% clean.
Having done my homework on the son of the father who sent me the latest email, I know that the father just blew a $250,000 education, and he will not know so for 5 years, when he refuses to reach into his own jeans to provide his son the education he has just denied him, and his son will be living in a fleabag hotel and earning $15,000 a year playing hockey (while paying his agent $2,000 per year).
In the meantime, the agent will have likely made a total of $20,000 – $30,000 in secret commissions and fees representing the player, fully paid (reimbursed) by the family.
But, who will ultimately pay the price?