Darren Heitner, sports and entertainment attorney, broke the news to the public after Neil Stratton of Inside the League, a consulting service for the college and pro football industries, gave insiders the heads up: Jadeveon Clowney has been in regular contact with Jay Z and Roc Nation Sports.
Instantly, the situation escalated. Terrified South Carolina fans frantically worried about whether Clowney, one of the biggest figures on the college football landscape, would be suspended. Rival fans pointed fingers and cried foul.
Essentially, the less-than-informed masses showed they still buy into the "agents are bad" rhetoric that has been forced all over the collegiate landscape.
As Stratton cleared up pretty succinctly via Twitter Monday: "No rules violation. As long as they're conferring on a marketing basis, all good. NFLPA has allowed this so far." Meaning, no one involved has done anything wrong as long as talking is all that has occurred.
While there are certainly issues to be discussed—like where Jay Z falls on the marketing-agent continuum with the NFLPA—the idea that Clowney has somehow done wrong is not one of them. But because of the instant negativity, the South Carolina athletics department is forced to investigate something the school, according to its own policy, should have already been aware of.
Plain and simple: College football players need to talk to agents. The more negative the stigma or the more restricted the talks between the two sides, the more difficult it becomes for players to make informed decisions about their futures. Talking is not illegal, per NCAA bylaw 12.3:
An individual shall be ineligible for participation in an intercollegiate sport if he or she
ever has agreed (orally or in writing) to be represented by an agent for the purpose of marketing his or her athletics ability or reputation in that sport. Further, an agency contract not specifically limited in writing to a sport or particular sports shall be deemed applicable to all sports, and the individual shall be ineligible to participate in any sport.
That is the rule. There's nothing illegal about talks between the two sides. There's nothing illegal about shopping around for an agent. There's nothing illegal about trying to figure out who will work best for the athlete.
The illegal part comes when the two sides reach an agreement and/or benefits are exchanged. The bulk of agents are good people trying to make an honest living. They want to follow the rules and are even willing to jump through some of the absurd hoops set up to make their lives difficult.
But to many coaches, media and fans, all agents are bad. That mindset stops progress, and it creates the restrictions that ultimately limit players in making one of the biggest decisions of their lives.
And, more importantly, it helps the guys who are willing to circumvent the rules. After all, when you do not care about the rules, there is no need to jump through hoops, notify schools of contacts or desired introductions, or follow the extra benefits restrictions. Find the back way in, get your contact and do your dirty work without operating on the up-and-up.
Jay Z and Roc Nation Sports have a lot at stake right now. They are still waiting for NFLPA certification, and the partnership with one of the largest agencies in the country in CAA Sports is still just a fledgling business hoping to land clients.
In other words, they cannot afford to screw this up.
Transparency is a plus, folks. And with that transparency should come more understanding that agents are not the monsters people try to make them out to be. If the negativity could subside as agents operated more openly and with added accountability, every party would benefit.
Players would get more information in order to make informed decisions. Agents would be able to show where they fit on the landscape in a more transparent fashion, making it harder on the ones operating in the shadows. Schools would have more records of contacts and discussions.
This would eliminate the frantic December-January dash to interview and sign with an agent under the current structure.
If the goal is to help the student-athlete, more transparency is a plus. When an agent's reputation and standing are at stake, there's pressure to play by the rules—something that benefits all parties involved.
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