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Street Agents of Recruiting.

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Street Agents of Recruiting.

I touched on this a couple of weeks ago regarding recruiting "dead periods" and how people get around them. Interesting to say the least.

Street agents spur coaches' concern

By Craig Barnes
Staff Writer
Posted January 15 2005

The American Football Coaches Association, in conjunction with the NCAA, plans to study the emergence of what are called street agents in the recruiting of high school football players.

At the annual meeting of head coaches in Louisville, Ky., on Wednesday, Miami's Larry Coker raised the issue, and Grant Teaff, executive director of the AFCA, said "there was a genuine concern" regarding the intrusion of independent third parties in the recruiting process.

"We want to gather a group of qualified people to examine the issue," Teaff said, "and we will consult with the NCAA before doing so. [NCAA Executive Director] Dr. [Myles] Brand was in the room and heard the discussion. We need to get a grip on the situation, and then we will determine how to approach it."

Some college and high school coaches are worried that the agents use financial inducements to win the trust of the player. Such a practice could threaten a recruit's eligibility and possibly lead to NCAA sanctions against the school if ties between the university and the agents are proven.

Under Florida law, anyone conducting sports-agent activities must be registered with Department of Business and Professional Regulation, or such a person can be charged with a third-degree felony that is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The Florida law is one reason some coaches believe the street agents often present themselves as mentors or coaches rather than agents. If they are promoting the athletic interests of a player, either in recruiting or another respect, they would likely be declared "agents" under NCAA rules.

"If anyone conducting the business of a sports agent isn't properly registered, they are violating Chapter 468 and breaking the law," Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist said. "If the AFCA and NCAA believe there is a problem in Florida, we are ready to help protect the futures of our young people."

Brand said he is encouraged that the AFCA will study the issue, and he said the NCAA would work with coaches to pinpoint the problem and target possible solutions.

"There was great concern, and properly so," Brand said. "It was clear what is happening could cause significant problems in the ability of a prospective student-athlete to make a well-informed decision about his future. It is a serious issue worthy of the examination that Grant and his group are going to give it."

A similar situation has existed in NCAA basketball recruiting for years. AAU coaches, who work with some of the nation's top talent in the summer, often circumvent the high school coach and become a college's primary contact in its effort to recruit the player. The major difference is that AAU coaches often work with players for years.

Coker said his motivation for introducing the issue was his concern over the effect that street agents could have on the futures of high school athletes.

"It has been going on for over a year," Coker said. "We [AFCA coaches] want to recruit the best kids and win, but by in large we want to do what is right for the athlete. These people present themselves as someone who knows the recruiting process and can provide advice. At Miami, we can lose a player, and we are going to go on.

"Our concern is what happens to the player whose future might be affected. We are concerned that players get the right information."

Under NCAA rules, any high school player making an agreement, either orally or written, to have an independent third party represent his athletic interests for remuneration is risking being ruled ineligible.

"If the player, a member of his family or a close family friend receives financial or other benefits, the athlete would lose his amateur status and be ineligible," said David Berst, the NCAA's vice president for Division I. "If the person with whom the agreement is made is deemed an agent, the player would be ineligible on a second point."

High school coaches are concerned that players are unaware of the NCAA rules that could affect their futures.

"I didn't know that they existed until this year," former Plantation coach Frank Hepler said. "When I found out what they were trying to do, I warned all of my players not to associate with them or accept anything from them. It could destroy a player's future."

The possibilities of how street agents are financed include NCAA schools and agents who hope to sign players when they are ready for the NFL Draft.

"If the money is coming from a university, either directly or indirectly [a booster]," Berst said, "the school would be subject to investigation and sanctions."

Some college and high school coaches believe street agents are being compensated immediately, and others said the payoff could come when the player reaches the NFL.

There are no restrictions on how much contact an athlete can have with an independent third party. The AFCA talked about not supporting or attending talent combines, a feeding ground for street agents.

The CaliFlorida Bowl, played in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2, and other all-star games that attract top talent are gathering places for street agents. The events provide unlimited access to the players in a social setting after practices and team commitments.

"I was told that there were street agents at our practices and that I should run them out," said David Wilson of Tallahassee Lincoln High School, the Florida coach in the CaliFlorida Bowl. "If I had run them out, I would have had to close practice. After all, they are citizens, too, and I didn't know that much about them."

The AFCA discussed ways to empower high school coaches' and guidance counselors' roles in the recruiting process.

Craig Barnes can be reached at [email protected]

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