NCAA’s Engagement and Expectations with its Student-Athletes is Changing

Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press (Darron Cummings/Associated Press)

For a long time, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) has enforced strict rules of amateurism regarding students enrolled at their Member academic institutions.  Specifically, and until recently, not allowing student-athletes to sign with an agent, while the National Football League (“NFL”) and the National Basketball Association (“NBA”) have enforced rules on high school athletes being forced to go through NCAA Member institutions to be drafted without the option of a minor league system.  More recently, the Fair Pay to Play Act in California and the NCAA’s proposed changes on freedom of choice, discussed in depth herein, will provide more engagement and different expectations for NCAA student-athletes.   

There are three major changes to the NCAA rules, but most importantly, student-athletes will now be able to officially be associated with sports agents and attorneys and those individuals will have standards to reach before representing the player.  Agents must now meet the following three criteria:

1. The agent must have a bachelor’s degree [since removed as a requirement];

2. The agent must be certified by the National Basketball Players Association (“NBPA”) for at least three years; and

3. The agent must take, and pass, an in-person exam at the NCAA’s headquarters in Indianapolis, IN.

For a certified player-agent, the above rules should come as no surprise because with the NBPA, NFL, and Major League Baseball (“MLB”) Players Associations (“NFLPA”, “MLBPA”), the agent-applicant must adhere to many of the same requirements before becoming certified.  The NFLPA actually requires a masters or graduate degree for certification.  All three of the aforementioned require taking and passing a test based on their own collective(ly) bargained agreement (“CBA”).  Of course background checks are standard are also standard. 

Furthermore, with the NFLPA, a certified agent must have a player on a roster of an NFL team within three-years of being certified or lose their certification and have to go through the entire process again.  With the MLBPA, a player-agent cannot be officially certified until the applicant has a player on a 40-man roster of a Major League Baseball team.  The above requirements are in place to protect the player and to have a standard of ethics and responsibility when entering a representation relationship and negotiation with teams and leagues.  Teams will actually not allow an uncertified agent negotiate contracts.

The NCAA wants to create a similar environment where rules help to govern relationships.  Representation is essential, especially where money is involved through student-athlete-soon-to-be-professional-in-something decision-making, sponsorships, and the like.  The NCAA has realized that it cannot control every aspect of a student-athletes life and sees the value in having a stronger organizational structure.  From a representation standpoint, we should applaud this effort to see the NCAA pivot from being against allowing representation to instituting a structure by which young adults can navigate their careers in sports or otherwise through good advice and great advocates.  If fools represents themselves, having access to good representation is necessary. 

The argument against representation rules has to do with standards that go towards those who have not earned a degree (again, removed as a requirement), have not passed an exam, and/or those who do not have the requisite experience.  From a legal standpoint, one needs to be licensed to practice law, sell real estate, and practice medicine.  For those representing student-athletes, it is important that they do have standards.  Similar to the entertainment business, there can always be exceptions (or grandfathered-in clauses) where licensed-agents can work with unlicensed-agents, attorneys using paralegals, and managers who currently only need a business license (e.g., pay a tax) in both the entertainment, media, and sports space.  People can still have a career and a roster of talent, it just has to be done through a more refined prism.         

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