I decided to ask veteran NBA agent Mark Termini, whose Mark Termini Associates is based in Brecksville, about the story and his reactions; as always, he responded in a reasoned, thoughtful way.
Here, the first installment of Five Really Good Minutes, with the respected Termini.
SportsBiz: What were your initial reactions to the story? Were you surprised that this agent came forward with all of this?
Mark Termini: This story has been repeated several times over the past 25-plus years that I’ve been in the business of representing professional athletes, so I wasn’t surprised. When you examine the story carefully, you see that the ex-agent (who really was more of a “runner”) was motivated by his desire to strike back at the “name brand” agent that he felt had wronged him. So my initial reaction was that another ex-agent was drawing attention to himself by disclosing practices that have been going on since the first pro athlete hired the first pro sports agent.
SportsBiz: He alluded to this being common practice in the NFL, and we’ve seen the cases of Southern Cal’s Reggie Bush, North Carolina’s Marvin Austin and others recently. Is this becoming more common, in your view?
Mark Termini: This practice has been common for over 30 years. It just garners attention when someone shines a light on it every 10 years or so.
SportsBiz: Is the NCAA ultimately at fault here, given that it’s that body’s responsibility to govern the athletes and agents? Or is too great a task to ask anyone to perform, given the number of athletes potentially targeted by agents?
Mark Termini: The answer to these questions really flow from where you sit in relation to the industry that big-time collegiate sports has become, and how honest you want to be about why restrictions are put in place and the true objectives of all the parties “in the game.”
First, I don’t view the situation as being anyone’s “fault.” The system generates incredibly significant financial revenue. Within that system, collegiate coaches often receive salaries of $2-4 million dollars per year, and athletic directors are making salaries of over $1 million per year. The stadiums and arenas of many big-time schools enjoy attendance that rivals and surpasses the fan support for many pro teams. When a player operates within that system, many view an outside actor (such as an agent, financial planner, insurance salesman, personal trainer, etc.) who offers them money for a vehicle or to fly their parents to a game as providing them with a benefit they deserve or should be entitled to.
Each player, and each agent, decides if they will respect the NCAA rules or not. I have chosen to operate within the rules and to compete in other ways. I don’t draw any moral conclusions about how other agents and their players choose to behave. It’s just business. And that’s the reality for everyone that is involved, because everyone is working to protect their own interests. Given this scenario where such a huge gap exists between the income generated by the games and the financial reality for many of the athletes, it will be difficult for any person or entity to legally “govern” the activities involved.
SportsBiz: As far as you can tell, is this prevalent in other sports as well?
Mark Termini: In any collegiate sport where the athlete has some potential professional prospects, outside actors will work to address the perceived need for money or things of value that the athlete is not receiving while competing at the college level.
SportsBiz: I’m told each sport’s respective players association keeps tabs on the agents registered in those sports. Can you tell me, in your case, what the NBAPA’s oversight is like?
Mark Termini: The National Basketball Players Association has regulations on its books that prohibit the use of financial inducements by certified agents to sign clients. In my 25 years of representing NBA players, I am familiar with action being taken once or twice for violation of these rules.
SportsBiz: Do stories like these upset agents who don’t resort to such tactics to build their client bases?
Mark Termini: Many experienced and successful agents sometimes employ the tactics cited in this story. That has been the nature of the business for over 40 years, and it will continue so long as some collegiate athletes feel they are being treated unfairly by the system. I have chosen to build a practice without violating the NCAA restrictions, but agents without a track record or experience level to enable them to compete for players without paying will find it almost impossible to gain entree to the business or to sustain any significant longevity.
I was fortunate to begin my career at a time when the opportunities were somewhat more available, but the environment has definitely evolved to a point that frustrates agents who are deciding how they want to operate.