“The line needs to move,” Smith said during a 90-minute educational session on the opening day of the NCAA’s annual convention. “Where you move and how far you move, that’s the question we’re trying to deal with now.”
His remarks echoed those made last month by new NCAA President Mark Emmert.
A more-than-20-person working group — comprising NCAA, NFL and NFL Players Association officials, plus major-college conference commissioners, coaches and agents — has met several times in the wake of a spate of agent-related cases buffeted a number of football programs, including North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, at the start of the past season.
The panel will meet again in the next couple of months and could make recommendations by the start of next football season, said Rachel Newman Baker, the NCAA’s director of agent, gambling and amateurism activities.
Smith, president of team operations and general counsel for Priority Sports and Entertainment, whose clients include retired quarterback and two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner, lamented schools’ disparate approaches to athletes and non-athletes. Non-athletes get career counseling, internships and other networking opportunities. Beyond being groomed on the field by coaches and competition, Smith said athletes are discouraged from setting themselves up as pros.
“Whether we like it or not, these kids are going to those universities to become professional athletes,” he said. “We’ve got to put our arms around them and basically tell them, ‘We’re going to do everything we can to actually help you get to the next level. But you’ve got to have a Plan B. Let’s work on that degree. Let’s use that as our fallback.’ Not, ‘This (the degree) is most important, and we’re going to use the NFL or the NBA as a fallback.’
“We can fight that … and say, ‘This is stupid; it’s the wrong message to send.’ But, if we don’t send a message they’re receptive to, you’re wasting your breath.”
The NCAA allows contact with agents while barring athletes from striking any kind of agreements with them or accepting money or any other benefit. That’s unlikely to change. But the NFL players union could be pushed to relax its prohibition on registered agents’ contact with college players until Dec. 1 of their junior seasons.
“You need to be having those conversations their freshman, sophomore, junior years,” Newman Baker said.
The agent-issue panel also has weighed penalties, including post-college fines of players, presumably assessed by the NFLPA, for violations. The union certifies agents and can fine them for improper activity, but player fines would break new ground.