NCAA Considers a National Pro-Sports Counseling Panel

As universities look to shield their athletes from the overtures of sports agents, some officials are wondering if a national group aimed at counseling elite athletes with professional sports ambitions might help.

The NCAA’s Division I Amateurism Cabinet discussed the creation of a national professional-sports counseling panel at a meeting in Indianapolis last month. Though still in the early stages, the cabinet’s chair says the idea of having such a panel is one of several options the NCAA is considering as it digs into the agents issue.

“We all agree that we need to provide better information to our prospects and student-athletes,” says Mike Rogers, a law professor who is the faculty athletics representative at Baylor University, and chair of the cabinet. “The debate is how to best go about that.”

Some experts say the NCAA is obligated to do more to assist athletes navigating the high-stakes process of turning pro because their institutions often provide them with little or no guidance—making players more susceptible to agents’ influence.

Two-thirds of the 2,050 or so athletes drafted this year into the four major domestic pro leagues came directly from college, according to Glenn M. Wong, Warren Zola, and Chris Deubert in a new article in the Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal. But in most cases, they received little help from their institutions in getting there, the authors note.

“Given the complexities of this process, coupled with the fact that student-athletes and their families are woefully unsophisticated and unprepared, colleges and universities have done shockingly little to assist student-athletes,” they write. “With few people willing to help in the absence of a personal agenda, each year,  new crops of potential professional athletes are victimized by the process.”

The rationale of the NCAA’s proposed panel is this: Whether it’s determining when to turn pro or negotiating a contract, most athletes know very little about the process of getting from college to the professional leagues. So why not provide them with the information they need up front so they make smart decisions when the time comes?

The concept isn’t new. Since 1984, the NCAA has allowed universities to have such panels at the institutional level. But Rogers estimates that only 100 or so colleges actually have such a group. Of those that do, panel members sometimes lack the sport-specific expertise needed to be truly helpful to athletes.

At Baylor, that’s often the case, Rogers says.

“I feel like I’ve helped a significant number of student-athletes, but there are a lot who have not come to see me,” he says. “And, quite frankly, there are sports I simply know nothing about.”

Even though discussion of the national panel is still in the early stages, Rogers says the emphasis is already focused on the need for sport-specific expertise.

How that will be accomplished remains to be seen, since the NCAA bars sports agents from serving on university panels. A few members of the cabinet were open to the idea of having an agent serve on the panel to provide precisely that kind of insight, Rogers says.

With one caveat, he quickly adds: So long as they do not also represent the athletes.

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