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Monday, July 24, 2006
Phil Kessel: Getting Help from a Family Friend or Representation by an Agent?

But you say he's just a friend.
But you say he's just a friend.
--Biz Marke, from his sublime 1988 song "Just a Friend"

It's not too often when I can invoke lyrics by the great artist, Biz Markie, but they come to mind when reading about the Boston Bruins' contract negotiations with first round draft pick Phil Kessel, a rising sophomore at the University of Minnesota, and Kessel's "family advisor," Wade Arnott.

Here's the deal: although Wade Arnott is an NHLPA certified agent--and a well-respected one at that--who works for the sports agency Newport Sports Management, he is not acting as Kessel's agent in Kessel's contract negotiations with the Bruins.

Rather, he's acting as Kessel's "family advisor" or "family friend."

What's the difference? Well, possibly two things: Arnott is not being compensated in any way by Kessel, and there is no contractual relationship between the two. But those may only be illusory distinctions: even if Arnott were Kessel's agent, his compensation would likely be derived by a 2% or 3% cut of Kessel's contract, and because it's expected that Kessel will sign with Arnott as a client right before he signs with the Bruins as an employee, Arnott will still get that cut as a friend. Moreover, Kessel, like any player, can likely drop Arnott at any time, for any reason, with or without a contractual relationship (meaning the existence of a contractual relationship may not be meaningful).

So why the difference? By Arnott being labeled a "family advisor" or "family friend," Kessel can maintain his NCAA eligibility. So if Kessel's contract talks with the Bruins were to fail, he can return to the University of Minnesota and play there in the 2006-07 season. In contrast, if Kessel were to formally sign with Arnott, NCAA rules dictate that he would immediately forfeit his collegiate eligibility.

While I understand that this arrangement bolsters the negotiating power of amateur players, is the NCAA really fooling anyone by engaging in name semantics? If they are really worried about the undue influence of agents (a legitimate concern) why are they letting the very same agents get around the rules by acting as "family friends"?


They're not fooling me at all with semantics.

Blogger -- 7/24/2006 10:55 PM  

I feel that if Kessel was a high profile Division I football or basketball player rather than an incredible talent in Division I hockey, there would be an investigation into the activities of the two. Although I know that hockey is greatly important to a wide spectrum of American sports fans, it does not garner the same attention that sports such as football and basketball do nationally.

My personal feelings towards this situation are that if there is no compensation/incentives given by this "family friend," there is not much the NCAA can do. My concern over situations of the like are that athletes are very susceptive to someone telling them what they like to hear, which in numerous cases (including a number that have affected the football team I follow) turns out to be a detriment to their future. What most athletes don't look at is the reputation of the "friend" and their track record with the sport that they potentially have a future in. A large majority of the representation that these incredible athletes seek do not have the best interests of the player in mind; their (the representative's) own personal agenda shines through many times when it is too late. When money and status come into play, often times rationale is thrown out the window.

I think that this is a major concern in collegiate athletics and I believe that there should be hightened scrutiny when it comes to certifying athletic representation. Those athletes that stand to make the most money are often guided by those who are looking to cash in, while the good representatives are left hanging out to dry.

Anonymous bhbarron1 -- 7/25/2006 12:12 AM  

This has been going on forever. Ron Simon wrote in his book, The Game Behind the Game, about how he from time to time had to act as a family advisor in certain situations. Also, just think how hard it is for the all to common combo football baseball player. Coming out of high school they have two choices pro baseball or college football. Is it fair to ask the young persons family to deal with a professional baseball club with very little knowledge of the workings of a typical contract and at the same time stay under strick NCAA guidelines? And you also have to look at what is happening with college basketball players. NCAA guidelines put in place to limit players leaving are actually doing the opposite. These players are basically being forced to turn pro if they really want to find out were they stand on teams draft boards. Most players are not able to afford all the travel costs associated with various workouts and camps and there for feel that they cannot truley show off their skills unless they have someone who provides a means to attend those workouts.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/25/2006 2:40 AM  

I believe that the Section 12.3.4 of the NCAA Bylaws allows an authorized institutional professional sports counseling panel to do a lot of things including giving advice on pro-sports career, counseling, communicating directly with the pro teams or even to negotiate professional contracts.... etc. It certainly does look like it’s working. Instead of this “peculiar” no-agent rule, I wonder if the NCAA could just draft a "Standard Athlete-Agent Representation Agreements" so that the NCAA could address their (perceived) concerns about fairness to all athletes and at the same time allow athletes to explore the ranges of career options with an agent. After all, what happen to the Freedom to Contract?

Anonymous Sokki -- 7/25/2006 4:02 AM  

Just more reason for agents to introduce themselves to promising athletes at even younger ages, so as to help them establish a long-lasting, mentor/family-like relationship that can later be alleged to have preceded any need for an agent-client relationship.

Blogger Scott -- 7/25/2006 12:41 PM  

I dont see why compensation should be a bad idea.
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Blogger clippsguy1 -- 7/26/2006 4:52 AM  

This type of arrangement is most prevalent in baseball and hockey. This interesting comparison from an NCAA perspective should be to basketball and football. The NCAA is very adamant about it being a violation of NCAA rules for both written and verbal agreements to be represented by an agent. How would you define Arnott's arrangement with Kessel? Is it simply the "revenue generation" impact which dictates which rule or interpretation to follow?

Blogger sparty43 -- 8/02/2006 1:36 PM  

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