The end of the college football season occurred this past weekend for some teams, which means that the first group of athletes eligible for the NFL draft can sign with agents. Securing new clients is the critical rite of passage for agents. There are many qualified and talented aspirants that are just as talented as the dominant agents, but unless they can convince an athlete to hire them, they do not have a practice.
The rules of collegiate eligibility prohibit a player from orally or in written form "signing" with an agent. Players and their families are also prohibited from "taking something of value" from an agent. Players and their families are allowed to talk with agents at any time after exiting the maternity ward. The NFL Players Association has rules restricting the conduct in recruiting of certified agents. There are state laws which require registration by agents before talking with an athlete. Many schools have their own rules governing when and how contact can occur with an athlete.
Agent and financial planning processes have evolved into A Tale of Two Cities. Athletes that come from a background with strong parental presence usually have their parents or a family friend as a screener of prospective professionals. All agent calls have to flow through the parent or designated buffer. Since there is nothing an agent can do for a collegiate player that enhances their playing ability or academic pursuits while the season is going on, this allows the player to focus on playing well.
Athletes without qualified family or outside help can use their schools and compliance to navigate the process. This first group of athletes will establish an interview process that does due diligence into the background and qualifications of agents. Generally a small group of agents are allowed to make presentations and the athlete narrows down the options until he makes a decision.
These processes are so thorough that candidates could probably be confirmed as Secretary of State more easily. The NFL Players Association provides information and suggested questions for agents interviews. Players in this first group tend to make intelligent decisions and receive qualified help throughout their career.
Unfortunately, there is a second group of collegiate athletes who do not seek outside help and do not have parental involvement. They are unprotected in the interactions with agents and financial planners. It is this group that often takes money or benefits from agents during school. They sign with dubious agents and unqualified financial planners. They may sign power of attorney over to these agents. This is the genesis of many later difficulties.
The process of decision making has been accelerated in recent years. Players used to take their time in the selection process. I agreed to represent players like Jim Harbaugh and Edgerrin James after the draft. Today, agents have assumed the responsibility for financing a training program to prepare draftees for the scouting combine and pro scouting day experiences. This training can begin as early as late December for players whose season is finished. Most players have selected their representation by mid-January.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.