I just wanted to weigh in briefly on an agent incident that’s gotten a lot of play lately.
It involves Justin Bingman, an agent based in Pacific, Mo., who’s entering his second year as a contract advisor. Justin’s a client and a friend, and while I won’t defend what he did in this story — and neither would he — I think it’s really important we give this story a little perspective.
When prospective NFLPA contract advisors are pursuing certification, they take a written test at the end of July, then find out whether or not they passed the test in late September/early October. That means they’re essentially trying to board a fast-moving car if they want to jump into recruiting that year. This is one reason it’s so hard for first-year agents to sign a solid prospect in their first year certified. At the same time, all agents are facing a three-year clock for getting a player on an NFL roster, or that agent has his certification pulled. If he wants to keep going, he has to pay the initiation fee of almost $3,000 again as well as taking the exam again. The clock starts the moment the agent gets word that he has passed the exam, so most of the time, Year 1 is a wash, making it a two-year proposition to get a player signed to an NFL deal.
For this reason, when the following spring arrives, most agents are excited to apply all the lessons they’ve learned in their first six months as registered agents. It’s their first chance to really get in on the ground floor with legitimate prospects. It was in this spirit that Justin reached out to a few University of Texas prospects this spring.
I don’t remember exactly how our conversation was initiated, but somehow last spring, we discussed the fact that he had dined with a a few Longhorns in a recruiting capacity. In the course of speaking, it became obvious he had covered the costs of their meals. Even as a rookie agent, it’s something he should have known, no doubt. Still, I’m sure Justin approached this the same way he would approach any business meetup involving a light meal. At any rate, the way I remember things, I made it clear he had made a misstep, and he got off the phone in short order. I presumed he was excusing himself to set things right immediately. I still believe that.
I realize there’s a great misconception among fans regarding the agent industry. Many feel that any contact between agents and players results in immediate loss of eligibility. That’s not true. The only mistake Justin made was covering the costs of the meals. It’s a mistake I doubt Justin will ever make again.
Once again, I’m not defending Justin, and he wouldn’t expect me to, anyway. But there’s a certain level of hyperbole that comes with any minor mistakes by NFLPA contract advisors, and it’s important to separate the minor mistakes from the big, intentional ones that take down programs.
College football has a number of systemic problems with the mega-agencies that won’t be solved easily. They include coaches who funnel players to their agents; payments and other accommodations made with the parents or advisors of top players; financial advisors, workout trainers, and others who work as de facto runners for agents; and compliance departments who are afraid to stand up to the powers-that-be in the name of transparency and education.
Justin will most likely face some kind of sanctions from the NFLPA over this, and may have his registration with the Secretary of State of Texas pulled. He’ll also get hammered mercilessly on social media because he made a rookie agent mistake. My guess is that the players will have to make restitution and may have to sit out an early-season game.
At any rate, my point is not to excuse what Justin did. Instead, it’s this: if we want to be honest about really regulating the industry and rooting out the exploitation of student-athletes, we can’t treat incidents such as these as if they were treasonous, punish the bad actor mercilessly, and then act as if a dragon has been slayed. If we really want to fix these kinds of problems, we’ve got a long way to go.