This week, ESPN’s Darren Rovell wrote a good story about the growth of the sports agent industry partly as a result of the release of the movie, Jerry Maguire, 20 years ago this week. There’s no denying there are more contract advisors vying for NFL clients today than there were two decades ago.
Here’s another area that’s boomed: sports management programs at national universities. Rovell notes, correctly, that as more young people have sought to enter sports fields, schools have tried to accommodate them. Today, there are 42 states (plus D.C.) with at least one school offering a sports management program, bachelor’s, master’s and/or doctoral. Five states have at least 14 (14!) schools that offer a sports management program. By the way, these numbers are courtesy of the North American Society for Sports Management. Oh yes, there’s also now a North American Society for Sports Management (NASSM) and dozens of other clubs, groups and fraternities for aspiring sports management types.
The point is that academia has wholly embraced the sports agent trend and — are you sitting down? — even monetized it. Hey, that’s capitalism. There’d probably be no Inside the League, and a host of other small businesses that are part of this cottage industry, if not for the sports agent trend. More power to ’em.
So here’s the problem. Once these young people absorb morsels of wisdom on ethics, contract negotiation and whatnot from these fine institutions of learning for four or five years, they often pursue careers as contract advisors — and immediately become persona non grata at the very schools from which they graduated.
Here’s an example. One of my longtime clients graduated from one of the finer schools in the Southeast (undergrad and master’s), and he’s a proud alumnus. However, when he tries to attend a pro day, or recruit a player, or otherwise conduct business as a contract advisor, his alma mater goes out of its way to make life hard for him. He has to sit in a special section when he accompanies his client to a workout; he can only contact draft-eligible seniors when the school says he can (though there are no laws forbidding it); and there are a number of other hoops he has to jump through. Naturally, the school didn’t mention any of this while it was drafting his account for probably around $100,000 over a five- to six-year period.
So what’s my point? How about a little honesty from schools? It’s not fair for the sports management program to teach these young people that as long as they play by a certain set of rules they can achieve success, then see these schools’ own athletic departments set up a whole different set of rules that are mostly unachievable.
If a school wants to keep its student-athletes safe and warm (and mostly uneducated) behind a big, beautiful wall, don’t accept millions of dollars from students. It’s duplicitous and dishonest, and it would be a better world if we had a lot less of both of those.