Next month, the Major League Baseball Players Association will become the third professional sports union -- after football and basketball -- to adopt a policy regulating the activities of agents. "We're not out there to try to kill an agent," said Mark Belanger, a baseball union official. "We're just trying to get rid of the guys who are unfair, who are gouging the players."
The relationship between agents and athletes is perhaps the most volatile in all of sport. Rare is the week when a player isn't claiming he was wronged by an agent. Based on interviews with players, agents and college and pro sports officials, these are some of the most commonly heard complaints:
The early hustle. To get a competitive head start, some agents begin recruiting athletes as soon as they arrive on college campuses -- or sooner. The mother of Southern California basketball player Anthony Pendleton was contacted by an agent during her son's senior year in high school, according to USC Coach George Raveling. "This agent wanted to represent Anthony," Raveling said. "Anthony's mother said she told the agent, 'My son hasn't even finished his senior year of high school yet. Don't you think you're presumptuous to think he's going to be a pro?' "
Excessive fees. Used to be, agents would charge NBA players hefty 10 percent fees to negotiate their contracts -- and some would charge even more. Under rules adopted last year by the National Basketball Players Association, agents can no longer charge more than 4 percent for negotiating contracts. The NFL Players Association also limits agents' fees, but the new baseball regulations will not. The NHL players union does not attempt to regulate agents.
Conflicts of interest. Some big-time player agents also represent coaches and club officials, creating a potential conflict of interest. Says baseball union chief Don Fehr: "It would be terribly uncomfortable for somebody to represent a general manager in negotiations with an owner over what the GM's salary is going to be, then turn around and represent a player in negotiations with that GM. That's intolerable." Under their agent certification rules, the baseball and basketball unions forbid player agents from representing club officials. The NFL Players Association has no such prohibition, so long as an agent advises his player clients of any club officials he represents. Which explains why Marv Demoff, a Los Angeles-based agent, represents both the quarterback (Jay Schroeder) and general manager (Bobby Beathard) of the Washington Redskins.
Mismanagement of funds. As salaries of pro athletes have increased, so have the number of lawsuits filed by athletes against their agent/business advisors. "The charge comes up: 'I don't know where my money is,' " said NBPA Executive Vice President Charles Grantham. "We're presently trying to work out a dispute for a player whose agent cannot explain where $25,000 or $30,000 of the player's money has gone." The most celebrated player-agent dispute involves Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who is alleging in a lawsuit filed in California that he lost $9 million as a result of fraud, negligence and malpractice by his former agent, Tom Collins, and others. Collins has denied the charges. The case may take several years to settle.
Illegal inducements. New York Giants all-pro linebacker Lawrence Taylor has alleged that he was offered "drugs" and "women" as inducements to sign with agents when he was a senior at North Carolina. In 1984, a Dallas newspaper quoted an agent as saying he offered prostitutes to players he was recruiting. "This is not like being a pimp," the agent was quoted. "A pimp uses someone's body and collects all the assets. This is just being a clever businessman."