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Runners and Recruiting: A Roundtable, Part 2

Rodney Guillory. It's a name we have learned in recent days, thanks to Kelly Naqi and her Outside the Lines investigation.

Guillory, we have learned, has reportedly been acting like a runner.

OK, you say, fine.

But what exactly is a runner? How big a part of basketball are such people? What are the rules of being a runner. Does anyone get hurt in the process?

TrueHoop convened a roundtable of experts to talk about it. The first part of the conversation was published yesterday.

The participants:

James TannerJames Tanner is a lawyer and agent working for Washington D.C.'s Williams & Connolly. Tanner represents Josh Childress, Marvin Williams, Brandan Wright, Zaza Pachulia, Morris Almond, DeVon Hardin. Together with Lon Babby he represents Grant Hill, Tim Duncan, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Bruce Bowen, Andre Miller, and others. Tanner has a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, B.A. and a J.D. from the University of Chicago.

David ThorpeDavid Thorpe is an NBA analyst for ESPN.com and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for NBA and college players. Thorpe has coached for more than two decades, in recent years focusing on professional clients who have included Kevin Martin, Udonis Haslem, Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas, Daniel Santiago, Jared Jeffries, Kyrylo Fesenko, and others.

Jason LevienJason Levien is an attorney, agent, and founder of Levien Sports Representation. He represents players including Kevin Martin, Kyrylo Fesenko, Orien Greene, Loren Woods, Courtney Lee, and Pat Calathes. A graduate of Pomona College, where he was a member of the basketball team, Levien served as an editor of the Michigan Law Review while earning his law degree and master's in public policy from the University of Michigan. Levien has had faculty appointments at the University of Michigan and Harvard Law School.

Marc IsenbergMarc Isenberg is the author of "Money Players: A Guide to Success in Sports, Business & Life for Current and Future Pro Athletes." He also co-authored "The Student-Athlete Survival Guide," a book that helps athletes make the transition from high school to college and succeed once there.

Joining the conversation in progress ...

Jason Levien: I want to ask you one other thing: What is the plan?

Certainly one of those plans would be to have some type of body that actually is interested and cleaning it up and finding out the truth.

I think it's pretty fair for us to say, whether the NCAA's intentions were good or not is a separate issue, the result isn't so good, because these players are in the NCAA. These things are happening all the time. And maybe it's beyond their ability to do so. But there certainly could be a system created where, for example, I mean, here we are, we all know that we're supposed to watch ourselves at airports and transportation systems, be on the watch for this, this, this. If you see a stray backpack on the side of the road, people go crazy.

Yet we see very similar things going on at college campuses or at AAU, basketball high school tournaments, doesn't have to be AAU, could be a regular school event, and nothing is done about it. So if you have someone to go to and say, listen, I see this guy, here is his card, here is his name, here is what I think is going on. Who would you send it to and what would they do about it? Like I said before, everyone kind of knows what is going on, but who is going to follow up on it, even if it's reported in the first place? If you know there's a guy out there telling people he can get you a SAT score, he works for an agent, he's connected to colleges, he's trying to get commissions when he delivers a guy to an agent, even if he's committing all sorts of crimes or rules against the NCAA, who would do anything about it?

James Tanner: That's the big question.

Marc Isenberg: There's a lot of look-the-other-way mentality that's pervasive, not just among fellow agents. I wrote extensively about David Falk, about all the accusations that he was putting out there. And then I remember a few months ago Nick Saban, the coach at Alabama football, was quoted as saying that he documents all the transgressions of his fellow coaches and he keeps a file on them because I think basically what he wants to do is if he's ever put in a situation where somebody turns him in, I mean, he can up the ante. So I think that's really the vigilante justice that's going on in this industry. Nobody wants to shed light on what is actually going on. There's this acceptance of it.

And at the end of the day the athletes are getting hurt during the recruiting process from high school to college and then college to professional sports and once they're in their college career. I think that education is a great concept. And it's certainly not the magic pill. But for those athletes that don't want to be exploited, don't want to be taken advantage of they're going to become more active in managing their business and professional careers.

One last topic: I feel schizophrenic. I've had meaningful conversations with people this week along the lines of sending some money or benefits along, down the line, towards somebody who's influential to a young player is just kind of the way the business goes and there's not really a real victim to that crime, and you're naive if you don't think it happens. What's the big deal? That's one rationale, that actually if you put aside NCAA rules and whatnot, I guess I can theoretically understand that.

The other thing is, even people who say that to me also say, I would never pay a runner, I'd never be involved in this kind of recruitment.

Which makes me think, Hmm, either there's something wrong with it or there isn't.

I suspect we could all see both sides of that conversation. I was wondering if you could, in whatever order you feel like talking, just address that schizophrenia I'm feeling there.

David Thorpe: In business, you do what you have to do. You have your office manager, if you're running an office, and people are always bringing in bagels, cream cheese, donuts, whatever else. If your office manager is in charge of making decisions for your business, the people that are selling or hoping to service your business, are making sure that that decision maker is well thought of and really likes the people that come and sell things to your firm.

That's really what we're talking about here.

But the difference would be, I would suggest, we're ultimately talking about the life management of a young person's next 10 to potentially 40 years. And that shouldn't be influenced by donuts and bagels and cream cheese. (Or in a more realistic case lots of money or equipment or tickets.)

I have kids with limo rides, tr
ips to places, really exotic situations. These players don't have the wherewithal in almost any case to navigate through that. Adults sometimes don't. So as someone in the business of literally having helped players, I've got players that will make $11 million this year and I have players that are hoping to make $22,000 in the D-League. I love them all. They're all great kids. They need help in managing their careers.

Every one of them has different needs. That decision on who should help them shouldn't be because of some relationship that that person's family or friend has or some kind of money or some other transaction that took place.

James Tanner: I think there definitely is a victim to that style of recruiting. I think the victim is the player. The player is deprived, first, of knowing what the ulterior motives are of the people around him if they're accepting things on his behalf.

Secondly, I think the player is deprived of the opportunity to make the best decision for him. If you're going to choose representation based on these relationships as opposed to making a decision on the merits and really hearing what people have to say, then selecting the best representative for you, then I think you are a victim, and I think it deprives you of that opportunity.

Jason Levien: I think there are three questions you have to ask yourself, as an agent. First is, does it make good business sense. Secondly, is it good for the player and is it right. And thirdly, is it against the law.

If you're an agent looking at it, number one, I think you stop yourself and say, we might want to change these laws. There are some serious criminal penalties on the books right now from that standpoint.

Does it make good business sense? Generally I don't see -- in a lot of cases -- how the business adds up if you're paying people to get to a player.

Then, thirdly, as Jim pointed out, I just think it's wrong for the player and ultimately they are the victims here. It's the point I made earlier about all these relationships, people trying to monetize their relationships with the player without the player having full disclosure about what their agenda is. It's complicated and it creates a lot of confusion and a lot of mistrust. And I don't think it ultimately leads the player to making an informed business decision about their future.

So on all three examples, maybe the first one about the business sense, maybe for some people trying to get in the business, it would make sense. But on the other two, I think it would clearly knock you out and say, A, the laws are on the books and, B, ultimately the player is the victim in that.

Marc Isenberg: I have the unenviable task of going last because you all make good points. A few thoughts that echo what statements have already made.

Number one, whatever benefits that are being offered to these players is not sufficient competition to the risks of their eligibility. That agent is knowingly exposing an athlete to a mine field of potential hazards, risk to their eligibility, the agent laws. Really what we also have to get down to is just how business is conducted in the real world and understanding that the payments typically would flow from the person who is having the services provided to the service provider. And this sort of changes the whole dynamics of that relationship.

And ultimately it compromises the ability to think clearly when it comes time to selecting an agent and you're selecting that agent on all the wrong merits. And I think that that's really at the crux of this. Whatever money we're talking about, it's still chump change. It's $50,000, it's $100,000. Whatever the rumors are, ultimately as I said before, this is small potatoes relative to the big issues of being a marketable professional athlete that has the potential to make 5, 10, 20 million dollars a year from their playing career and then whatever else from their marketing deals.

David Thorpe: As an agent, how do you have a positive and successful relationship with a player and the people around them when they've chosen you based on that? I think it's very difficult to do that. Because the player is putting a lot of trust in your guidance and your counsel. If it's based on a monetary inducement to do so, I can't see how you ever really have the trust and the proper relationship with that individual and their family going forward.

A higher bidder could come down the road at any time if it's all about the money, right?

David Thorpe: Right, but they are still doing it. The reality is, we all know it's happening.

Henry, I'd like to throw in one last point that I think is maybe the most important of all. You and I probably deal with as many agents as anyone outside of a general manager, talking to them, learning the business.

This is not the first time there's been a story about something like this. But it's the first time I've experienced a real push back from the agents and agencies I deal with saying, We've got to fix this.

And the reason why I think it's happening finally, I'll give you an example from a friend of mine in the camp business. He's really trying to be a leader in regulating the summer camp industry, because in the absence of self-regulation, you then allow people like Congress or the state legislatures to regulate it.

And they're not going to do it with the interests of the business of the summer camp industry.

If you wait long enough and don't regulate it by yourselves, all of a sudden you're in the camp business, the horrible thing happens, young people are molested or wounded or worse, well, now Congress gets involved, the government gets involved, and they put so much bureaucracy into it, there's so many things you have to fill out, so many more background checks, whatever, all of a sudden it's very hard to make any money in the camp industry.

So that's why you've got real leaders in that industry, like any other industry, trying to self-regulate it first.

We have the same situation here. As some point something so terrible is going to happen because of the flaunting of the laws. And Jason made an important point. These are laws that are on the books. Whether they should be or not is a separate issue. Laws are being broken within the state, not just one state, many different states, depending on the situation. And in the absence of any kind of self-regulation within that industry, the agent industry, at some point something terrible is going to happen, and now the government is going to have to get involved and make it a much more difficult and onerous business to navigate successfully both for their business and the player. That's the point I see.

It's great to see agents concerned. Now clean it up, get it right, do the best you can before someone else does it for you and makes it much worse.