Decertification would end union regulation of agents

The final segment of Friday’s all-CBA edition of ProFootballTalk Live featured a visit from sports lawyer David Cornwell, who was a finalist for the job of NFLPA executive director in 2009.  Cornwell helped us break down a variety of complex issues that would arise during a lockout, including possibly political pressure (he thinks it would be a mistake), the decertification process, and the legal battles that would ensue.

Near the end of the segment, in response to a question regarding the disappearance of the league’s drug-testing policies during a lockout, Cornwell explained that decertification also would end the union’s jurisdiction over agents.

“I represent agents in disciplinary matters with the players association,” Cornwell said.  “My phone’s been ringing off the hook to figure out, you know, are the agreements with players still in effect?  And are the rules about other agents tampering with my clients still in effect?”

Decertification would have several specific consequences.  As Cornwell mentioned, NFLPA rules regarding tampering would evaporate, possibly replaced by state laws regarding tortious interference with business interests.  Agents on suspension, like Gary Wichard, would no longer be on suspension.  The “Junior Rule,” which prohibits agents from contacting college players fewer than three years removed from high school, would disappear.  And even guys who have been run out of the business, like Josh Luchs (who spilled the beans about paying players to Sports Illustrated), could get back in. Speaking of paying players, agents could pay players without facing any professional sanction.  (In some states, however, it’s illegal.)

Heck, anyone could become an agent since there would be no body in place with the legal ability to guard the gate.

And to those of you thinking that it wouldn’t matter because no business would be done during a lockout, if the union’s decertify-and-sue plan works, football will continue until the eventual antitrust lawsuit is resolved.  Thus, players will need to be represented, and there will be no one regulating and certifying agents.

Though it’s more than likely that the union will reconstitute at some point in the future and clean up the agent business, the NFLPA can’t say that now, since it would strengthen the NFL’s argument that decertification is a sham, aimed only at leveraging the best possible deal.

Which, of course, it is.

Either way, one of the unintended consequences of the union’s plan will be the removal of the leashes from every current, former, suspended, and prospective agent.

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17 responses to “Decertification would end union regulation of agents

  1. I’m not picking ANY sides, but if the union decertifies, they shouldn’t be allowed to re-form for quite a while, if ever. I don’t care what ANYONE else says…it’s a bush league tactic. I miss Gene Upshaw (RIP)…..

  2. So the owners don’t use bush league tactics like locking the doors? To say you are not picking sides and then bust on the players sounds to me like picking a side.

    Bottom line is that this is business and the players don’t have very many tools in their bag so they are trying everything that they can to not get run over by the owners.

    People forget that before 1987, the players were treated horribly by the owners. Some were even blackballed. While I won’t cry for players getting paid millions for playing a game that I love, lets not pretend that the owners are the victims either.

  3. Can you just get on with this and come to an agreement please! I want some damn football this year and I want free agency! Stop all this and work it out for the fans. You know the peaple who actually give you all your money.

  4. Without the union, agents would roam free, unfettered by rules, restrictions or codes of conduct. Sort of like the Bengals 53-man roster.

  5. @prodigalpatriot71 . . . Upshaw is the guy who came up with what you’re calling a “bush league tactic.”

  6. prodigalpatriot71 says: Mar 5, 2011 8:30 AM

    I’m not picking ANY sides, but if the union decertifies, they shouldn’t be allowed to re-form for quite a while, if ever. I don’t care what ANYONE else says…it’s a bush league tactic. I miss Gene Upshaw (RIP)…..


    Hey genius…Gene Upshaw is the one who invented the decertify-for-leverage tactic.

  7. More reason (besides their hating the idea of rookie pay scale) for agents to want decertification. Sigh.
    PFT has done the best job of anywhere I know of covering all the nooks and crannies of these issues, even the obscure ones. I just wish it weren’t necessary.

  8. These are all supposedly intelligent and successful men who are involved in this negotiation. I’m sure that they can all see that a lockout/decertification is in no one’s best interest. Which is why, I imagine, that they’ve agreed to continue talks…..hopefully until they come to a resolution. Whether its a day, a week or a month, they should continue to meet until they have a new CBA. Any other course of action will be devastating to everyone involved, including the fans.
    Even if this goes until April 1st there will still be enough time to have free agency before the draft, and therefore retain the normal balance of things in the NFL.

  9. prodigalpatriot71 says:


    I have to laugh that you call it a bush league tactic and then say you miss Upshaw when he was the one who pushed decertification.

  10. Mike, congrats on an excellent PFT Live yesterday.

    Thanks to Cornwell, we now know the impact decertification could have on NCAA programs. I support decertification as countermeasure to a lockout. The tactic wouldn’t be a problem for the NCAA if it were illegal in every state for bloodsucking agents to prey on college kids. Perhaps this will convince attorneys general in states that haven’t addressed the issue to ensure agents who bribe kids are jailed and/or lose their licenses. It shouldn’t be up to unions to police corrupt business practices–that’s the responsibility of the state.

  11. With a average player IQ of 101, I think the owner’s lawyers would have a field day with them.

  12. I have an idea..Although it does have its obvious faults…If the players want to get a bigger piece of the pie. They would decertify, dump all of their agents and represent themselves. If you figure that the players wind up with, say $4B of a $9B dollar pie and you figure that they are paying agents and the union close to even 4% that puts an additional $160M back in the players pockets. Divide that by an approximate number of 60 players per team and you wind up with an average increase if $2.7M/player. Granted some are going to wind up with more than others…But it is a thought.

  13. First, silverdeer, the players weren’t the ones who launched this battle for a bigger piece of the pie. They were content with the CBA everyone signed a couple of years ago. The owners were the ones who wanted to throw out the agreement because they want a bigger piece of the pie.

    Second, I see scoobyfly is trying to feel like a big man by assuring himself his equipment … I mean, IQ … is bigger than that of the average NFL player. But it wouldn’t matter if players were Einsteins. They still couldn’t trust the league to act ethically in negotiations–especially considering that the owners are now trying to throw out a standing CBA that doesn’t expire for two more years.

    League history has demonstrated that players need agents, attorneys, and the NFLPA to represent their interests. Before those pieces were in place, they were used, abused, and tossed aside without a dime while the owners got rich on their efforts. Smart players have appropriate representation.

  14. Deb, too many people aren’t old enough to remember how it used to be and many of the young ones just assume that the players are the greedy bastards. Many of them can’t even fathom a time when there was no free agency or when players got far less of the pie or had to buy their own equipment or had no benefits or health insurance or when an owner would give a player a “bonus” and it turned out to be a loan at higher interest than he could have gotten out on the streets. Yeah, the owners are a bunch of wonderful men to back in this deal. 🙂

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