Sports Law Advice for Amateurs

Key Contact for Sports Law Services: Edward J. Hayes

An amateur athlete with great athletic talent faces a difficult challenge when he or she becomes eligible for the professional draft. It is critical that players and their parents understand the rules of the game as they relate to activities surrounding the draft. Decisions need to be made very early on which can impact the round in which the player is drafted, the money which the player will be offered, and the bargaining power the player has in the draft. We counsel players and their families in all aspects of the amateur draft.

Once the player's reputation becomes known, the ball clubs make an effort to get that player to commit to certain things which will help the club in their selection analysis. Players are rated not only on their "ability" but also their "signability." We provide advice on how to deal with scouts and inquiries from professional ball clubs. Extreme caution must be used when approached by ball clubs so as to maintain all of the bargaining leverage the player may have.

Amateur players must also be careful and aware of any NCAA eligibility the player may have remaining. The rules and regulations of the NCAA (www.ncaa.org) are complex and a thorough understanding of the rules is necessary to enable players and their families to know what can and cannot be done as part of this process. We are knowledgeable in those rules and have been providing advice to high school and college players for over 15 years.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Draft Process

When is the free agent baseball draft?
The free agent baseball draft is held the first week in June each year. The draft is held via a telephone conference call and generally takes two days to complete. Although clubs do not have to select a player in every round, the draft can continue for 50 rounds.

When am I eligible for the baseball draft?
The first group of players eligible for the free agent draft are graduating high school seniors. Junior college players are also eligible. Players attending a four-year college are not eligible for the draft until after the completion of their junior year of college or if they turn 21 within 45 days of the draft. If you are a college player who has dropped out of school, you must apply in writing to the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball to be eligible for the draft.

What role do the scouts play in this process?
Although a scout will try to appear to be a friend of your parents and you, it is important to remember that the scouts work for the professional teams. The team's goal is to draft the best possible players available and to sign them for the least amount of money possible. As a result, your goals and the scout's goals may be very different.

Scouts will be evaluating you on two separate and independent items. First, they are trying to evaluate your ability. How well you play the game, what is your mental make-up and what tools do you possess, all go into the scout's analysis of the possibility that you could play at the major league level. Over the last several years, teams have also pressed their scouts to work even harder on the second element to be evaluated, i.e. signability. A club does not want to go into the draft without knowing what it will take to sign a player it drafts. Knowing how to respond to inquiries from scouts about the amount of money you are looking for is a key thing to master. You never want to commit yourself to a specific dollar amount prior to the draft.

Can I hire an agent to represent me in the draft?
A player cannot hire an agent without losing the eligibility to participate in intercollegiate baseball. The National Collegiate Athletic Association rules state that an individual shall be ineligible for participation in an intercollegiate sport if he ever has agreed (orally or in writing) to be represented by an agent for the purpose of marketing his athletic ability or reputation in that sport. See NCAA Rule 12.3.1.

Intercollegiate eligibility is one of the player's major bargaining points that should be protected at all costs. Once lost, the team knows the player has no options and will likely be forced to accept the team's offer.

Can I hire a lawyer?
You are permitted to hire a lawyer to assist you with a professional contract. The NCAA Rules provide that securing advice from a lawyer concerning a proposed professional sports contract shall not be considered contracting for representation by an agent, unless the lawyer represents the student in actual negotiations for the contract. See, NCAA Rule 12.3.2.

Can an agent or lawyer take my parents and me to lunch?
While your parents and you are permitted to go to lunch or dinner with a prospective agent or lawyer, the agent or lawyer cannot pay for your transportation to the restaurant or pay for your meal. In order to preserve your intercollegiate eligibility, your parents and you would be required to pay for the cost of your own meals.

What if the team wants me to participate in a try-out?
The rules pertaining to try-outs with professional teams differ depending on your status. If you are a high school player, you can attend a try-out with a professional team, at the team's expense. The visit cannot exceed 48 hours, and the only monies that can be paid are the actual and necessary expenses of the visit.

If you are a college player, the rules are different. In order to preserve your intercollegiate eligibility, you are not permitted to try-out with a professional team during any part of the academic year. You are only permitted to try-out during the summer and you are not permitted to receive any form of expenses from the team.

If I am drafted, what happens next?
If you are drafted, you will be called by the local scout to advise you that you have been drafted. The scout will generally try to set up a meeting at your house to begin negotiations for a contract as soon as possible. The team is obligated to present to you a written minor league contract within 15 days of the date on which you are selected. If that tender is not made, you are a free agent. In order to prove that they did tender you a contract, many teams send the contract to you via certified mail, return receipt requested.

Can my lawyer negotiate with the team for me?
Although you may retain a lawyer to assist you, the lawyer may not conduct negotiations on your behalf and cannot be present during your negotiations with the team. The NCAA Rules indicate that a lawyer's presence during negotiations is considered representation by an agent. See NCAA Rule 12.3.2.1

Can my parents negotiate with the team for me?
The NCAA does permit your parents or your legal guardian to participate with you in the negotiation process.

How long does the club hold rights to negotiate with me?
Once you are drafted, the club has the exclusive right to negotiate a professional contract with you. That right continues until one week prior to the next year's draft if you do not attend school, or until the high school player starts his college education, or the college player returns to complete his college education. Once you attend classes, the team no longer has the right to sign you. The team can select you during the next draft you are eligible for. However, the club will need to have you sign a form that permits you to be selected by that team. If you are not satisfied with the way the team treated you during negotiations, you should not sign the consent to re-select form.

What types of things do we negotiate?
A minor league contract is a standard form contract. Except for the very few players who are fortunate enough to sign major league contracts when they are drafted, you will be subject to the terms of the minor league contract. You do not negotiate your monthly salary. All players signing minor league contracts are paid a salary of $850 per month during the season. There is no pay in the off-season.

The only items you will negotiate are bonuses and there are three types of bonuses to try to obtain. The first is the "signing" bonus. This bonus is paid to you by simply agreeing to a contract with the club. Once you sign your contract, you have earned the signing bonus. The amount of the signing bonus will in large part be determined by the round you are drafted in and your status in school (i.e. high school, college junior, or college senior).

The second bonus is called the "incentive" bonus. This will pay you certain benefits if you are successful and progress through the team's minor league system. The bonus pays $1,000 if you spend 90 days during a season at the AA level, $1,500 for 90 days at the AAA legal and $5,000 for 90 days at the major league level. There is no reason not to obtain this bonus as part of a contract.

The third bonus is the "college scholarship" bonus. This bonus provides a certain sum of money for an agreed number of semesters to assist the player in completing a college career. For players who do not have a college degree, this is another bonus that you should try to obtain.

Is there any general advice that would be helpful to my parents and me?
There are two key things to remember when negotiating a contract with a professional club. The first is education. You must be sure that you understand the process you will be going through in your negotiations with the ball club. By understanding the process, you will be able to increase the likelihood that you will be successful in your negotiations. Just as important as understanding the "process" is being educated about your "value" in the draft. Your value is determined by analyzing the bonuses paid by the club drafting you over the last few years, as well as the monies paid by other clubs in similar rounds of the draft for the last few years. An advisor can help you obtain this information and assist you in determining your value in the draft.

The second key you will need to be successful is patience. The club will do everything it can to test your patience. It will tell you that you need to sign right away and it will tell you that its offer is the last offer it is going to make. You can't buy into this scenario. If you are not patient, it is likely you will not obtain the best offer available from the club. It is only by being willing to wait for the appropriate offer that you can truly obtain the right signing bonus from the team.