1. National Letter of Intent (NLI): Despite the fact that the NLI is optional and heavily favors colleges and universities, student-athletes continue to sign on the dotted line. It’s basically a take it or leave it proposition, and few players are willing to risk leaving a scholarship offer on the table. Some coaches, like Kentucky’s John Calipari, have negotiated escape clauses into the NLI, allowing a player to be released from a school should his coach leave for another job. Only the top-tier players have the leverage to negotiate terms, such as an escape clause. Nevertheless, any high-school student-athlete should consult with an attorney to fully understand the terms of the NLI.
2. NCAA Investigations: As the Dez Bryant situation has taught us, lying to NCAA investigators, even without an actual rule violation, can lead to a suspension. A student-athlete would reasonably expect that his or her school’s compliance officer would provide counsel should NCAA investigators seek an interview. But remember, the compliance officer’s allegiance is ultimately to the university. A player should be provided the opportunity to seek counsel if faced with an investigation that could lead to a suspension.
UPDATE: The NCAA has disclosed that Dez Bryant had counsel for present for all three of his meetings with NCAA investigators.
3. Coaching Contracts: Inequities in contractual negotiations should always be avoided. Yet the lack of counsel in contract negotiations often create problems for coaches and universities alike. At smaller Division I schools, a negotiation might take place between an athletic director and the agent for a coaching candidate. The agent and coach are at a significant advantage if the athletic director does not use an attorney to negotiate the terms of the contract. There’s simply no one to play bad cop to the athletic director’s good cop. On the other hand, smaller Division II and III schools may essentially force form contracts upon coaching candidates. In this situation, the compensation may be considered too small for either side to retain an attorney. But form contracts do nothing to enhance the goals of either party – a key objective in any contract – regardless of how small the monetary value of the contract.