College Players Should Be Represented By Counsel Before NCAA

University of North Carolina (UNC) football player Michael McAdoo has filed suit against UNC and the NCAA in connection with his ban from collegiate athletics.  McAdoo’s lawsuit is multifaceted.  But one of his allegations against UNC is that the school failed to advise McAdoo that he could be represented by his own legal counsel in connection with NCAA proceedings.  UNC was allegedly represented by counsel.

NCAA rules allow for a player to be represented by personal counsel in the following situations:

  • interviews with NCAA representatives that may develop information detrimental to the player
  • responding to a Notice of Inquiry from the NCAA
  • appearing before the NCAA Committee on Infractions

Just as coaches need representation apart from the school’s counsel when dealing with the NCAA, a student-athlete should be represented by his or her own counsel, not the lawyer representing the school.  The school’s attorney will represent the interests of the school and cannot simultaneously provide objective advice to a student-athlete with potentially conflicting interests.

A school must inform a student-athlete of his or her right to personal counsel during its regular rules seminars and any time an issue with the NCAA arises, both orally and in writing.  Not only is it the right thing to do, but as demonstrated by the McAdoo case, it is a good risk management tool. 

The next question becomes who should pay for the student-athlete’s attorney – the school or the student-athlete?  The NCAA permits schools to pay the legal expenses of a student-athlete in connection with NCAA proceedings – and the school should seriously consider footing the bill.  Ensuring that a student-athlete is properly represented places a student-athlete on the same footing as a coach, who can typically afford his or her own personal counsel.  Such an arrangement is not unusual in the business world, where a company may retain an attorney for itself and a separate attorney for an employee where there are some common interests between the parties as well as a potential conflict of interest.

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