On the NCAA, Family Advisors and the Delicate Balance

The brewing eligibility situation between Wisconsin freshman Nicolas Kerdiles and the NCAA still has more to play out. Wisconsin has appealed the NCAA’s ruling that Kerdiles was in violation of the organization’s stringent amateurism rules, rendering the blue-chip recruit ineligible for the entire season.

The appeal process has been delayed, per Andy Baggot, and the clock is ticking. With each passing day, Kerdiles loses practice time and starting this weekend, game time. Contrary to previous reports, I’m told the Kerdiles family never set a Thursday (today) deadline for the NCAA to reach its decision before jumping to the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets. Kerdiles has expressed time and time again his preference to play for Wisconsin, but will the NCAA let him?

Much has been written about the NCAA’s role in this scenario, acting unfairly most would agree. As much as I’m right on that bandwagon, I can’t help but think how easily this scenario could have been avoided.

The NCAA allows players to retain family advisors, but like everything in the NCAA, there are strict rules regulating the relationship between player and advisor. Due to that fact, the onus is on the advisor to understand the rules and do everything within his power to not be the reason his advisee is ruled ineligible.

According to multiple sources and other reports, Kerdiles’s eligibility stems from photographs tweeted by Ian Pulver, operator of the Pulver Sports Agency and Kerdiles’s family advisor, and weirdly enough, Alyonka Larionov, who is the daughter of Pulver agent and Hockey Hall of Famer Igor Larionov.

The photo tweeted out by Pulver garnering the most attention is one that displays Kerdiles holding and perhaps by default promoting branded merchandise from BioSteel, a high-performance sport drink for which Pulver client Tyler Seguin is a primary spokesman. Meanwhile, Alyonka Larionov’s photo captioned as a “team lunch” included Kerdiles, Seguin, Igor Larionov and client Alex Galchenyuk, along with Pulver and John Walters, another Pulver Sports agent.

According to John Infante, simply holding up the product shouldn’t warrant a one-year suspension and as is fairly common knowledge, as long as Kerdiles bought his own dinner, being out with those folks wouldn’t be a violation.

However, Andy Johnson of Bucky’s 5th Quarter, who has been doing incredible work on this situation, documented more instances of employees and agents of Pulver Sports promoting Kerdiles, another no-no from the NCAA.

Is Kerdiles supposed to be aware of some of the compliance issues that his advisor and his staff could be violating? Probably, but not as much as the advisor who has represented plenty of college players in the past. Ignorance would be an unacceptable defense from Pulver.

Pulver Sports lists accountability as one of the fundamental principles on which the agency is built. It appears that could come in handy right about now. He has to be well versed in the rules that dictate his relationship with Kerdiles.

The NCAA is always an easy target for criticism, but based on what we know, Nic Kerdiles could be playing hockey right now if the person charged with guiding him on the right path to the NHL hadn’t possibly derailed him with nothing more than a little carelessness.

As shared by Johnson regarding the NCAA guidelines for advisors:

  • Young athletes, who I will refer to as prospective student-athletes (PSAs), are not permitted to have agents who market their hockey skills or negotiate with professional teams on their behalf. The definition of a professional team includes major junior teams (NCAA bylaw 12.2.3.2.4).
  • PSAs may not have written or oral agreements with agents. This includes agreements for future representation.
  • Family members of PSAs are not permitted to have written or oral agreements with agents.
  • PSAs are not permitted to accept benefits from agents, such as money, meals, clothing, hockey equipment, or other things of value.
  • PSAs and their families are permitted to have advisors to offer guidance and advice, so long as that advisor does not market his or her client’s hockey skills or negotiate with professional teams on behalf of the client.
  • If a PSA or his family uses the services of an advisor, he must compensate that advisor in an amount equal to the services provided. A modest annual fee is recommended.

The pictures and other tweets as documented by Johnson could all be construed as various violations, but what they also did was bring more scrutiny. Enough scrutiny for the NCAA to launch a months-long investigation, of which we know little more about than what we can easily search for on Twitter. There may be more to this, but not even Wisconsin knows what exactly the violations were to warrant a one-year suspension (hence the delayed appeal).

Now we can complain all we want about the NCAA’s rules, but they are what they are, and until they change (they won’t), this is what players will have to abide by.

This ongoing issue is going to bring further examination to family advisors and their roles and is worth watching for that fact. Family advisors, by and large, will have their advisee’s best interests at heart, but there are always cases where they may overstep their sometimes cloudy and inconsistent bounds.

Ask college and junior coaches their thoughts and they’ll probably tell you dealing with family advisors is one of their least favorite things to do. That said, the current landscape has created more of a need for the role advisors can play.

There are so many developmental options now available to a player and so many different situations for families to navigate in hockey’s current landscape that there’s good reason to have someone with a better base of knowledge to help. That’s where family advisors come in.

Now the advisors don’t always have all the answers and don’t always give the best advice, but the real good ones are going to lay everything out for their advisee so that he knows of his options and let the player make the decision he’s most comfortable with. Arming the advisee with every piece of information is key.

Advisors can also often act as advocates on behalf of their player, many times to the chagrin of coaches. Some advisors are more aggressive about the amount of ice time his advisee is getting or whether or not he’s on the power play. Occasionally, advisors will help facilitate trades or releases from junior teams for their advisee to pursue better, or more accurately, more beneficial options. (As an aside, this would likely be considered an NCAA amateurism violation, but because it is negotiations with Junior A teams, there’s really no precedent to go off of to know for sure.)

Family advisors are also well versed in the value of leverage and how to use it to achieve the best result for his player, be it a better education package in the CHL, a bigger scholarship from an NCAA school or as mentioned previously a more beneficial playing situation.

As the matter involving Kerdiles exposes, there is often a delicate balance which the family advisor must obey in order to both protect his advisees and keep them on the path to reach their goals.

In the end, there is a positive role advisors can play. However, if advising a player on the NCAA track, there are certain things that the advisor will be required to do, however fair or not. I’d assume that the NCAA’s current ruling on the Kerdiles situation is an effort to perhaps set a precedent as there currently appears to be none for something like this.

Undoubtedly, with this ruling the NCAA is creating a situation from which CHL teams can better recruit against college hockey. By citing the stringent policies that can take hockey away from a player, the CHL GMs have a pretty sound argument.

This is also an instance of the NCAA unfortunately and maybe even unfairly flexing their muscles against an 18-year-old kid who has a desire to play college hockey. Even so, I just can’t seem to escape the fact that all of this seemingly could have been avoided with relative ease. One can only hope this situation is resolved quickly.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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One Response to On the NCAA, Family Advisors and the Delicate Balance

  1. Steve says:

    The cynic in me suspects that Pulver knew exactly what he was doing and the likely consequences, which would lead to Kerdiles signing with Kelowna (and a commision to Pulver…).

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