Advisers aid baseball prospects, might do same in basketball

Evan Skoug had a decision to make his senior year of high school in 2014: go pro or go to college?

He was rated the No. 1 prospect in Illinois for the Major League Baseball draft that year, and he had signed a letter of intent to play catcher at TCU.

Skoug ended up going to TCU, but not before he and his family weighed the pros and cons with and had many conversations with an adviser.

"It was good for me to have someone there to help me through the professional process because nobody in my family has played professionally and nobody knows the industry," Skoug said this week. "It was nice to have somebody invested in the sports industry, invested in myself, there to help me make the correct informed decision."

NCAA rules governing baseball and ice hockey allow high school players to hire advisers as long as those advisers are paid their normal fees. Also, baseball and hockey players who are drafted are allowed to retain college eligibility as long as they don't sign a contract.

Under proposals put forth by the Condoleezza Rice-headed Commission on College Basketball, facets of those baseball-hockey rules would be applied to high school and college basketball players.

One recommendation would have the NCAA create a program for certifying agents and make them accessible to players from high school through their college careers. The NCAA already allows players in college to retain advisers.

"I think information and data are power, so to speak," Nebraska basketball coach Tim Miles said. "I think that's really important — to educate the parents, to educate the players to this whole process."

Another recommendation would allow high school and college basketball players who declare for the draft and aren't drafted remain eligible for college unless and until they sign a pro contract. That recommendation assumes the NBA changes its rules and allows high school seniors to be drafted instead of requiring a player be 19 years old or one year removed from high school.

Miles said he favors that proposal as well, but he sees a potential problem. He currently has two rising seniors who have declared for the June 21 draft without signing an agent, and they have until May 30 to pull out of draft consideration and retain their eligibility.

If the recommendation were in place now, and those players stayed in the draft pool but weren't selected, their status for next season might not be known until well into the summer. That, Miles said, could present a roster-management issue. Typically, a coach has a good idea if any of his underclassmen will be drafted, and he can plan for that. But what if the undrafted player decides not to return to school after the draft and chooses to pursue opportunities in the G League or overseas?

"I think you need a clear conversation with the student-athlete and his family asking 'What are your intentions?'" Miles said. "Those are things that should be decided earlier than June 21."

The baseball agent-adviser rule, as it applies to the power-five conferences, changed in 2016. As part of the autonomy movement, high school players who are drafted are permitted to hire an agent for contract negotiations, but the relationship must be severed if the player decides to enroll in college. Conferences outside the power five are allowed to adopt that rule if they choose. Previously, advisers could not perform agent duties such as negotiating a contract whether for a high school player or a player who's draft-eligible in his third year at a four-year school.

Skoug said he knew he needed help sorting out the MLB draft process as he neared his senior season at Libertyville (Illinois) High. His high school coach recommended a friend, Scott Pucino, who heads the baseball division for Octagon sports and entertainment agency.

Pucino gave Skoug tips on how to word answers on the multitude of questionnaires sent by major league clubs, explained what life would be like in a rookie league if he chose to turn pro and stressed the importance of finding an experienced and trusted wealth manager.

The Skoug family paid a few hundred dollars for Pucino's services — "inconsequential for what we got," said Evan's father, John Skoug.

"We had 28 of the 30 major-league teams march through our living room and asking a bunch of questions. We didn't know what to really expect," John said. "You hear stuff from Person X and Person Y, and each of these scouts will tell you, but I'd rather have an independent party telling me what's going on."

The most important conversation dealt with setting the minimum amount of money it would take for Evan Skoug to sign. Only he and his family could make that decision, but Pucino had input.

"The question for Evan: life-changing money, what was that going to be?" Pucino said. "The thing I tell these players is if you don't make it, at least you have three years of college education done. So for (MLB) to buy you out of that college education — even though there's a scholarship program (through clubs) — it should be a pretty good amount of money. It's easy to finish a year if you're drafted as a junior. It's not the same to be 28 or 29 and now do three or four years of college."

Evan set his price at $1.5 million — more than any club was willing to pay. He was drafted in the 34th round by the Washington Nationals, what he called a "courtesy pick."

"The Nationals wanted to follow my career at TCU, so it was nice to hear my name get called and to be drafted," he said. "But once I heard that the number wasn't going to be there, my mind was totally set on college."

At TCU, Skoug started 198 of 199 games, batted .286 with 36 homers and 168 RBIs and was the 2017 Big 12 co-player of the year. His draft stock rose accordingly. He was picked in the seventh round last year by the Chicago White Sox and signed for $300,000. He now plays for the Kannapolis (North Carolina) Intimidators in the Class A South Atlantic League.

Pucino — who represents Seattle's Felix Hernandez, the New York Mets' Asdrubal Cabrera and the Chicago Cubs' Ben Zobrist, among others — went from being Skoug's adviser to agent.

"I would have been very confused and out of the loop as to what was going on throughout the upcoming months of the (2014) draft without Scott," Evan said. "He did a great job of preparing me and my family for what was coming, so that was a big help to us, because we had no idea."

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