- Associated Press - Friday, October 14, 2011

BOSTON (AP) - The agent says go.

The coach says stay.

And college athletes are left wondering what to do.

At Boston College, Warren Zola tries to take some of the burden off athletes who are graduating from amateur to pro sports by helping them navigate the unfamiliar, often tricky territory between them. The chair of the school’s professional sports advisory panel, he helps BC players with everything from setting up predraft workouts to interviewing agents to the toughest decision of all: whether to leave school early and go pro.

“I continue to be amazed that schools who want this caliber of talent continually decide or default into not (helping) them reach this goal,” said Zola, a dean at the BC business school who runs the advisory panel at Boston College and advocates _ in law review articles, the Huffington Post and a scheduled Congressional briefing _ for reform in college athletics.

“Every school is out there trying to recruit talent that can compete at the professional level, yet very few of them care enough to assist the student athlete through that transition process,” he said. “It illustrates that you care about their success as an individual, not as a part of a university team. You would think that even if it was solely to help them in recruiting, they would do this.”

The NCAA rulebook is notoriously cranky, with the potential on every page for violations that can endanger an athlete’s eligibility; the pro leagues have their own rules regarding draft status that vary from sport to sport and change with every new collective bargaining agreement. There is also a thicket of conflicting advice: Agents, parents, friends, financial planners and coaches might all have something to say about what’s best for the athlete.

To help navigate the territory between them _ the job an agent would do, if NCAA athletes were allowed to have agents _ schools are allowed to form panels of independent advisers. Apart from the athletic department and with enough distance from the coaches that want every star to stay, the advisers sort through the pitches from agents and feedback from pro scouts to help the athlete and his parents make informed decisions.

“I went into it like most people, having no idea what happens,” said Indianapolis Colts offensive lineman Anthony Castonzo, a first-round draft pick from Boston College. “You could tell just from talking to fellow rookies that a lot of guys aren’t really up to speed on things. It’s good to have those resources, and Warren was one of them.”

Still, few schools offer the service, in part because the requirement that the majority of the panelists come from outside the athletic department leaves them with no obvious source of funding inside the school.

“It’s never a priority until it’s too late,” said Zola, who estimated that he has worked with about 100 athletes in football, baseball, ice hockey, track and field and men’s and women’s basketball and soccer. “I think it’s served our university tremendously well. The school supports its student athletes by providing this service.”

An NCAA spokesman said the organization did not keep track of the schools that have advisory panels, which have been permitted by its bylaws since 1984. A check of ACC schools showed that fewer than half do, with Boston College and Duke the most active in providing advice.

“I would say that we are way out at the extreme end,” said Paul Haagen, a professor and dean at Duke’s law school who heads the university’s advisory panel. “I’m really not aware of anybody who’s as far out as we are.”

Maryland also has a panel, but other schools have informal arrangements where independent advice is provided when needed. At Wake Forest, for example, the school provides all of the same services without an official advisory panel, spokesman Steven Shutt said.

“We are fortunate to have professors in the law school with professional sports contacts and other folks on campus whose services we utilize to achieve the same result,” he said.

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