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Agent Tom Condon, who represents about 50 current NFL players, said panels are becoming more prevalent as schools realize the danger of allowing their athletes to go through the process on their own. He estimated that about 25 percent of the schools now have them.

“They understand that something going wrong in the (agent) recruiting process can ultimately affect the school in a negative way,” Condon said. “The athletes may understand the rules, but it’s an exciting time for them. It gets to be a difficult situation for the players, and especially for the school because they aren’t aware of what’s going on.”

A lawyer whose real job is assistant dean at BC’s Carroll School of Management, Zola has run the school’s advisory panel since 2005 (though he has done the work more informally since 1992).

Castonzo’s father, Bill, said the help was invaluable as his son finished up his senior season at BC and the calls from agents and financial planners began to pour in.

Anthony wanted to concentrate on football, and I concentrated on dealing with all the outside stuff,” said Bill Castonzo, who ran his own food brokerage business. “I have some experience negotiating, but when it came to the nitty gritty of NCAA rules, I had no clue.”

Zola sat in on meetings when agents pitched the Castonzos, helped them decide whether to buy disability insurance and kept them on the right side of the NCAA rules.

“When you walk into something like that and you don’t have any previous knowledge or experience in dealing with it, it’s always good to have someone who’s been through it who can give you sound advice and lead you in the right direction,” Bill Castonzo said. “I’ve got to tell you: that road would have been a lot more rocky without Warren.”

Haagen works mostly with basketball players _ it’s Duke, after all _ but in his role as an adviser since 1989 he has also worked with soccer, lacrosse, baseball and football players and even one student who is trying to break into NASCAR. Even within a sport, though, there is a wide range of needs, from the sure-fire lottery pick to the player who just wants to find a team in Europe.

And then there are the differences in personalities.

“When you have someone like Shane Battier or Grant Hill, extremely sophisticated people, what you do is engage them. … At its fullest, it’s, ‘How do you think about yourself in the world?’” Haagen said. “Some of them just have no patience or attention span. With them, what you’re trying to do is get them hooked up with professional help that will be responsive to their needs.”

The goal of the counseling panel is to provide independent advice; the NCAA bylaw that permits the panels requires the majority to be from outside the athletics department.

Haagen has said he no longer finds coaches who put the program ahead of the players’ best interests by pressuring them to stay in school. For one thing, it can help a program to be known as a steppingstone to the pros; for another, he said, “there’s now the awareness that if the kids ever got that sense they’d stop listening to you.”

“There are always conflicts of interest,” said Haagen, who added that he is largely immune because of his position in the law school and his experience guiding as many as 50 athletes through the process. “You absolutely are dependent on the coaches for information and encouraging the kids to come see you. … If the coaches are not buying in, you’re really quite ineffective.”

Sitting in his office at BC’s business school, with the football cards of a dozen players he’s helped pinned to a bulletin board behind him, Zola noted that he answers to BC president William Leahy _ a Jesuit priest _ not the athletic department. There’s no benefit in twisting a player’s arm to get him to stay if he’s clearly better off leaving, Zola said.

“I think that serves a university better than having someone stay on campus if it’s not the right situation. That said, my default is always, ‘Stay in school,’” he said. “To do this properly, you need the support of the athletic department _ both the athletic director and the coaches, and I think I have that.”

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