Finding a law school graduate who likes his or her job is a rarity these days. However, former Wingate University volleyball player Amanda Siegrist, has found two jobs that she loves thanks to a career path that began after an internship with a professor’s sports agency.
During the academic year, Siegrist is an assistant professor of recreation and sport management at Coastal Carolina University. Siegrist, who earned her J.D. at the Northern Kentucky University Salmon P. Chase College of Law, has focused her research on the scope of the NCAA’s authority, particularly in criminal matters and the Uniform Athlete Agent’s Act. The rest of the year, she is an agent and event manager for KMG Sports — an Ohio agency that has represented more than 500 athletes and coaches.
With a career focused on sports, law, and management, The Legal Blitz had to pick the brain of one of the coolest and hardest working attorneys in the sports law world to learn more about her job path and her take on today’s top sports law issues. Check out her full Q&A after the jump.
You are an assistant professor at Coastal Carolina University and you work for KMG Sports. Both are cool jobs. How did you get here and how do you balance both positions?
While I was in my second year of law school at NKU Chase College of Law, I took an elective Sport Law course, which was taught by KMG Sports CEO, Richard Katz. Rich offered me an internship at the end of the semester, which I did for the remaining year and a half of school. From there, Rich offered me a full time position. I had my hands in a lot of different areas including contract drafting and negotiating, athlete representation, event management and helping to manage the day-to-day lives of a lot of our football clients. The agency world is an “eat what you kill” industry involving a lot of commission, billable hours, travel, and customer service. I had to be attached to my phone and email 24/7. I would receive emails on Christmas Eve to review and have a client sign a lease agreement so he could report to his training the day after Christmas. I would receive middle-of-the-night phone calls from clients regarding trouble they’ve gotten into or something urgent they need taken care of. It is a fun industry but it’s a very demanding environment.
I had gotten a taste of teaching through guest lecturing and helping create and grade assignments for Rich’s adjunct course and realized it was something I very much enjoyed doing. When I ran into one of my former sport management professors from Wingate University, he asked me if I had ever thought about teaching law or sport law at the college level. That got my wheels turning and I started to apply for positions just to see what would happen. The opportunity at Coastal Carolina University couldn’t have been more perfect for my areas of knowledge and experience. It has been such a great fit and has allowed me to continue with KMG in the summers, since my teaching contract is for 9 months out of the year. I think it is important to stay connected to the industry and I feel it really impacts the learning environment for my students in a positive way.
When dealing with both athletes and agents, do you feel that it helps to have played collegiate or professional sports?
I played collegiate volleyball for four years at Wingate University. Being a part of an athletic program at a high level certainly has had a positive effect on how I do my jobs. I am able to relate to athletes and the importance of their training, demanding schedules, and mental preparedness. It also helps me relate to students of mine who are involved with athletics. I believe so many valuable life lessons are learned from being a part of a team and being committed to a sport. Athletes who have played at the professional level have the advantage of knowing the workings of a professional sport organization. There are so many business aspects to both the collegiate and professional level of sport that having first-hand experience in it, whether that is playing in it or working for it, certainly helps.
Your Carolina neighbor, UNC, has been in the headlines due to allegations of academic fraud for steering athletes toward easy majors, giving out fake grades, and creating bogus majors. As someone who both works in academia and represents athletes, what, if anything, can be done to make sure that NCAA student-athletes are actually getting quality educations and not devaluing the degree for everyone else on campus?
In my opinion, it starts on the campus. Here at Coastal Carolina University our athletics program is highly involved with how our student-athletes are doing in the classroom. I hear from coaches and academic advisors regularly and know I can contact them at any time with praise and/or concerns regarding our student-athletes. I think from both the NCAA and university perspective, it is important to ensure we are keeping the best interest of the student-athlete at the forefront, whether that be academic advice, athletic advice or advice for their futures. It is in the best interest of a student-athlete to not only receive an education, but also be able to apply it to the real world. If we are pushing athletes through the educational system, we are not doing them any favors. I have witnessed athletes’ careers end in the blink of an eye and I’ve also seen athletes with immense talent never make it in the professional sport realm. It’s important that our student-athletes can seek advice and be counseled on not just their immediate future, but their long-term wellbeing as well. It’s important for educational institutions to keep academics as the focus of their mission and not to be pressured down by considerations of athletics and/or of society.
I know you have done research on the Uniform Athlete Agent’s Act. It sounds great in theory, but applying and enforcing the laws have proven quite difficult. What is your take on the Act and what changes need to be made to give it more teeth in the future?
The Uniform Athlete Agent’s Act (UAAA) has not been very effective because it is tough to police. You are exactly right when you say it sounds great in theory, but applying and enforcing it is difficult. The UAAA governs relationships among student-athletes, athlete agents, and educational institutions. I think there are some language changes within both the NCAA bylaws and the UAAA that will be coming in the near future. The UAAA needs to better correlate with the NCAA bylaws and with state statutory regulations for agents to better protect amateur athletes and make it more realistic for agents to follow. Much of the language in the current UAAA is ambiguous and even contradicts some state statutory regulations. Some of the main issues I see currently are rooted in the definition of amateurism and athlete-agent. In my opinion, both definitions are too broad and too ambiguous. Also, the UAAA does not allow for a student-athlete to seek civil remedy against an agent who does not follow proper procedure, rather it only allows for the educational institution to seek recourse, once again failing to protect the student-athlete.
On a similar topic, Georgia recently passed the Todd Gurley Law to provide criminal and civil penalties for anyone (agents included) who entices NCAA athletes to take money, gifts, etc. What is your take on the law? Will it actually stop agents, boosters, or memorabilia peddlers from paying athletes?
I am not entirely read up on the law to speak to specifics, but the concept behind it sounds effective. As a contract attorney, my focus is always on language. If the law is worded in a manner that is too broad or too “all encompassing” then it could prove to be just as difficult as the UAAA in terms of enforcement. There are always going to be corrupt people out there breaking the rules or finding loopholes. Talking big picture, I think a major overhaul of the entire athletic system at the collegiate level is going to be necessary to truly end a lot of the major issues we are currently seeing.
While we are talking about bad behavior, there is no shortage of professional athletes committing crimes or at least saying something that gets them in hot water with sponsors and fans. What role does an agent have when a client makes the news for the wrong reasons? Is it muddied further if the agent is also a lawyer?
To officially sign a professional athlete as a client, specifically within the NFL or NBA, a player and agent must sign a Standard Representation Agreement and file it with the respective Player’s Association. The language in these Standard Representation Agreements is uniform across the league and is required of every player/agent relationship. Based on the language in these agreements, when an agent signs an athlete, he/she is assuming a contractual fiduciary responsibility to that athlete. A fiduciary duty is a legal duty to act solely in another party’s interests. Regardless of the offense, an agent has taken on the duty of representing a player’s best interest in terms of his contractual agreement with both the team and the league. Therefore, an agent must ensure all punishment, fines, suspension, or termination are applied correctly and any compensation owed to the player is paid. This often results in the agent and/or player being negatively scrutinized by the media; however, just as a defense attorney ensures a fair trial for their client, an agent must ensure fair proceedings for their player in relation to the respective team and the league.
While an agent who is also an attorney has no responsibility to represent a client in the court of law in terms of a player’s criminal conduct, the attorney-agent must act in the athlete’s best interest regarding suspension or termination of employment. When an athlete encounters a problem with the league, it is important for the agent to review the contract and applicable clauses of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). While it is obvious and necessary for an agent to enforce their client’s rights under a contract and under the CBA, there are many ethical concerns that can arise as well. The agent-player relationship is not one sided. An agent can terminate their contract with a player at any time, just as a player can do the same. However, more commonly, an agent will try to provide guidance, career advice and/or life advice to that client.
I cannot speak for other agencies, but from the perspective of my experience at KMG, more often than not the clients listen. You tend to build a good rapport with your clients and they turn to the agency for advice. We also try to get ahead of the game on certain matters. We’ll let our coaches know in light of incidents such as Rutgers, be on your best behavior. When the NBA was on a lockout, we would “coach” our basketball clients on what that means, how long it may last, and how to be smart with money and time. We are in continual contact with our clients so we are sure to address pressing topics in the industry when they arise.
To what extent do you think agents should also act as financial managers/planners for their clients?
Based off of my experience, we usually recommend that our clients use a financial planner their family uses or someone they know and trust. If our client does not have someone through a connection of their own, we can recommend them, but we try not to handle their money ourselves. I think this can get too muddled and it is also not usually an attorney-agent’s area of expertise.
What do you think is the most important skill for an aspiring agent to acquire?
My answer to this question is less of a skill and more of general advice. Aspiring agents need to learn and understand the true workings of this industry. The athlete representation world is an “eat what you kill business” as my boss at KMG always says. Most agents start off supporting themselves in other ways. For example, I was making a low salary doing day-to-day operations for KMG while also doing legal work for billable hours, event management for the agency and coaching volleyball to support myself financially until I was connected enough to start bringing in clients of my own. Once I was able to bring in clients, then I would be cut in on the commission earned from that client. It’s going to be extremely tough to find a company to pay you a salary and hand over clients in this industry. Agencies want to know whom you know, what you know and how you can help them.
Has having a law degree helped you in your career at all?
Having a law degree has been the most pivotal part of my career. It has allowed me to make myself valuable in the sport management industry through my knowledge of contracts and legal language. My juris doctor is also the means to me teaching at the collegiate level, by having a terminal degree in the field of law.
Favorite part of your job(s)?
I absolutely love what I do. If I were to dream up the perfect situation where I could stay connected in the athlete representation industry and at the same time having a more consistent lifestyle in a very rewarding job, this would be it. My colleagues and students at Coastal Carolina University are such a pleasure to be around that I genuinely look forward to going to teach each day. It is so exciting to me when I can bring my real world experience to the classroom and help my students grasp it. It is very rewarding to watch your students’ progress from the beginning of the semester to the end, and also to their graduation and beyond. On the other hand, I also love the hustle and thrill of the agency world. It too is very rewarding to see your clients succeed and do great things. I enjoy being a part of their process whether its from being draft-eligible to surgery recoveries, being cut and re-signed, last minute cross-country moves, or first career touchdowns, it’s so exciting to be a part of it.