IF the allegations in the Complaint filed by Lindsey Smart against Pinnacle Preps, LLC and Walt Williams in Washington County Circuit Court on February 12, 2010 are true, any amateur athlete using Walt Williams or Pinnacle organization services in full as described may have their eligibility in JEOPARDY.
None of the information below directly relates to the portion of Pinnacle Preps’ business of promoting of high school football programs and is not intended to make any comment regarding that side of its business.
In Pinnacle’s own services brochure at the end of the Complaint, Williams and Pinnacle call the services “promotion packages” which, depending upon the package, may consist of highlight videos, email and post card campaigns, a personalized website, academic assistance, assistance with the NCAA Clearinghouse, and sending these materials to scouting services. Despite the poor copy, the information attached to the Complaint can be located independently on Pinnacle Preps’ website. Recruiting Packages
Part of what’s to follow deals with “promotion” of a student-athlete. Although the Complaint doesn’t expound on “promotion” Pinnacle Preps’ website does:
This is the step where our team joins the effort to further help your chances of being recruited. Through our relentless marketing and our saturation of college markets we are able to get your name and skill set out in front of many of America’s best football programs. DVD’s, personal website’s and promotion materials are some of the ways we can help you become more publicized.
It is sheer speculation but we could possibly have a partial reason as to why some high-profile recruits were only “lukewarm” targets on Arkansas’ list IF they were in fact associated with Williams and Pinnacle as they appear to be.
There are no “IFS” about NCAA Bylaw 12 which deals with “Amateurism.” It begins, “Only an amateur student athlete is eligible for intercollegiate athletics participation in a particular sport.” NCAA Bylaw 12.01.1
Throughout the rest of NCAA Bylaw 12, the NCAA provides the “can do’s” and “can’t do’s” to remain an amateur.
Further into Article 12, NCAA Bylaw 12.3 deals with “Use of Agents.” You can see where I’m going from a mile away, can’t you?
Word for word:
12.3.3 Athletics Scholarship Agent. Any individual, agency or organization that represents a prospective student-athlete for compensation in placing the prospective student-athlete in a collegiate institution as a recipient of financial aid shall be considered an agent or organization marketing the individual’s athletics ability or reputation.
Sometimes if the block of words are broken up in order, they are a little easier to read:
Any individual, agency or organization [maybe Williams, maybe Pinnacle]
that represents ["Represents" is the crux of being an agent and unfortunately doesn't have a definition in this Bylaw.]
a prospective student-athlete [under Bylaw 12.02.05 an "individual" becomes a "student-athlete" when "enrollment was solicited by a member of the athletics staff or other representative of athletics interests with a view toward the student's ultimate participation in the intercollegiate athletics program...A student is not deemed a student-athlete solely on the basis of prior high school athletics participation."]
for compensation [$$$$ for a package, service in exchange for permission to use name and likeness to promote a business, website, or website using promotional advertising from which revenue may be derived]
in placing the prospective student-athlete in a collegiate institution ["Placing" occurs only 2 other times in the Bylaws besides in this rule. The other occurrences regard "placing" bets or "placing" telephone calls. It doesn't appear to be a technical usage of the word and appears to be synonymous with "attending." Admittedly it's a matter of interpretation, but "placing" doesn't likely mean "steering" or "causing the athlete to go to a particular school" because the latter would be the equivalent of illegal recruiting.]
as a recipient of financial aid [NCAA Bylaw 15.02.4 "Financial aid" is funds provided to student-athletes from various sources to pay or assist in paying their cost of education at the institution...15.02.4.1 The following sources of financial aid are considered to be institutional financial aid...(a)(1)scholarships...]
shall be considered an agent or organization marketing the individual’s athletics ability or reputation. (emphasis and underline added)
While the character of the relationship between Williams, Pinnacle and any player is for someone else to decide, here is what the NCAA Bylaws have a general rule regarding the use of agents:
12.3 Use of Agents
12.3.1 General Rule. An individual shall be ineligible for participation in an intercollegiate sport if he or she has ever agreed (orally or in writing) to be represented by an agent for the purposes of marketing his or her athletics ability or reputation in that sport. Further, and agency contract not specifically limited in writing to a sport or particular sports shall be deemed to all sports, and the individual shall be ineligible to participate in any sport.
It is my opinion that this service is well-beyond web graphics, video production, advice, athletic evaluation, stationary printing and other services which are all acceptable. While the NCAA doesn’t appear to limit self-promotion, its Bylaws forbid compensated promotion to market an individual’s athletic ability or reputation. It’s difficult for me in my opinion to perceive any difference between the prohibited conduct and the “promotional” services or the “representative” services which Pinnacle claims to provide.
Hey SharpTusk, you don’t KNOW that these guys paid Williams or Pinnacle a dime! You’re walking on thin ice yourself!
EVEN IF, the actual service provided to some players was “free” between Pinnacle and the players, nothing says that the “compensation paid” has to be in cash for a violation to occur, especially if someone else pays for something you’re getting for free. If the Smarts allegations are correct, at least one family paid money for the described services.
Too, there’s another issue that potentially effects the eligibility of some players. Student athletes cannot permit their names and likenesses to be used in the promotion of a commercial business whether paid or not.
On the Pinnacle Preps website, photos of the players are used. Specifically, photos of different players (such that the players can be identified by jersey color and number) are used in different webpage headers with the Pinnacle Preps logo. On the Recruiting Services page a specific player’s video is the “Featured Prospect Video.”
On the same page more high school players can be identified jersey color and number in the link labeled “Click Here…Recruiting Packages”
If you were to navigate into the websites created, you’ll find different hyperlinks, unlike AdSense links or the like, to Nike, Under Armour, BFS and others very close to the image of the player. Too, as admirable and worthy of an organization as “Make-A-Wish” is, their hyperlink appears on the players’ pages along with an ad for Pinnacle Preps.
On this particular page, the Nike Swoosh is a hyperlink to Nike.com.
Under the “Contact” link, it’s a standard Contact page providing Walt Williams as the fourth contact.
In a quick survey (more later) of player websites viewed, three of the four of them have Walt Williams listed as a contact.
Remember this article from December or one like it? This one is from AS 360.com on December 14, 2009.
Arkansas basketball players Rotnei Clarke, Jeff Peterson and Courtney Fortson may have violated NCAA rules by appearing in a local magazine section highlighting clothing options from Northwest Arkansas stores.
Clarke, Fortson and Peterson are featured in the December issue of Northwest Arkansas magazine Celebrate Arkansas, in which their photos are tied in to the promotion of local clothing retailers. Razorback coach John Pelphrey is also featured in the magazine and Clarke appears on the cover.
Contained in the publication are the players in fashion magazine-type poses with descriptions on where to buy the players’ “look” as part of the caption on each photo. It appears essentially to be an advertisement, although the feature is labeled as the “cover story.”
NCAA bylaw 12.5.2 outlines “nonpermissible” use of a student-athlete in advertising. Rule 18.104.22.168 says that an athlete is not eligible for competition if he/she “accepts any remuneration or permits the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind.
Depending upon what the facts really are, this would be nothing short of a tragedy.
It’s my opinion that Walt Williams and Pinnacle should know these rules BETTER THAN what’s recited here. It’s hard to imagine that he does, and if he does, it’s my opinion that he’s reckless.
It is scary to think that the Smarts, who claim to have paid $2,500 for work they never received, may have provided the NCAA with everything that it needs to determine that they may have “hired” a “Scholarship Agent” for their son, and that by trying to recover $2,500 dollars they claim they lost to Pinnacle, they may have potentially risked a year or more of an athletic scholarship worth easily 4 times more than that each year.
Is it enough in the NCAA’s eyes that the Smarts may have “hired” Pinnacle, maybe expected (and maybe even demanded) service, even though they allege to have received nothing?
What family would have thought that hiring these folks might jeopardize their athlete’s eligibility? Zero!
What family who knew of the risk would have hired Pinnacle anyway? Hopefully none.
IF there is a relationship between Malzahn and Williams, and the athletes Auburn signed had hired Pinnacle, will it hurt Malzahn and Auburn? Certainly Malzahn wouldn’t play fast and loose when he doesn’t have to do so at Auburn.
Is this part of the reason why Arkansas and some athletes you’d naturally expect Arkansas to pursue didn’t “hook up?”