The Work

March 30, 2009 5:20 AM

The Jim Calhoun Chronicles: Text Messages, Age Limits, and Misspelling Your Lawyer's Name

Posted by Zach Lowe

By far the biggest legal news of the week in the sports world was Yahoo! Sports' explosive report that the University of Connecticut allegedly committed several NCAA rule violations in its recruitment of Nate Miles, a highly prized wing man who never played a minute for the team.

The university and the NCAA have already begun probing the allegations, which center mostly on communication between Miles, former Huskies manager-turned-agent Josh Nochimson, and ex-UConn assistant coach Tom Moore. 

The basic legal issue: as an agent, Nochimson qualifies as a representative with an interest in UConn's basketball team because of his connections with the team and his ongoing communication with Moore. That means NCAA rules prohibit Nochimson from having any contact with recruits. Yahoo found that Nochimson communicated regularly with Miles via phone calls and text messages, bought him meals, and set him up at schools and high-priced training academies--all while five different UConn coaches, including head honcho Jim Calhoun, exchanged more than 1,500 text messages combined with Nochimson. 

One coach, Moore, also called Miles's legal guardian more than two dozen times in one month; NCAA rules limit coaches to one call per month during a recruit's junior and senior seasons.

So it has come to this: We are watching an NCAA tournament in which one of the Final Four teams could win a championship at the same time the program is being investigated for corrupt recruiting. This is not a good situation for college sports.

UConn has hired the Kansas-based firm Bond, Schoeneck & King, which includes a group that specializes in NCAA compliance and other college sports issues. Richard Everard, one of the Bond attorneys representing UConn, says the firm has represented UConn on compliance matters since 1997, when then-Huskies Ricky Moore and Kirk King got in trouble for taking plane tickets from a prospective agent. Everard says UConn is taking the current allegations seriously and will order a complete investigation. 

As for Calhoun, a Nutmeg State legend and Hall of Fame coach, it's unclear whether he has hired personal counsel in the case. Gerald Roisman, name partner of Roisman & McClure in West Hartford, has served as Calhoun's personal lawyer before on contract talks and other issues. He says Calhoun has not retained him in the Miles matter.

"He's focused on the tournament," Roisman says.

The player at the center of the probe, Miles, was kicked out of UConn for violating a restraining order in an alleged domestic violence case, and probably wasn't good enough to go directly to the NBA. But the seediness of the recruiting process got The Am Law Daily thinking about the NBA's age limit, which bans high school players from entering the draft until one year after their high school class graduates.

The rule, incorporated into the league's collective bargaining agreement in 2005, has resulted in several sure-fire top draft picks spending a token year in college before leaving for the NBA. One star player (Brandon Jennings) who couldn't increase his test scores enough for college eligibility signed with a European team after high school and is considered something of a trend-setter for doing so.

NBA officials have hinted they want to raise the age limit to 20 when the current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2011. Luckily for us, the age limit topic dominated the discussion during a panel talk Wednesday at New York Law School featuring several high-profile sports lawyers. Even better, we heard Alan Milstein, a litigator at Sherman, Silverstein, Kohl, Rose & Podolsky promise that he plans to mount a legal challenge against the NBA's age-limit ban, which, to put it politely, he does not like. (Milstein called the ban "outrageous," "hypocritical," and "a sham." He and other panelists who share his views--including Michael McCann of Vermont Law School and Sports Law Blog fame--wonder why hoops players have to wait while tennis players and soccer players can turn pro as youngish teens). 

Milstein says he's just waiting for a player willing to challenge the rule, and he thinks he can win on antitrust grounds (among others). It wouldn't be Milstein's first attempt at taking on such an age limit.  With help from McCann, he fought the National Football League's age limit on behalf of former Ohio State University star running back Maurice Clarett. Clarett, who lost that case, is now serving a 7-1/2 year prison sentence after being convicted on various criminal charges, including robbery. Milstein speculates that Clarett may have stayed out of trouble had he been allowed to enter the NFL early and earn a living. 

The Clarett experience won't stop Milstein from going after the NBA's age limit. "I'm hoping to find a player to challenge it in the next couple of years," he told the panel.

Also in the sports world this week:

• While we wait and wait for the Barry Bonds perjury trial to start, we do have some steroids-related legal news to tide us over: Miguel Tejada, the Houston Astros shortstop and fantasy disappointment (sorry, our league is drafting this weekend) was sentenced to probation this week for lying to congressional investigators about his use pf performance-enhancing drugs. Tejada told investigators in 2005 that he had no knowledge of players on his former team, the Oakland A's, using or discussing PEDs, but Sen. George Mitchell's 2007 report on steroids in baseball showed that Tejada purchased human growth hormone from an Oakland teammate. It should be noted that Tejada claimed he threw the HGH away before ever using it, and investigators found no evidence to contradict that claim.

Tejada was represented by Mark Tuohey, a Vinson & Elkins partner. Tuohey didn't return a call seeking comment from The Am Law Daily. Tejada is not going to prison, and, because he has a green card, will not face deportation. So feel free to draft him on your fantasy teams. (Don't say we didn't warn you, though.)

• Finally, we enjoyed this bizarre story involving Vince Papale, the "average joe" who tried out for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976--when he was 30--and made the team. You might remember Papale's story from such films as "Invincible," the 2006 film starring Mark Wahlberg as Papale. Tagline: "Dreams are not lived on the sidelines." Indeed. 

Well, Papale's wife apparently made a stink at one of the film's premiere screenings in Philly and kicked some angry ticket holders out (including an African-American family), claiming their seats were reserved for Papale's friends and family. The whole incident made it onto the popular sports blog Deadspin, which slapped the headline "Vince Papale's Wife Does Not Care About Black People" on the saga. Bear in mind, this all happened three years ago.

Last week, Deadspin received a letter from Papale and his attorneys at Cozen O'Connor demanding that the site remove the post. Better late than never, we suppose. Copied on the letter was Justin Weinberg, an attorney at Cozen O'Conner. (Note the "e" improperly placed in "O'Conner.") Note also that there is no "Justin Weinberg" at the real Cozen O'Connor.)

We called Cozen O'Connor, hoping we'd found an instance of someone falsely claiming the firm's support and representation. It took four days (we're not sure why), but Cozen finally responded: Justin Wineburgh, head of the sports and entertainment practice at Cozen, has indeed done work for Papale before. But he had no idea Papale was sending overdue takedown letters with his (misspelled) name on them to a sports blog. 

Was this whole thing worth three paragraphs (or four days)? Probably not. But we do wonder how often clients invoke their lawyers' names in strange ways without checking first. 

In any case, we're off for the weekend to see if UConn can continue its march to a championship that some would consider immediately tainted. 

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