Conflict of Interest? Big Ten Network Unknowingly Hired Agent as Analyst

Photo courtesy of Sportsfanengy.blogspot.com

The college football community is close-knit: players from rival teams played together in high school or camp, coaches job-hop from school to school, and both groups often wind up in the press box, covering teams they played or coached for, or against. There’s a fine balance to providing objective coverage, but some eyebrows raised when Yahoo! Sports reported that the Big Ten Network hired a certified agent as one of their analysts.

Chris Martin, a former player at Northwestern, started with the network in 2007, when it was just getting off the ground. But in 2006, he’d become certified as an agent by the NFLPA, and since then, according to the report, he’s acted as an agent for at least 12 players. Four of those - Iowa’s Jordan Bernstine, IllinoisJarred Fayson and Jason Ford, and Indiana’s Will Patterson – played in the Big Ten.

The NCAA doesn’t prohibit agents from acting as college football analysts, and Martin isn’t accused of doing anything wrong, but there were complaints that Martin’s work with BTN gives him increased access to college players – and the ability to build relationships with them early gives him a better shot of signing them, if and when they turn pro.

According to the Yahoo! Sports report, a Big Ten Network spokesperson said the network didn’t know that Martin was an agent, and released a statement that read: “BTN talent should not be in the business of representing Big Ten student athletes.”

The spokesperson also said the network would handle the matter internally. She didn’t elaborate, but the best place to start might not be with Martin, but with the HR Department.

It’s one thing if the network was aware of Martin’s status as an agent and determined he was still the best choice to be in the booth. It’s another to be clueless to the fact that one of your on-air personalities is also the president of a sports management firm.

Martin told Yahoo! Sports that he’s “more of an investor or financial backer” with OTG Sports Management, but the report suggests that’s not quite the case, noting that Martin is the only registered contract adviser for OTG listed on the NFLPA website.

Martin should’ve told someone at Big Ten Network, way back in 2007 when he was brought on board, that he was a certified agent. If there really is no conflict of interest, and he’s not using his position at the network to gain increased access to potential clients, he should have no problem being forthcoming with that information.

Even if he didn’t bring it up, someone at BTN should’ve looked into his background far enough to find that little tidbit of information. As Yahoo! Sports discovered, there’s plenty of public evidence of Martin’s work as an agent, and whether Martin dazzled in the interview, or just knew the right person, the network still should’ve done basic checks into his professional background which would have quickly brought this to light.

If, on the other hand, Martin presented false or misleading information during the hiring process, that’s grounds for firing.

That, of course, is all based upon the network’s assertion that it knew nothing of Martin’s activity as an agent, which is a little hard to believe. He’s been part of the network for seven seasons, and no one there had any idea that he’d represented a dozen NFL players?

It almost seems like it might’ve been an open secret around the network. No one brought it up because no one wanted to address the potential conflict, but maybe making it public from the start would’ve helped diffuse criticism.

Or maybe not: even ESPN, the network that continued to put Craig James on the air after he helped get Mike Leach fired from Texas Tech, said they’d never allow an agent to act as an analyst.

Regardless of who’s at fault – whether the network dropped the ball in vetting Martin, or Martin tried to pull a fast one on his employer – this situation is an embarrassment to the Big Ten Network, one that could’ve been easily avoided.

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