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The curious connection between holdouts and recruiting

So do agents cause holdouts?

For many, the question might as well be (as Steve Martin so eloquently put it), “Does the pope sh-t in the woods?”

We’re squarely in the season of signing first-round draft picks. But only four of 32 have been signed.

And one of the major factors in the process has nothing to do with this year’s class of rookies.

Instead, the looming holdouts relate to next year’s class of rookies. Or, more specifically, the representation of the members of next year’s class of rookies.

With 2010 possibly being the last year under the current rookie salary structure, which features exorbitant contracts at the top of the draft, there will be significant competition for the crop of college seniors and the underclassmen who choose to make the leap while the safety net is still lined with large bills.

And so the agents who’ll be boxing each other out for next year’s first-year players know that the deals they do for clients in 2009 will be used to lure the 2010 clients to them -- and/or used by other agents to lure the 2010 clients away from them.

As one league source put it this morning, “It’s very hard to get deals done early with agents more worried about recruiting than the players.”

It’s an unfortunate reality of the business. The agents compete aggressively -- and at times unfairly -- with each other for new clients. And once they have a client in their clutches, many of the agents are less concerned about serving the long-term best interests of that client, and more concerned about the extent to which the contract that client signs will help or hurt the agents in the quest for the next client.

The challenge for the clients, then, is to find the agents who’ll do what’s right for each player, regardless of the problems it might create in recruiting. But the problem is that far too few of the clients understand this dynamic before it’s too late, if ever.