There are lots of talented football players out there who might be capable of playing in the CFL, but the challenge for them is getting seen by the right people. Agent-run camps can offer the opportunity for players to get seen by multiple CFL franchises, but as they're not team- or league-organized, they carry possible perils, and Tuesday's news provided a case in point there. Drew Edwards of The Hamilton Spectator has reported that Mark Maren, whose M Sports Management company has a number of notable CFL players as clients, set up a two-day camp in Cancun, Mexico for Feb. 2 and 3, but cancelled it just the day before. That has a lot of people angry, as some players were already on their way there, and multiple players and officials are saying that Maren promised to pay their expenses but didn't do so. From Edwards:
Quarterback Micah Brown, who played at St. Mary’s University in 2010 and still lives in Halifax, was already in Atlanta when he received an email notifying him that the combine was off.
“He told me, just get down there and we’ll look after everything else,” Brown said. “But when I got stuck, I had to book hotels, buy food, rent a car... I even had to buy warm clothes because I was supposed to be in Mexico.”
Brown, an American who played for the U.S. at the World Championships of American Football in Austria in 2011, says he’s out over $2,000 and has filed a complaint with the Halifax police.
But the money is only part of what’s bothering him.
“This is was an opportunity to be seem by all of the teams at once instead of flying out for just one workout. I was looking at this as my last shot to get into the CFL,” said Brown. “Getting duped out of money is one thing but I’ve been duped out of an opportunity.”
Edwards includes several stories from others impacted by this as well. Former Middle Tennessee State running back Deondre Kyles, who reportedly paid Maren $750 to attend the camp, but hasn't received his money back yet. Former Henderson State and Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Antonio Leak said he's out $1,300. Photographer Joe Chrvala told Edwards he's out $1,400, and Argos' general manager Jim Barker said Maren promised to reimburse him for a flight and a hotel room but never did. Notably, Maren was arrested and charged with scheme to defraud in December 2010, which got him blasted by several high-profile people (including Doug Brown), and Edwards writes that "In July of 2011, he pled guilty to three counts of petty theft, paid fines of almost $1,500 and paid more than $17,000 in restitution to two banks and a woman in Florida." However, we don't have Maren's side of the story about the camp cancellation yet (he didn't respond to Edwards' requests for comment), and Barker's comments about him are notable:
Barker said Maren held a similar event last year that was “fabulously run” and the Argos signed two players out it – he was hopeful that this year’s version would be as productive.
“I don’t know what happened. I know I like Mark and I don’t think he’s an inherently bad person,” Barker said. “I think he got himself into a situation and whether he handled it right or not, I don’t know.”
This story may have some questioning the value of agent-run camps, but they shouldn't be written off across the board. For athletes who played at smaller U.S. schools in particular, they may not have been noticed from their college career alone, leaving them to attend individual teams' regular tryouts or open tryouts (for the extreme long shots). Those aren't a perfect solution, though, as a good player might not be the best fit for the particular team running the tryout. There's substantial value to an idea like this for a tryout that all teams can attend (in some respects, it's a similar concept to Duane Forde's alternate combine); just because this one appears to have ended exceptionally poorly doesn't mean the basic idea's a bad one. However, it does reinforce that prospective CFL players should be very careful about who they're dealing with and what they're being promised. There are plenty of questions still around this story, and it will be particularly interesting to see if and how Maren responds to it.