The Real Athlete Blog


Expert Contributor: Justin Sievert



Justin Sievert

Justin P. Sievert is a contributing writer for Access Athletes on issues relating to NCAA student-athletes, in addition to commentary on general issues in sports law. Mr. Sievert serves of-counsel to the Michael L. Buckner Law Firm on issues relating to intercollegiate athletics and higher-education law. Mr. Sievert also is also an adjunct sports law, business law and labor law professor at Davenport University. His prior experience includes stints at NCAA Division I, II and III institutions, where he has worked in compliance, business operations, event management and facility operations. In addition, Mr. Sievert served as a track and field coach and strength and conditioning coach at the collegiate level.

Mr. Sievert is a 2008 graduate of the University of Miami School of Law where he served as vice-president of the Entertainment and Sports Law Society, treasurer of the Business Law Council and was a member of the International Moot Court Board. Prior to law school, Mr. Sievert attended Union College, where he graduated in 2003 with a political science degree. During his time at Union, Mr. Sievert was a captain of both the football team (where he was a two-time all-conference selection) and the track and field team (where he was a three-time All-American and NCAA Regional Track and Field Athlete of the Year as a senior). Mr. Sievert also received his Master’s degree in Education from St. Lawrence University in 2005.

Mr. Sievert is admitted to practice in Florida and North Carolina, as well as the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Mr. Sievert is a strong proponent of educating athletes at all experience levels and will work diligently at addressing any issues that may arise during the course of an athlete's career in his column. If anyone has a suggested topic, please feel free to contact him.


Most Recent Articles

  1. The National Letter of Intent Program and Student-Athlete Post-Agreement Options

    by Justin Sievert 06-11-2013 12:31 AM Amateurism

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    On February 6, 2013, Eddie Vanderdoes, a five-star defensive tackle from Auburn, Calif., signed a National Letter of Intent to attend the University of Notre Dame. Recently, Vanderdoes experienced a change of heart and decided he wanted to attend UCLA, a school closer to home. While under no obligation to release Vanderdoes from his commitment, Notre Dame ultimately chose to release Vanderdoes from the National Letter of Intent recruiting ban, but not release him from rest of the National Letter of Intent provisions. This allowed Vanderdoes to be recruited by and sign with UCLA, but still be subject to the basic penalty since he was not granted his full release (an institution's ability to contact a prospective student-athlete is tied to receiving athletics aid while a prospective student-athlete's eligibility is tied to the National Letter of Intent). The purpose of this article is to explore the options Vanderdoes, or any other National Letter of Intent signee would have if they desire to be released from his or her agreement.

    Background: The National Letter of Intent (hereinafter “NLI”) is a binding agreement between a prospective student-athlete and an NLI member institution. When this agreement is signed by the respective parties, there is an agreement for a prospective student-athlete to attend an institution full-time for one academic year in exchange for the institution agreeing to provide athletics financial aid for one academic year (two semesters or three quarters). The NLI is a voluntary program with regard to both institutions and student-athletes. No prospective student-athlete or parent is required to sign the NLI, and no institution is required to join the program.
    Penalties for Non-Fulfillment: If a prospective student-athlete does not attend the signing institution or attends that institution for less than one full academic year, and enrolls at another NLI institution, he or she may not represent the second institution in intercollegiate athletics competition until completing one academic year in residence at the second NLI member institution. Additionally, the prospective student-athlete will lose one season of competition in all sports. While serving the NLI penalty, the prospective student-athlete is permitted to practice and receive athletics aid, if allowed by the institution. This penalty is specifically addressed in the NLI agreement the prospective student-athlete and the institution sign. If a prospective student-athlete fails to enroll at the signing institution, he or she has not fulfilled the NLI agreement to attend the signing institution for one academic year. The NLI would remain binding.
    Release Process: In order for a prospective student-athlete to be released from an NLI, the prospective student-athlete must submit the NLI Release Request Form (“Release Request Form”) to the signing institution and the NLI office.
    The release instructions for a prospective student-athlete can be found here. The website will feature a dropdown list for the prospective student-athlete to choose from regarding the reason for the release and an additional comment box for necessary details.
    The Release Request Form can be found here. The submitted Form will be automatically sent to the institution’s director of athletics and designated compliance administrator. The prospective student-athlete will also receive a confirmation e-mail that the Release Request Form has been submitted.
    Once the Form is submitted, the institution has 30 days to submit a response. The institution can make one of three decisions: (1) a complete release; (2) no release; or (3) no release with the recruiting ban removed (by removing the NLI Recruiting Ban, contact with coaches is permissible without granting a Complete Release. The NLI Recruiting Ban does not need to be checked on the Release Request Form if granting a complete release). Once the institution submits the release request back to the prospective student-athlete and the NLI office, the NLI office will update the release status visible to member institutions on the NCAA Eligibility Center member institution portal. If a complete release is granted by the institution, the release form and/or the release status on the portal is the confirmation needed for another institution that may have an interest in that prospective student-athlete.
    Should the deadline expire with no response from the institution, the prospective student-athlete will be released from the NLI agreement by the NLI office; however, this is not an automatic complete release. The institution will be contacted by the NLI office before any action to determine why the institution did not respond. If circumstances exist preventing the institution to respond within the designated timeframe, an extension may be requested to the NLI office.


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  2. Effect Of The NCAA's Revamped Enforcement Process On Student-Athletes

    by Justin Sievert 05-26-2013 03:29 PM Amateurism

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    In August 2011, NCAA President Mark Emmert met with presidents and chancellors of member institutions to address current issues in intercollegiate athletics. One of the primary points of concern was refocusing the association's enforcement program to provide stronger disincentives for rules-violations. As a result, the NCAA Working Group on Collegiate Model - Enforcement was commissioned and charged with recommending revisions to the current enforcement program. The Working Group made many significant recommendations, including: (1) the introduction of a four-tier violation structure; (2) the adoption of penalty guidelines for core penalties; (3) expansion of the Committee on Infractions; (4) streamlining case review; and (5) providing higher expectations of accountability for both head coaches, athletic directors and institutional presidents or chancellors. These changes, which are effective on August 1, 2013, have been the topic of great discussion among the membership, the media and the general public. However, one important aspect of these changes has been overlooked—what effect will these changes have on current student-athletes?

    One area the Working Group discussed in the report was the fact that institutional penalties that arise from an enforcement case often have a direct or indirect impact on current student-athletes who may have no culpability with the violations found. The impact can come in the form of competition limitations (i.e. postseason bans) and scholarship reductions (i.e. an indirect impact by limiting the number of scholarship student-athletes a program may have on its roster). However, the Working Group also noted that the membership identified that the penalties that have the most deterrent effect are also competition limitations and scholarship reductions.



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  3. Deregulation from Another Perspective: What the NCAA's Streamlined Approach Means to Current and Prospective Student-Athletes

    by Justin Sievert 01-31-2013 11:56 PM Amateurism

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    Earlier this month at the 2013 NCAA Convention, Division I of the NCAA adopted 25 of 26 proposals aimed at establishing a streamlined rulebook with a focus on more meaningful, enforceable, and student-athlete welfare-oriented legislation. NCAA president Mark Emmert stated, "these new rules represent noteworthy progress toward what can only be described as more common sense rules that allow schools more discretion in decision-making...This vote by the Board of Directors refocuses our attention on the things that really matter, the core values of intercollegiate athletics.” The deregulation included several areas of NCAA legislation, including NCAA Bylaw 11 (personnel), 12 (amateurism), 14 (recruiting), 15 (financial aid), and 16 (awards, benefits and expenses). The proposals will be effective on August 1, 2013. While much of the talk surrounding deregulation has focused upon the impact from the perspective of an institution's administrators and coaches, little discussion has occurred on the impact deregulation will have on both prospective and current student-athletes.

    Below is a brief summary of twenty-four of the twenty-five proposals that were adopted at the NCAA Convention, along with my perspective on the effect , if any, these changes will have on prospective and current student-athletes. (Proposal 2-1 addresses the NCAA Constitution and not an Operating Bylaw.)
    NCAA Bylaw 11 (Personnel)
    • 11-2: will eliminate the rules defining recruiting coordination functions that must be performed only by a head or assistant coach.

    Student-Athlete Impact: Paired with Proposal 13-3, this Proposal will likely increase the amount of communications between a prospective student-athlete and an institution by allowing any institutional staff member the ability to contact and evaluate recruits. Prospective student-athletes often grow tired of the recruiting process, and this change could potentially further that burden. Off-campus recruiting activities, however, will still need to be conducted by coaches.

    • 11-3-B: will prohibit the live scouting of future opponents except in limited circumstances.
    Student-Athlete Impact: No impact.
    • 11-4: will remove limits on the number of coaches who can recruit off-campus at any one time.
    Student-Athlete Impact: Prospective student-athletes will likely see an uptick of coaches visiting their high schools during selected recruiting periods.


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  4. NCAA Student-Athlete Attendance at Professional Sports Draft Events

    by Justin Sievert 04-21-2012 03:20 PM Amateurism

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    With the NFL draft fast approaching, future professional football players are beginning to organize parties and/or other events to commemorate their accomplishment. Oftentimes, former teammates of future professional football players—those with remaining collegiate eligibilityare invited to attend an event. While there is no NCAA legislation preventing a current student-athlete from attending an event held by a former teammate, it is important for current student-athletes to understand that rules-violations may occur if they do not pay for the benefits or services they may receive.

    The most common scenario resulting in NCAA rules-violations is when a current student-athlete attends an event at the invitation of a former teammate without knowledge that the event is being financed by a sports agent, marketer or financial advisor. For example, travel expenses, lodging, meals, entertainment and other expenses provided to a current student-athlete at no charge and financed by an individual such as a sports agent, marketer or financial advisor would result in a violation of NCAA Bylaw and could jeopardize a current student-athlete’s eligibility.

    This Bylaw states a student-athlete shall be ineligible if he or she (or his or her relatives or friends) "accepts transportation or other benefits from (a) any person who represents any individual in the marketing of his or her athletics ability. The receipt of such expenses constitutes compensation based on athletics skill and is an extra benefit not available to the student body in general; or (b) an agent, even if the agent has indicated that he or she has no interest in representing the student-athlete in the marketing of his or her athletics ability or reputation and does not represent individuals in the student-athlete's sport.”


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  5. Sports Wagering Primer for NCAA Student-Athletes

    by Justin Sievert 03-01-2012 11:57 PM Amateurism

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    With March Madness fast approaching, fans across the country are following NCAA men's basketball a little bit more closely as they prepare to fill out their "brackets" and begin to enter into various tournament "pools." In fact, the NCAA men's basketball tournament has become so big the FBI expects illegal gambling could reach upwards of $2.5 billion dollars. As a result, it is important for both prospective and current NCAA student-athletes to be educated regarding NCAA Bylaw 10.3 (Sports Wagering Activities).
    NCAA Bylaw 10.3, as applied to student-athletes, forbids knowing participation in sports wagering activities or providing information to individuals involved in or associated with any types of sports wagering activities concerning intercollegiate, amateur or professional athletics competitions. A prospective or enrolled student-athlete who is found in violation of Bylaw 10.3 would be ineligible from further intercollegiate athletics competition, subject to an appeal to the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement. If a student-athlete engaged in activities designed to influence the outcome of an intercollegiate contest or activities that will affect the gambling line or gambles on the institution he or she attends, that student-athlete would lose all remaining eligibility in all sports. If a student-athlete participates in another sports wagering activity, the student will be ineligible for a minimum period of one year. If the student-athlete later engages in another sports wagering activity, the student-athlete will be permanently ineligible.
    To avoid finding yourself subject to Bylaw 10.3 sanctions, here are examples of impermissible sports wagering activities compiled from recent NCAA secondary infractions cases: 


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  6. Social Media Education: Important at All Levels of Athletics

    by Justin Sievert 02-04-2012 04:04 PM Trusted Athlete Educator | Social Media | Public Relations | Recruiting

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    Michigan. Notre Dame. Rutgers. Auburn. Virginia Tech. At one time, these highly regarded collegiate institutions were all offering a football scholarship to New Jersey high school All-American cornerback Yuri Wright. However, Wright's collegiate options virtually evaporated after he was expelled from his high school, Don Bosco Prep, on Jan. 19. The reason for Wright's expulsion—comments made on his Twitter account.
    Social media has become such an institution in American culture that high-profile athletes, even at the high school level, are "followed," "friended," or "added" by sports fans from all over the world. As a result, athletes, at an increasingly young age, need to be counseled and educated on what is appropriate and inappropriate for sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
    Ultimately, Wright was extremely lucky that Colorado coach Jon Embree decided to include him in his recruiting class, saying that Wright is remorseful over the racially charged and sexually graphic postings. Wright may have learned his lesson and promises his days with social media are over. 
    To avoid finding yourself in a predicament like Wright, here are five best practices high-profile athletes at all levels should consider when using social media:


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  7. The National Letter of Intent Program: Important Considerations for Prospective Student-Athletes

    by Justin Sievert 02-02-2012 01:45 AM Amateurism | Recruiting

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    Yesterday college football fans were treated to what has become a national holiday, Signing Day. February 1st marked the first day that a high school senior football student-athlete could sign a National Letter of Intent (NLI) to play collegiate football at an NCAA member institution. The NLI program, which is managed by the NCAA Eligibility Center and governed by the Collegiate Commissioners Association, does not just include football but includes all NCAA sponsored scholarship sports. NLI membership includes 620 NCAA Division I and II member institutions. Ivy League, service academies, NCAA Division III, NAIA, prepatory and junior colleges are not part of the NLI program. The impact of signing an NLI is the prospective student-athlete agrees to attend the designated college or university for one academic year and the selected institution agrees to provide athletics financial aid to the student-athlete, provided he/she is admitted to the institution and is eligible for financial aid under NCAA rules.

    While the purported goal of the NLI program was to benefit both member institutions and prospective student-athletes, there are many considerations prospective student-athletes need to take into account before signing a letter of intent with any NCAA member institution. These considerations include:
    1.     Voluntariness: While signing the NLI is voluntary, virtually all NLI member institutions strongly encourage prospective student-athletes to sign. Prospective student-athletes need to be aware of the obligations that come with signing an NLI and the ramifications that may come with not signing an NLI.
    2.     Penalties: The basic penalty for not fulfilling the NLI is to serve one year in residence (full-time) at the next NLI member institution and lose one season of competition in all sports (not just the sport the NLI was signed in).
    3.     Coaching Changes: A prospective student-athlete is signing an NLI with an institution. A coach leaving the institution in which the prospective student-athlete signed the NLI does not release the prospective student-athlete of the NLI's obligations. Further reading on coaching changes and both prospective and current student-athletes can be found here.
    4.     NLI Declared Null and Void: An NLI signed by the prospective student-athlete does not mean it will necessarily become binding on the institution. An NLI can be declared null and void for the following reasons: (1) the prospective student-athlete was denied admission to the institution; (2) the prospective student-athlete does not meet NCAA, institutional or conference eligibility requirements; (3) the prospective student-athlete does not enroll at the institution for one year after he or she signed the NLI and the scholarship is no longer available; (4) the prospective student-athlete serves in the military or on a church mission following the signing of the NLI; and (5) the sport in which the prospective student-athlete signed on to play at the institution is discontinued.


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  8. 5 NCAA Bylaws Incoming Collegiate Student-Athletes Must Know

    by Justin Sievert 07-14-2011 11:35 PM Athlete Career Development | Amateurism

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    Over the course of the next two months, the high school class of 2011 will begin to arrive on collegiate campuses across the United States. During the transition to life as a college student, these first-year students will deal with many issues including homesickness, more challenging class work, making new friends and becoming increasingly independent. First-year student-athletes will deal with many additional issues, one of which is NCAA rules compliance. In light of this, here are five NCAA Bylaws all incoming collegiate student-athletes should review before arriving on campus.

    1.  Student-athletes or his or her relatives or friends may not receive a benefit not expressly authorized by NCAA legislation (NCAA Bylaw 16.02.3).

    “An extra benefit is any special arrangement by an institutional employee or a representative of the institution’s athletics interests to provide a student-athlete or the student-athlete’s relative or friend a benefit not expressly authorized by NCAA legislation. Receipt of a benefit by student-athletes or their relatives or friends is not a violation of NCAA legislation if it is demonstrated that the same benefit is generally available to the institution’s students or their relatives or friends or to a particular segment of the student body (e.g., international students, minority students) determined on a basis unrelated to athletics ability.”

    2. Student-athletes shall not engage in unethical conduct (NCAA Bylaw 10.1).

    “Unethical conduct by a prospective or enrolled student-athlete or a current or former institutional staff member (e.g., coach, professor, tutor, teaching assistant, student manager, student trainer) may include, but is not limited to, the following:

    (a) Refusal to furnish information relevant to an investigation of a possible violation of an NCAA regulation when requested to do so by the NCAA or the individual’s institution;

    (b) Knowing involvement in arranging for fraudulent academic credit or false transcripts for a prospective or an enrolled student-athlete;

    (c) Knowing involvement in offering or providing a prospective or an enrolled student-athlete an improper inducement or extra benefit or improper financial aid;

    (d) Knowingly furnishing or knowingly influencing others to furnish the NCAA or the individual’s institution false or misleading information concerning an individual’s involvement in or knowledge of matters relevant to a possible violation of an NCAA regulation;

    (e) Receipt of benefits by an institutional staff member for facilitating or arranging a meeting between a student-athlete and an agent, financial advisor or a representative of an agent or advisor (e.g., “runner”);

    (f) Knowing involvement in providing a banned substance or impermissible supplement to student-athletes, or knowingly providing medications to student-athletes contrary to medical licensure, commonly accepted standards of care in sports medicine practice, or state and federal law. This provision shall not apply to banned substances for which the student-athlete has received a medical exception per Bylaw; however, the substance must be provided in accordance with medical licensure, commonly accepted standards of care and state or federal law;

    (g) Failure to provide complete and accurate information to the NCAA, the NCAA Eligibility Center or an institution’s admissions office regarding an individual’s academic record (e.g., schools attended, completion of coursework, grades and test scores);

    (h) Fraudulence or misconduct in connection with entrance or placement examinations;

    (i) Engaging in any athletics competition under an assumed name or with intent to otherwise deceive; or

    (j) Failure to provide complete and accurate information to the NCAA, the NCAA Eligibility Center or the institution’s athletics department regarding an individual’s amateur status.”


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  9. 5 Things We Learned from the USC Case

    by Justin Sievert 06-07-2011 02:35 AM Legal | Education

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    On May 26, 2011, the NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee (IAC) upheld the decision by the NCAA Committee on Infractions (COI) from June 10, 2010 against the University of Southern California. The COI, after a four-year investigation by the NCAA Enforcement staff, had determined that numerous extra benefits were received by Reggie Bush, a former USC football player, and O.J. Mayo, a former USC men's basketball player, while being recruited and/or during their enrollment at the institution. The findings in the case included a lack of institutional control, impermissible inducements, extra benefits, and exceeding coaching staff limits. As a result, USC was put on four years' probation, hit with a two-year bowl ban (one-year remaining), will lose 30 football scholarships over three years, will not be allowed to compete in the inaugural 2011 Pac 12 Championship game and will vacate 14 victories in which Bush played from December 2004 through the 2005 season. The NCAA ended up not taking further action against the men's basketball program, which had already banned itself from postseason play last season and vacated its wins from Mayo's one season with USC. So, what can we learn from the IAC and COI decision? Here are my top five things we can take away from the USC case. 


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  10. Fab Five Documentary Brings Up Questions Regarding NCAA "Preexisting Relationship" Exception

    by Justin Sievert 03-19-2011 03:31 PM Legal | Education | Athlete Career Development | Amateurism

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    Following this year's "Selection Sunday" we were treated to a trip back down memory lane with ESPN's documentary on the "Fab Five." The "Fab Five" was the moniker given to the University of Michigan's 1991 recruiting class which consisted of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwon Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson. This group led Michigan to two consecutive NCAA Division I Men's National Championship Basketball games during the group's freshman and sophomore seasons (1992 and 1993) and also had a dramatic impact on American pop culture through their baggy shorts, trash-talking, shaved heads, and black socks. While the majority of the documentary focused on the legacy left by the group both on and off the basketball court, the end of the documentary focused on the circumstances surrounding the sanctions that were handed down on the University of Michigan by the NCAA in 2003. 

    One of the major issues that arose during the final segment was Jalen Rose's admission that he accepted extra-benefits from Ed Martin. Martin, who had formed relationships with many youth athletes from the Detroit area dating back to the early 1980s, had provided Rose with benefits both before and during Rose's time at Michigan. These benefits would generally be a violation of NCAA rules, as boosters are prohibited from providing any type of preferential treatment, benefit, or service to a current or prospective student-athlete because of the student-athlete's athletics reputation or skill or pay-back potential as a professional athlete. However, the one exception to this rule is if there is a clear preexisting relationship between the booster and the student-athlete. In the documentary, Rose claimed that his relationship with Martin fell under this exception. The question that results is what exactly is a "preexisting relationship" under this exception?


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  11. Cameron Newton's Eligibility: Did the NCAA Get It Right?

    by Justin Sievert 12-11-2010 06:36 PM Legal | News | Special Event

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    Tonight, the Heisman Memorial Trophy will be awarded to the most outstanding player in collegiate football. The finalists for this year's award are LaMichael James of Oregon, Kellen Moore of Boise State, Andrew Luck of Stanford, and Cameron "Cam" Newton of Auburn. Although the award will be given out this evening, perhaps the bigger story is not who will win, but whether Newton—the award's apparent front-runner—should even be involved, or what the eventual aftermath could be if further evidence surfaces regarding his eligibility.



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