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No Need to Wait With easily arranged lines of credit, likely draftees start living like pros after their last college game

Nov. 24, 2003
Nov. 24, 2003

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Nov. 24, 2003

College Basketball Preview 2003-04

No Need to Wait With easily arranged lines of credit, likely draftees start living like pros after their last college game

When Asante Samuel, a cornerback who had just completed his
eligibility at Central Florida, signed a four-year, $1.7 million
contract (including a $312,500 signing bonus) with the New
England Patriots in mid-July, the event was anticlimactic. Samuel
had been living like a pro for months. Shortly after the Golden
Knights' 42-32 victory over Ohio in the Florida Citrus Bowl in
their last game of the 2002 season, the 22-year-old had secured a
$25,000 line of credit and a lease agreement for a $60,000
Cadillac Escalade.

This is an article from the Nov. 24, 2003 issue Original Layout

The man who arranged the loan and the lease is Felix Wright, who
runs the professional sports program at Datatex Sports Management
in St. Louis. Wright, an NFL strong safety from 1985 through '93,
obtains lines of credit for likely draftees until they cash their
signing-bonus checks. "You've got to help these guys before they
help you," says Wright, 44. "When I played, we finished the
spring semester, conducted our own off-season workouts and went
home to wait for the draft. Nowadays, kids become pros when they
shower after their last college game."

Last March, Wright's relationship with Motorworks, a car leasing
company in Dayton, enabled Samuel, then a projected third-round
draft pick (he was selected in the fourth round), to obtain the
Escalade with a $10,000 down payment and no immediate monthly
obligation. "Essentially the truck is on loan from the dealer
until the player can start a normal payment plan," says Wright,
who earned a teaching degree at Drake. "The truck goes back to
the dealer if the player doesn't make a roster." When Samuel
signed with the Patriots, he started making the monthly payments.

Over the last four years Wright has set up about $3 million in
lines of credit for more than 100 NFL prospects based on draft
projections by pro scouts. (The loans are 10% of a player's
projected signing bonus, after taxes.) Wright obtains the loans
from Datatex shortly after bowl season, when college players
eligible for the draft are allowed to receive money from agents
and financial institutions. When a player who is drafted receives
this bonus, the amount he used from the credit line is due
immediately, with 8% interest compounded daily.

There are risks for both the player and Datatex. If the player is
not signed, he can find himself in substantial debt. Over the
winter and spring Wright arranged loans totaling about $1 million
for 35 rookies, ranging from $2,500 to $95,000. About a third of
the kitty still has not been repaid. "The [2003] draft was the
craziest I've seen," Wright says. "As a result we're probably
going to have a higher than normal default rate this year."

With a default rate averaging about 20% on loans to prospective
NFL players, Wright occasionally has to turn to a collection
agency to retrieve the investor's money. "We approved a guy for
$25,000, and he didn't make the team," says Wright, who declined
to name the player. "He went underground, would not return my
calls and eventually changed his number."

Datatex did not pioneer the practice of lending players money,
but it may be the first company to lend to players in the later
rounds of the draft. "Most lenders are only interested in helping
first-and second-round guys," says Wright, who earns a straight
salary from Datatex. "But it's the fourth-and fifth-round guys,
who aren't going to receive the multimillion-dollar bonuses, who
need the most help [with their finances]. Most players will have
short careers. We would like to see them walk away financially
secure."

COLOR PHOTO: JAMIE SABAU (WRIGHT) MONEY MAN Thanks to Wright (inset), Samuel got a $25,000 loan seven months before he was signed by New England.COLOR PHOTO: JIM BOURG/REUTERS (SAMUEL) [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: DONNA MCWILLIAM/AP Tucke

Money Well Spent

One draftee used the cash from his loan to take care of his
mom

Torrin Tucker is a mama's boy. Rather than use the $90,000 line
of credit he obtained last December from Datatex Sports
Management to purchase an Escalade and some diamonds, the 6'6",
329-pound rookie tackle for the Dallas Cowboys paid the medical
bills of his mother, Hattie, who suffers from diabetes. "My
mother wasn't working," says Tucker, 23. "I had to take care of
business."

Yet when he was bypassed in last April's draft (he was projected
to be a second-round pick), the former Southern Miss standout was
faced with paying Datatex back the $90,000, plus 8% interest, a
total of $97,200. As a free agent he received only a $10,500
signing bonus from Dallas--but fortunately for him and Datatex,
he was activated from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on
Oct. 1, and his weekly salary increased from $4,100 to
$15,000. --F.E.