The college football season is in the books and the Super Bowl is on the horizon, but for Michael Quartey, the gridiron games never end.
Quartey, a former staff attorney at Pepper Hamilton who lost his job ahead of the 2008 financial crisis that resulted in a mass cull of thousands of young lawyers, now provides a unique service to hundreds of job seekers each year.
The applicants are prospective professional football players seeking to make the jump from the lower rungs of the collegiate game. Quartey runs East Preps LLC, a Voorhees, N.J.-based company that puts those players in front of pro scouts.
While most bowls pit schools against one another, others are All-Star competitions staged between two teams comprised of individually selected players that have fulfilled their collegiate eligibility. The most popular All-Star game is the Jan. 25 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., which features seniors from the biggest Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools and National Football League coaches.
Quartey’s bowl games are filled with upstarts from the Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), formerly known as Division I-AA, historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), and those playing in Division II and Division III college football. His legal background helps pull it all together.
“From contracts to insurance to figuring out player eligibility and recruiting rules, it’s saved me a ton of money each year in not having to hire attorneys,” Quartey said. “When I graduated, I’m not sure I would’ve felt that way. It was a tough market at the time.”
Quartey played small school college football himself at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, where he was team captain and made all-conference as a defensive lineman. When the NFL didn’t come calling, Quartey went to New York Law School, where he spent a year before transferring to Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, N.J.
After his job at Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia fell through, Quartey needed a way to pay his mounting bills and law school loans. He started doing film work for MaxPreps, a website covering high school sports that CBS Corp. paid $43 million to acquire in 2007.
When CBS stopped paying for contributed video content, Quartey took a variety of legal jobs to make ends meet, working as a compliance consultant for GE Water, a consulting attorney at legal software company Equivalent Data Inc., and as a contract attorney for securities class action law firm Barrack, Rodos & Bacine. He even taught sports law for six years at Holy Family University in Philadelphia.
During that time, Quartey also became an NFL Players Association-licensed agent. While he no longer represents players, the work led Quartey to start East Preps, which grew to manage events helping prepare small school college players for the pro game.
Quartey started the National Bowl in 2011, a game for Division II and III players he said gained traction after Andrew Franks, a kicker from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., was signed by the Miami Dolphins and led the team in scoring in 2015. The FCS Bowl began in 2014, and East Preps’ flagship Tropical Bowl, which considers players from a mix of FBS and FCS schools, kicked off in 2016.
All the games are held in weather-friendly Florida, where Quartey recently took time out from a schedule of overseeing four games in four weeks to chat with Bloomberg Law. Players pay a nominal fee to take part, and Quartey also sells sponsorships and tickets.
While none of Quartey’s games have secured a national broadcast contract—the East Preps slate now includes the All America Classic for high school seniors—he said the Tropical Bowl has a streaming deal with FloSports, a network with 100,000 subscribers. Quartey also relies on so-called guerrilla marketing strategies he learned from his older brother, Preston Quartey, a hip-hop deejay known as P-Cutta.
Statistics released last year by the National Collegiate Athletic Association revealed that only 1.6% of the 16,346 players eligible to go pro in 2018 made the NFL. The Canadian Football League (CFL) and other alternative leagues also provide employment opportunities, but one of them, the Arena Football League, filed for bankruptcy in December.
The contests that Quartey oversees do have their success stories.
Kenny Moore, a former cornerback from Valdosta State in Georgia, appeared in the 2017 Tropical Bowl before landing a tryout with the NFL’s New England Patriots. The team cut him, but Moore found a home with the Indianapolis Colts, which signed him to a four-year, $36 million contract extension last year.
Devlin “Duck” Hodges, a quarterback from Alabama’s Samford University, parlayed a successful appearance in the 2019 Tropical Bowl to a starting job with the Pittsburgh Steelers, which signed him to a two-year, $1.08 million contract.
Tom Flacco, a quarterback from Maryland’s Towson State and the younger brother of Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco, won a Most Valuable Player award after a 35-7 victory in this year’s Tropical Bowl, held Jan. 12 in Daytona Beach, Fla. Representatives from 28 of 32 NFL teams were in attendance, Quartey said, as were eight of nine CFL teams.
Quartey said the Tropical Bowl is the only African American-owned postseason college bowl game, noting that the HBCU-focused Celebration Bowl is owned by ESPN.
Referees, scouting consultants, and coaches are all hired by Quartey on a contract basis. The offseason can be slow, so he takes on some sports and entertainment law cases to “help keep the lights on,” Quartey said. He hopes to expand East Preps by doing combine preparation for the NFL Draft and providing academic and athletic services for high school football players in Florida.
“We want to make this a year-round business, rather than a seasonal business,” Quartey said. “Law school enrollment might be down, but for business, my degree has been invaluable.”