Law commission OKs changes to strengthen sports agent act
An organization that works to standardize state laws is strengthening an act that bars sports agents from illegally luring college athletes into contracts.
The Uniform Law Commission approved changes to the Uniform Athlete Agents Act during its annual meeting Wednesday in Williamsburg, Virginia. Revisions include a broader definition of who qualifies as an agent and a higher recommended financial penalty for violations.
There are also changes to how agents register with states to comply with the law — including the possible creation of an interstate registration agency — and more notification requirements by agents such as informing schools before contacting athletes or people close to them.
Revision committee chairman Dale G. Higer says commission members will now work to get legislatures in their state to adopt the updated act.
The ULC, created in 1892 to build uniformity among state laws in handling common concerns, first adopted the act in 2000. The law has been enacted in 40 states along with the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, though its structure and penalties can vary from state to state.
“Many states have amended the old act and it’s getting so it’s not as uniform as it should be,” said Higer, a commission member and attorney from Boise, Idaho. “We’re hoping that with the new act, we’ll bring states back to a uniform law that is more robust than the old one.”
The revisions come after a roughly two-year effort, following numerous stories nationally of college athletes receiving gifts from agents or runners working on their behalf that ultimately violated NCAA rules.
Notably, Georgia-based agent Terry Watson and four others face criminal charges in North Carolina for providing thousands of dollars in cash and benefits to three former Tar Heels football players in 2010.
The revisions include expanding the act to include financial advisers, business managers, marketers or others who try to sign athletes by providing gifts or services that jeopardize their eligibility.
The revisions also include an effort to streamline the agent registration process with states, including outlining a structure for a possible central agency to handle the process and share detailed background information provided by agents across state lines. The interstate commission would need at least five states to join for it to take shape.
The act leaves states to determine whether a violation is a felony or misdemeanor, but it increases the recommended fine for a violation from up to $25,000 in the 2000 version to $50,000.
“The elements of transparency and accountability in this language are extremely important,” said Paul Pogge, an associate athletic director at North Carolina who participated in the revision process. “This will help ensure that student-athletes have accurate information necessary to make educated decisions about professional representation, while also better protecting ethical professionals from the unscrupulous actions of others in the industry.”
In a sign of how schools are desperate for help in dealing with unethical agent conduct, athletics officials from 66 schools in 32 states — including power-conference programs like Arkansas, Florida, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Stanford and Texas A&M — and five NFL agents signed on to a 2013 memo pushing for stronger penalties and a broader reach in the law’s update.
For example, it is a Class I felony to violate the North Carolina law, meaning a maximum sentence of 15 months for each count, and violations also could carry civil penalties of up to $25,000. But Orange County district attorney Jim Woodall — who is leading the UNC prosecution — has said anyone who doesn’t have a criminal record must be put on probation if they plead guilty to or are convicted of a Class I felony.
Yet some misdemeanors can lead to jail time for someone with the same record, he said.
“A Class I felony is almost like putting handcuffs on us,” Woodall said.
The North Carolina Secretary of State office began its investigation in summer 2010 after the NCAA launched a probe into violations at UNC.
Five people were indicted in September 2013, though charges were later dismissed against an ex-UNC tutor. A sixth person — who was also connected to eligibility issues for Cincinnati Bengals star receiver A.J. Green while he was at Georgia in 2010 — was arrested in May.
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