RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Athletic officials across the country have banded together to stop underhanded tactics some sports agents use to illegally contact college athletes.
They have been joined in the fight by five agents certified by the NFL Players Association. "As we've seen over the years, there are a decent number of people out there that don't play by the rules," said Paul Pogge, an associate athletic director at North Carolina and co-author of a nine-page memo proposing changes to agent laws. "The more entities and individuals we can have working together to protect the student-athletes, the institutions and the professional representatives who do play by the rules, I think that benefits all of us."
The memo, which was also co-authored by agent Tony Agnone, was sent Thursday to the committee that will meet later this month in Chicago to consider updates to the Uniform Athlete Agents Act. The names of athletics officials at 65 schools in 32 states — including BCS conference programs like Arkansas, Florida, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Stanford and Texas A&M — appear at the end of the memo in support of the proposals.
The group is pushing for changes that would include broadening the law to cover agents, runners, financial advisers, marketers or anyone else who tries to sign athletes or provide gifts that jeopardize their eligibility.
They also want to increase fines — potentially $100,000 or more in some cases — for violations, strengthen registration requirements for agents or representatives and force them to notify schools if they make contact or have an existing relationship with an athlete.
The proposed changes outlined in the memo come as authorities in North Carolina pursue criminal cases against Georgia-based agent Terry Watson and a former UNC tutor for violating state sports agent laws by providing benefits to former Tar Heels football players in 2010.
The law here requires agents to register with the Secretary of State's office and is designed to shield athletes from sports agents who would offer gifts to entice them to sign representation contracts.
The charges came after more than three years of investigation by the Secretary of State's office and more indictments are under seal. Jim Woodall, the Orange County district attorney, is leading that prosecution because the university is in his jurisdiction.
Woodall said Friday said the laws need to have broader reach and stronger penalties. As an example, it is a Class I felony to violate the North Carolina law, meaning a maximum prison sentence of 15 months for each count, and violations also could carry civil penalties of up to $25,000.
But Woodall said anyone who doesn't have a criminal record must be put on probation if they plead guilty or are convicted of a Class I felony. "I think there are some things that are such clearly egregious and fraudulent violations that it should be more than an NCAA violation," Woodall said. "It should be a criminal violation."
The law was adopted in 2000 by the Uniform Law Commission, which seeks to standardize state laws. It has been enacted in 41 states along with the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, though the law's structure and penalties can vary from state to state.
Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis, who supports the memo's proposals, is in one of the few states that doesn't have the agent law. He said Friday there's a need for "something with teeth outside of the governance of the NCAA" to deal with improper conduct by agents or others.
"While presidents and athletic directors are attempting to make decisions right now on how we're going to play the game in the future, this is right at the top of the list," Hollis said of strengthening agent laws. "If you're truly going to look out for the student-athlete, this is one of the things that's right at the top of the list."
The memo states that any changes to the law must "increase the incentives for and ease of prosecuting violators." One step is ensuring that it applies to anyone attempting to represent an athlete in "any professional capacity."
It also suggests standardizing way states register those people, ensuring states share that information with each other and instituting significant penalties when unregistered "professional representatives" try to recruit an athlete.
In addition, it proposes creating a way for athletes to pursue civil action against anyone who entices them into a contract through misleading information as well for schools against those agents or representatives. It also proposes mandatory language in representation contracts "clearly articulating" that entering such an agreement will end an athlete's college eligibility.
Some of those elements are already included in various states' versions of the agents act, according to the memo. The drafting committee to revise the agent act will meet Oct. 25 and 26.
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