Lauding Texas’ Sports Agent Law, a Great First Step

Posted by rtmsf on May 20th, 2011

It’s not often that you’ll hear people lauding the Lone Star State as a bastion of progressive (some might say anti-business) legal thinking, but we’re here today writing this article because of just such a thing.  If there’s one thing that Texans love more than their free markets, it’s collegiate sports.  And if you read the tea leaves of its lawmakers on its latest bill sent to Governor Rick Perry on Wednesday, they’re getting a little sick and tired of the agents, runners and other assorted hangers-on getting their grubby hands on Texas’ amateur athletes and jeopardizing their eligibility.  What’s left unsaid in the name of protecting the athletes is that the public doesn’t like the prospect of UT football or Baylor basketball, to cite only a couple of the state’s many D-1 universities, having to face NCAA-mandated vacations of great seasons down the road if those schools inadvertently use ineligible players because of agents’ influence.  From the Austin American-Statesman:

Texas is Taking the Lead in Punishing Unethical Sports Agents

If Gov. Rick Perry signs it into law, agents who lure college athletes into contracts with improper benefits and gifts that cost an athlete their NCAA eligibility could face felony charges and up to 10 years in prison. […]  The bill by Rep. Harold Dutton, a Houston Democrat, requires agents to post a $50,000 bond with the state and be certified with a national professional sports association. Agents would be banned from providing anything of value to the athlete or their family before the athlete completes their eligibility.  The bill also requires individuals, not corporations, to register as agents, and includes so-called “runners,” who are sometimes hired by agents to contact athletes or their families on their behalf.

According to an AP report from 2010, some 42 states have laws on the books restricting the contacts and influence that agents can have with NCAA athletes, but the regulations are largely toothless and only rarely enforced.  The report found that Texas was one of the few states that had punished unethical agents, assessing a total of $17,000 in fines during the previous two years, a substantial number to most of us but pocket change to the agent who signs a star athlete to a professional deal.  It’s certainly no secret that the state of Texas is ripe with talent in all three major American sports at the amateur level — football, basketball, and baseball — so agents have a clear incentive to befriend future stars very early in the hopes that they eventually sign with them when they eventually turn pro.

Consider this: in the most recent Rivals top 100 for football and top 150 for basketball, there were fourteen Texans on each list, and you’d better believe that there’s a corresponding steady stream of grade A talent coming out of the state’s 21 Division I NCAA programs.  Making unethical agency practices punishable by time in prison changes the game somewhat — whereas previously a small state-mandated fine might have been viewed as just another cost of doing business (considering the large payoffs that agents stand to make), now the fine plus a high possibility of jail time should serve to stymie some of this behavior.

The problem, as already exhibited in the states with existing laws on the books, is one of enforcement.  Agents have gamed the system for years and are very capable at avoiding obvious detection via paper trail.  Very often the only reason anything nefarious ever comes to light is in a situation where an agent gets caught up in some other nasty business (money laundering, bookmaking, drugs, etc.); short of a rival school dropping dime on a player’s association with an agent, it’s still not likely that an agent hanging around campus and up to no good will ever get caught.

Still, maybe the deterrent of prison time will peel off some of the more questionable agents from their industry, and perhaps Texas’ shot across the bow of those folks will inspire other states to do likewise.  Ideally, even Congress could get involved and really push the agents to clean up their acts, but we’re not holding out breath on that one.  While there is much more to do to subvert agents’ influence on young players in NCAA athletics, this is a great first step and the good lawmakers of Texas should be commended for taking the lead on this.  Now if we could just figure out that conceal/carry thing down there, we’d really be onto something…

rtmsf (3998 Posts)

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