It’s February, so here was Oregon’s director of football operations on Tuesday, uncomfortably testifying at the state capitol, trying to convince members of the Senate education committee to strengthen Oregon’s existing laws governing sports agents.
“Angst,” is how Hawkins described his demeanor — because “you know you’re talking to the law of the land.”
Effective is how I would describe his testimony. At least, I hope it affected the legislators, because what Hawkins pitched ought to become the law of the land.
There are more important things, sure. Budget crises, school closings. I get that. But Senate Bill 5 is important, too.
Last summer, long-simmering scandal surfaced around college football. At North Carolina, a probe of agent misconduct resulted in six players declared ineligible for the season. Players at Alabama and Georgia were disciplined for similar infractions.
And last fall, a former agent told Sports Illustrated he had illegally paid players for years (if you haven’t read Josh Luchs’ confession that serves as a disturbing expose, you need to).
Closer to home, Oregon is in the midst of an NCAA investigation into whether former basketball player Michael Dunigan received improper benefits, apparently from an agent.
Senate Bill 5 would expand the definition of agent to include just about anyone trying to influence a player for monetary gain. Agents, according to Hawkins’ testimony, should include: “Contract advisers, financial planners, marketing reps, trainers, mentors, advisers, consultants, counselors, teachers, guides, tutors, coaches, confidants, spiritual advisers, Dutch uncles, kibitzers, yada yada yada.”
The bill wouldn’t be that expansive, but it would get close. It would also require agents to notify schools before contacting athletes, and stiffen fines for violations.
Also, it would provide resources for enforcement, and a direct link to the Oregon Department of Justice.
That’s the most important part. The teeth.
Oregon’s current law, enacted in 2000, hasn’t resulted in so much as a fine for a violation.
The Oregon Department of Education is charged with administrative details of registering agents. And the administrator tasked with that duty has had the main job of performing background checks on school bus drivers.
There’s been no direct conduit to enforcement.
Not quite three years ago, Oregon lineman Fenuki Tupou came to Hawkins and confessed he had accepted lunch and $100 from an associate of an agent. Tupou’s punishment included sitting out a game. And Tim Norling, the unregistered agent?
School officials tried to talk the Lane County District Attorney’s office into investigating, but were told the D.A. had to prioritize, and agents were well down on the list.
They initially got the same response from the Department of Justice — though good news, a few months ago, the Department of Justice reversed course and decided to pursue prosecution.
But Senate Bill 5 would formally task the Department of Justice with enforcement of the law, and would also fund its efforts with the money reaped from fines.
It’s not a perfect bill, but it’s a big improvement.
“We’re trying to send a signal,” said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, the bill’s sponsor, “that if you’re gonna come to Oregon, my Oregon … you’d better act right.”
So on Tuesday we had Hawkins, who would rather be kicking around the Casanova Center in a T-shirt and shorts, instead dressing up and preaching to legislators.
Hawkins is a gruff, no-nonsense guy. His job is to attend to the myriad details of Oregon’s football program, to get things done.
But there may be nothing he’s more passionate about than his crusade to corral and control rogue sports agents. He’s spent years on the subject, working to form committees, then working on those committees, then working to get their decisions to matter.
There’s been movement of late. Those scandals last summer have provided momentum, and the NFL, the NFL Players Association, the NCAA and the American Football Coaches Association seem determined to get something done.
“We’re at a point right now that I’ve never seen before,” Hawkins said. “The timing has never been better as far as being in the public psyche.”
It’s why legislators like Courtney are interested in strengthening the law. And why on Tuesday, Hawkins and Oregon compliance director Bill Clever were in an uncomfortable forum, far from athletics, trying to convince others of the imperative.
It was hard to know whether to be encouraged or disappointed that the most probing question for Hawkins came when a senator asked: “Do you go by ‘Hawk’?”
Let’s hope it means they were all on board with the testimony, and didn’t need to know much more. Because this bill needs to become law.