Such third-party representatives are exempt from NCAA oversight, and most of the state and federal laws that govern sports agents. But after a 2010 college football season dominated by investigations into alleged improper contact between players and agents at multiple schools, the NCAA is poised to broaden its definition of sports agent to include anyone who benefits from a college athlete turning pro – or even enrolling at a particular school.
“We wanted to make sure we had legislation that better reflected what was going on in the real world,” said Rachel Newman Baker, the NCAA’s managing director of enforcement. “What we realized was that because our definition is very narrow, it was only capturing those who may be negotiating with professional teams. There are a lot of other third-party representatives involved who are putting our student-athletes’ eligibility at risk in much the same way as any official registered agent could.”
The proposal has been approved by the NCAA Division I Amateurism Cabinet as well as its Leadership Council. It’s expected to receive final approval in January from the association’s Division I Board of Directors, an 18-member panel of college chancellors and presidents.
The new definition of agent would cover anyone who “directly or indirectly represents or attempts to represent an individual for purposes of marketing his or her athletics ability or reputation for financial gain” or “seeks to obtain any type of financial gain or benefit from securing a prospective student-athlete’s enrollment at an educational institution.”
Advisers, brand managers and “anyone who is employed or associated with such persons” also fall under the expanded definition.
The NCAA also expects to create a national registration system that would allow schools, state regulators and athletes to verify an agent’s qualifications and legal status through a single database. Unregistered agents would be prevented from meeting prospective clients at the annual, school-sponsored “agent days” common among major college programs.
The looming changes were among the topics at an NCAA-sponsored meeting in Washington last week that brought together federal lawmakers and state regulators with representatives of pro sports leagues as well as agents themselves.
Agent Eric Metz, whose Scottsdale, Ariz., firm has signed 30 first-round NFL draft choices, spoke to the group about the enforcement challenges presented by unscrupulous colleagues. In an interview with The Associated Press, he suggested that sports agents have become a scapegoat for rule-breaking seen for decades.
“By no stretch is it a one-way street,” Metz said. “The players are well aware of the rules. There’s culpability on both sides. There are agents looking for players. And there are players looking for agents.”
Hoping to crack down on violators, the NCAA recently reorganized its enforcement staff and hired 28-year Indianapolis police veteran William Benjamin, a former college and pro player, to oversee a new football-specific enforcement arm.
Metz remains skeptical that the NCAA efforts can do more than make a dent. NCAA rules prohibit players from accepting gifts and money from agents, or signing contracts while still competing. Violations can put an athlete’s remaining eligibility at risk and expose the school to significant sanctions. But the NCAA’s oversight doesn’t extend to agents themselves.
“It’s very difficult to monitor, but I commend them for trying,” he said. “I don’t think the NCAA puts a lot of fear into people, like organizations like the IRS, the (Securities and Exchange Commission) or state bar associations.”
Several states are responding to the recent rash of agent excesses with tougher laws. An August 2010 review by the AP found that more than half of the 42 states with sports agent laws didn’t revoke or suspend a single license, or invoke penalties of any sort.
In Texas, a new law endorsed by Gov. Rick Perry in July boosts the potential penalties for wayward agents to 10 years in prison. Agents must also post a $50,000 bond with the state and be certified with a national professional sports association. The law also requires individuals, not corporations, to register as agents, and includes the third-party representatives – often known as “runners” – who are sometimes hired by agents to contact athletes or their families on their behalf.
In Arkansas, violations of athlete-agent laws is also now a felony offense, with the maximum fine increased from $50,000 to $250,000.
“We didn’t feel the law we had on the books was an adequate deterrent,” said Arkansas deputy attorney general Brad Phelps “We tried to make a real effort to penalize the person who needed to be penalized.”