Oelrich, a Cross Creek Republican who chairs the Senate Higher Education committee, said he’s working on legislation to create new criminal penalties for individuals who provide improper benefits to college athletes. He said allegations that a booster gave cash and other benefits to Miami players, along with past scandals at that university and other schools, show the need for such a law.
“We’re trying to see what we can do as far as legislation to break that cycle,” he said.
Oelrich, who was sheriff of Alachua County before he became a senator, said he also favors mandating that NCAA compliance officers report directly to university presidents, rather than athletic directors. He noted that university presidents have said they weren’t aware of problems before the misdeeds came to light publicly, so something should be done to create more accountability and responsibility.
Oelrich met Wednesday with Gov. Rick Scott and said Scott was amenable to the ideas. Oelrich plans on holding hearings with college presidents and athletic directors — including those from the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida and Florida State University — in the coming months and introduce a measure for a vote in the upcoming legislative session.
He said University of Miami President Donna Shalala also would be invited, but he didn’t know if she would be able to participate with the problems there being investigated.
A UF spokeswoman said university President Bernie Machen had a broad discussion with Oelrich about the issue and looks forward to seeing any legislation. A UF Athletic Association spokesman noted that an Intercollegiate Athletics Committee has provided university oversight of compliance with NCAA rules since 1991.
Florida, like many other states, already has criminal penalties for working as an unlicensed agent and sanctions for providing improper benefits. But an Associated Press review in 2010 found that more than half of the 42 states with such laws hadn’t revoked or suspended a single agent’s license or invoked any other penalties.
Florida lawmakers this year considered deregulating sports agents in the state, but objections from UF athletic director Jeremy Foley helped scuttle the plan.
This year, Texas passed a law that creates penalties of up to 10 years in prison for agents who cost college athletes their eligibility. The measure bans agents from providing anything of value to athletes before these athletes complete their eligibility, and also covers so-called runners hired by agents to contact athletes or their families.
Oerlich cited the Texas law in describing the kind of approach that he supported. He said it was proper for his committee to consider the issue because scandals like the one at Miami reflect poorly on the school and state.
“It gives the school a black eye. It gives the state a black eye. It gives the college system a black eye,” he said.